Lardil Headdress Return Ceremony

A Gifted Treasure Finally Heading Home

21 March 2022

On behalf of the Lardil people, GRAC Chairperson Michael Gavenor and Director Lawrence Burke recently travelled to Canberra to formally accept the return of a ceremonial headdress at an official event at AIATSIS.

To say the impacts of colonisation are an enduring aspect of modern-day reality for many Indigenous people can be considered somewhat of an understatement.

Repatriation is a very important for Aboriginal people as it forms a part of the healing process. For more than 150 years Aboriginal ancestral remains, sacred objects and other artefacts have been removed from allover Australia. According to the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS), more than 105,000 cultural items are known to be held overseas in close to 300 collecting institutions. It is increasingly being recognised that the interpretation of these items tells only a colonial version of history.

The movement to return these is thankfully gaining traction both nationally and internationally, and plays an important part towards cultural autonomy allowing for our peoples to preserve and share our history in the way we choose.

This special headdress doesn’t return with the same darker history as many of these stolen items. It was gifted by the late Mr Philip Jack, a member of the Lardil Dancers (known as the Mornington Island Dance troupe) who performed at the 1973 opening of the Sydney Opera House to his former neighbour, Mr Routhan.

Mr Routhan clearly had a full appreciation of the significance of this artefact, as after having it in his home in the UK for many years he has recently sought to return it to where it belongs.

Arrangements are currently underway to ensure the artefact has an appropriate climate controlled storage space so that it can soon make its final journey back to Mornington Island.

The story has received significant media interest and was featured in a number of news articles:

Lardil Headdress return

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