Daley, Paul: Indigenous remains

Daley, Paul

Restless indigenous remains‘, Meanjin, 73, 1, March 2014

The author explores the storage facilities of the National Museum of Australia and writes about the implications for the way we treat the dead from our wars, overseas and at home.

The collection of bodies at Mitchell [A.C.T.] is central to a shameful, bleak, little-known narrative about Australia that begins at colonisation and reverberates through our unsettled national sovereignty. It extends discomfortingly into the twentieth century and resonates shamefully today as an element of ongoing trauma in Aboriginal communities over frontier violence and desecration.

He discusses the history of the trade in Indigenous body parts, the contrast with the reverent treatment of White Australian remains from World War I, the entrenched attitude of the Australian War Memorial against commemoration of the dead from the Frontier Wars, the Indigenous history of Australia, the collection and curating of Indigenous relics (in a way sometimes indistinguishable from the treatment of fauna), the massacres of Indigenous people and the prizing of their bones, the official rejection of the so-called ‘black armband’ view of Australian history, the attitudes of White Australian to Indigenous soldiers. and, finally the contrast between the treatment of Indigenous remains and the proposal of Prime Minister Abbott for an Australian Arlington cemetery.

The author discusses these issues on ABC Local Radio Canberra. An edited version of the article appeared later in the Guardian Australia.

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