Macleay Museum Repatriation Policy

The University of Sydney recognises that it has specific obligations in respect of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Ancestral remains and culturally significant items held in its collections.

Since the earliest contact between Europeans and the indigenous peoples of Australia, the cultural heritage of the indigenous peoples has been collected for scientific and academic purposes.

For well over a century the University has assembled a collection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Ancestral remains and culturally significant items.

Present community and cultural values are markedly different from those which prevailed during the period when the items now held by the University were collected.

The University recognises that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples should be empowered to protect, preserve and promote their culture and heritage. The University further recognises the importance of the relationship between indigenous peoples and their cultural heritage, irrespective of current ownership. In considering all matters relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Ancestral remains and culturally significant items, the University will be guided by the general principle that the rights of the indigenous people are of primary concern.

As part of its commitment to the indigenous peoples of Australia and the need for consultative dialogue, the University will establish an Advisory Committee, which shall report as necessary to the Vice-Chancellor, to consult with Aboriginal and Torres Strait communities or organisations regarding the return to appropriate communities and the future management of Ancestral remains and secret and sacred objects held by the University.

Ancestral remains and secret and sacred objects currently held by the University shall be stored in a sensitive manner and shall not be displayed to the public except with the specific permission of the relevant Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities or organisations.

While bona fide scholars may properly seek access to items held in University collections such applications must be submitted through the University Advisory Committee. All detailed documentation relating to these collections, as well as any photographic or other forms of duplication or recording of items, shall be subject to the same conditions of consultation and management as the items themselves.

The University undertakes to determine, as far as possible, the community origins of all items held within these specific collections.

Acknowledging the need for proper consultations with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities which can be identified with the items held within its collections, the University will ensure adequate contact is made such that the communities are provided with sufficient information on the items now held to enable them to give advice to the University regarding the return or future management of such items.

The University acknowledges that special significance may be associated with Ancestral remains which have been identified as named or known or Ancestral remains identified as belonging to the period since European contact.

Following proper consultation, which on a case-by-case basis will weigh the cultural and scientific significance of items, the University Advisory Committee will work closely with identified Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities or organisations, and with Government Departments as appropriate, to facilitate the return of such items in a proper and dignified manner.

With the agreement of the relevant Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities or organisations, the University may dispose of items or transfer items to an approved third party.

The University accepts a responsibility for the on-going curatorial care of the unprovenanced Ancestral remains or culturally significant items or items which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities or organisations resolve to leave in the care of the University. The University undertakes to treat these remains and items with all due respect and dignity and to maintain an ongoing contact with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities or organisations regarding the future care or return of such items.

Should the University consider adding to its current collections, any acquisition will be subject to the approval of the University Advisory Committee which shall on all occasions first seek advice from an appropriate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community or organisation.

For further information contact Matt Poll: or (02) 9351 7692.