Kaurna community members laid to rest the remains of two of their Old People repatriated from museums in Europe in an emotional ceremony at Tennyson Dunes near West Lakes today.

For many years the ancestral remains of South Australian Aboriginal Nations were collected by museums and universities across Australia and the world for “scientific” research.

In recent years the Australian government and international museums have taken steps to return the remains to their ancestors.

“The Old People were often taken without consent, which caused great sadness and anger, and that has been carried for generations” said Kaurna Elder Jeffrey Newchurch.

“While past wrongs can’t be forgotten, pathways to healing can now start” he said.

Elders Fred Agius, Jeffrey Newchurch, Moogy Sumner and Tamaru Kartinyeri with Katrina Karlapina Power participated in a smoking and burial ceremony to return the Old People home to where their spirits lie.

Traditional owners had met the remains in Canberra and escorted them back to Kaurna country for the burial.

At the reburial ceremony, the remains of the Old People were taken from their storage boxes and placed in Kaurna soil uncovered and facing Kangaroo Island, according to tradition.


The processes and practices of repatriation and reburial are important for the cultural learning of young Kaurna People and non-Aboriginal people the Kaurna leaders said.

“We welcome our Old People home.We show them respect.We show all respect because we are Kaurna” said Uncle Fred Agius at the conclusion of the ceremony.

One of the ancestors, the Port Adelaide Old Person was returned from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm Sweden earlier this month.

The remains were collected by Captain Nils Werngren from Port Adelaide during his second sea voyage around the world 1842 to 1844. On his return, he donated this and other remains to the Institute, which has held a large collection of human skeletal remains since the 19th century.

A second Old Person, from Henley Beach, was returned from the National Museum in Canberra, where the remains were held since 2009, after being returned from the Pathology and Natural History Museum in Vienna, Austria.

While welcoming the return of their ancestors, both Jeffrey Newchurch and Katrina Karlapina Power called on South Australia’s own museum to consider their own collection. 

“There currently appears to be ancestral remains of over 800 Kaurna old peoples held at the South Australian Museum’s bulk story” said Mr Newchurch.

“This is disrespectful and wrong” he said.

“1993 saw Museums Australia introduce its ‘Previous Possessions, New Obligations’ policy aimed a facilitating the return of human remains to aboriginal people.  The return of Kaurna human remains from the SA Museum has not really started” Ms Power said.

“It is time for the SA Museum to have productive discussions with the Kaurna Nation about repatriation of Old Poeple and the return of stolen Kaurna artefacts” she said.

For Mr Newchurch, the work continues.

“I have been working for many years on the return of Kaurna old people and one day I hope all ancestral remains of the Kaurna old people will be returned to Country” he said

By Lucy Kingston

Pics: from top: Uncle Moogy Sumner; Uncle Moogy Sumner, Uncle Fred Agius & Tamaru Kartinyeri; Katrina Karlapina Power, Fred Agius & Jeffrey Newchurch; Fred Agius; crowd gather at Tennyson Dunes for ceremony   


SANTS acknowledges that the land on which our office is based is the traditional lands for the Kaurna people and we respect their spiritual and cultural relationship with their country.