TWO items from Beechworth’s Burke Museum collection will be returned to the Aboriginal people from whom they came.
The rush basket and shield, that have been part of the RE Johns collection since 1868, have been identified as rightly belonging to the Dja Dja Wurrung people near Bendigo.
Indigo Council last night voted unanimously to hand back the items, after the Dja Dja Wurrung people were deemed the traditional owners.
They will be the first items from the collection to be handed over since museum staff actively began researching where the items of the collection had come from.
The RE Johns collection is generally considered one of the most significant collections of Aboriginal artefacts in Australia.
But the museum’s research, completed with Aboriginal Affairs Victoria, highlighted it could not be certain which items had been obtained ethically.
The museum collections manager, Linda Peacock, said in those cases it was best to return the objects to the traditional owners where possible.
“We can’t confirm how they came to be with the collector who gave them to the museum,” she said.
“We can’t verify whether they were or weren’t obtained ethically, and we do know there was a lot of ‘skull-duggery’ in those days.
“So we believe it is best to give the objects back.”
Ms Peacock said the museum had been working towards this outcome for some time now.
“It’s an expression of goodwill, and it just seems the right thing to do,” she said.
“In five years we’d have had them for 150 years — it seems right that this happens now.”
She said there were other pieces from the collection that would also potentially be returned.
The basket and shield will return to the Dja Dja Wurrung people to be used for part of a traditional ceremony in November.
They will then return to the museum temporarily while the Dja Dja Wurrung people find a permanent home for them.