Exploring ‘scientific theft’ of Aboriginal remains

This question will be explored by Griffith University historian Professor Paul Turnbull in a free public lecture on Thursday, May 11 at the Ship Inn, South Bank.

“The past two decades have seen substantial collections of Indigenous Australians’ remains returned from museums and medical schools for burial or safe-keeping, but repatriation continues to have its opponents,’’ Professor Turnbull said.

“A number of leading scientists argue that it denies us what might prove to be unique opportunities to acquire new knowledge of human evolution and prehistory.”

Professor Turnbull will reflect on debates over repatriation since the late 1980s from a historical perspective.

“When we do this, we cannot ignore the weight of evidence showing that in many instances, the practice was connected with colonial violence,” he said.

“It was also seen by many Europeans from the 19th and 20th centuries as an outrage against the rights of Indigenous people.”

Professor Turnbull said the lecture would also involve the participation of Bob Weatherall, a past director of the Foundation for Aboriginal and Islander Research Action and a leading figure in efforts to secure the return of Indigenous Australian remains from scientific collections for nearly 30 years.

Since the early 1990s, Professor Turnbull has worked as a consultant researcher with Indigenous Australian communities on the identification and repatriation of ancestral bodily remains from museum and medical school collections in Australia and overseas.

He has written extensively on the theft of remains and the evolution of racial science from the 1790s to the early 20th Century. His recent publications include the co-edited volume, The Dead and their Possessions (Routledge, 2004).

WHAT: Centre for Public Culture and Ideas Public Lecture: ‘Scientific theft of Aboriginal bodily remains in Colonial Australia’

WHEN: Thursday, May 11, 5.30pm

WHERE: Ship Inn Function Room (S06 2.02), Queensland College of Art, South Bank