Culture and heritage

Aboriginal cultural heritage


Returning cultural material to country

The NPWS is responsible for protecting Aboriginal heritage in NSW. This includes Aboriginal ancestral (skeletal) remains and cultural material.

In the past, NPWS policy favoured the removal of cultural material (including ancestral remains) from its original context to guarantee its 'protection'. As a result of almost 30 years of this practice, the NPWS now has large collections of cultural material, including ancestral remains.

Over the years, NPWS policies have changed. The practice of collecting cultural material is less prevalent today, although the NPWS still retains its large collections of cultural material. The NPWS would like return of these collections in a strategic manner, and now recognises it needs a formal program to oversee the process.

As a result the Repatriation Program was established in January 2002. Since that time, the remains of over 30 individuals have been returned to the La Perouse Aboriginal Community with NPWS assistance(see below). We are still developing protocols for the return of cultural material. We also need to carry out a comprehensive audit of the collection before strategies for repatriation can be endorsed and implemented. The program will not apply to cultural material held in the Australian Museum under Section 90 of the National Parks and Wildlife Act.

Over the next three years, the NPWS will approach Aboriginal Communities seeking guidance on the management of cultural material in the organisation's collections, and in particular its repatriation. The NPWS will provide assistance to communities, to make sure that cultural material is returned in a culturally appropriate way.

More information

Repatriation of remains to the La Perouse Aboriginal community
See an example of the NPWS Repatriation Program at work.

For repatriation matters, contact a relevant Office of Environment and Heritage, Department of Premier and Cabinet (OEH), Country, Culture and Heritage Division (CCHD), Regional Manager by phoning OEH Environment Line on 131 555. 

Page last updated: 29 March 2012