Speech by Ambassador Green
At the ceremony for the hand-over and repatriation of Indigenous Ancestors
Grassi Museum (State Ethnographic Collections)
Leipzig, 17 November 2022
Ms Barbara Klepsch, State Minister for Culture and Tourism of the Free State of Saxony
Ms Susan Templeman, the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for the Arts
Ms Leontine Meijer van Mensch, Director of the State Ethnographic Collections of Saxony
Dirk Burghardt, Managing Director of the State Collections of the Free State of Saxony
Most importantly today, I acknowledge The Traditional Custodians here today who represent the Mutthi Mutthi, Worimi, Gannagal und Awabakal Countries.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am Philip Green, the Australian Ambassador to Germany.
In Australia at important events like this, we begin with a Welcome to Country or an Acknowledgement of Country, to underline our respect for our First Nations peoples. We are not on Country today, but I want to offer my respect to all Indigenous peoples, their elders, past, present and emerging; and to pay my respects to all of the Indigenous people here today.
I greet you today - as I do in all speaking events in Germany - with the word “Yoomalundi “ which means “hello and welcome” in the language of the traditional custodians of the Country around our nation’s capital Canberra. Yoomalundi.
We are here today to participate and bear witness to the hand-over of six ancestors of Indigenous people, so that they can be returned to their own countries.
Here in Leipzig, deep in central Europe, we are a world away from the home places in Australia of these six ancestors. And that vast distance makes even more profound the sense that we all must have - that there is something disturbing and unnatural in the removal of these ancestors to this far away land.
Today is being corrected, or at least ameliorated, a substantial wrong.
It is an altogether good thing to be doing. To be returning ancestors to their countries and to their communities.
Susan Templeman has already spoken about Australia’s reconciliation journey, the injustices of our past, and the characteristic generosity of our Indigenous peoples. I don’t need to repeat her remarks. I fully endorse them. I do want to note, however, that her presence today is meaningful – it is the first time that a member of the Australian parliament has been specifically sent by our government to grace a repatriation event in Germany.
As the Australian Government’s representative here in Germany, what I can best do today is to offer some thoughts about our Government’s efforts to seek the return of ancestors from this country to their home places.
First and foremost, I want to underline that the Australian Government has long held a commitment to seeing the return of ancestors to their rightful home. For over 30 years, governments have supported the return of ancestors.
As a result of that commitment, since 1990, more than 1600 ancestors, from nine countries, have been returned to Australia.
Germany is important in this context.
Germany is one of a group of countries with which Australia has close working arrangements for the return of ancestors. Similar arrangements have been struck with institutions in Austria, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States.
We enjoy strong partnership with Germany, and with all its constituent States or Länder. Indeed, all of Germany’s governments - the federal government and each of the sixteen state governments of Germany - support the return of ancestors.
We thank the Federal Government of Germany, represented here today by Mr Stefan Rössel from the German Foreign Office, for their support.
We thank the government of the Free State of Saxony through you, State Minister Klepsch, as we thank all of the state governments of Germany who support us in this endeavour.
With this support, our embassy reaches out to institutions in Germany to enquire about ancestral remains, and to seek their return.
We receive much support from institutions in Germany. I am pleased to report that support from German institutions is widespread, and it is growing. But it is not universal. A minority of institutions are reluctant. We continue to engage them.
I want to thank this institution, the State Ethnographic Collections, for its strong partnership with us. I want to thank in particular, Director Léontine Meijer-van Mensch for that.
And it is also essential in this respect that I express our special gratitude to Dr Birgit Scheps-Bretschneider for her pathbreaking role in cooperation in the return of ancestors.
This is the third repatriation of ancestors from the State Ethnographic Collections. With the six ancestors being returned today, there will have been a total of 89 ancestors repatriated from the State Ethnographic Collections to Australia.
And, in addition to the State Ethnographic Collections, we have been working with four other German institutions to return ancestors. In total, including this return today, 157 ancestors will have been returned from Germany.
We do not know what proportion of the total number of ancestors this represents, as we don’t know for sure how many ancestors are held in Germany. But I can report to you that we are actively seeking the return of approximately 100 more ancestors currently held by German institutions or private collections.
Our work continues. Our partnership with German governments and institutions continues. We have much more to do.
I am proud of the work that our government does to facilitate the return of ancestors to Australia. It is important work, and part of our overall reconciliation journey with our First Nations peoples.
We could not do this work, without the diligence and commitment of our colleagues from the Office for the Arts in Canberra. I want to thank here today David Doble and Amanda Morley for their unstinting work to bring ancestors home.
Finally, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to commend the Traditional Custodians for the strength they have shown by travelling here and taking on the heavy responsibility to represent their communities, and to receive their ancestors and bring them home.
This ceremony today signifies the start of a long journey home for these ancestors and for the delegation that will accompany them.
I wish them safe passage home and I hope for a sense of closure for the Mutthi Mutthi, Worimi, Gannagal und Awabakal people’s once their ancestors are laid to rest on Country.
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