Storytelling and teaching focus for new Ngurra building

By Melissa Coade

Tuesday January 11, 2022

Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt listens to Scott Morrison delivering his statement on the Closing the Gap Implementation Report
Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt listens to Scott Morrison delivering his statement on the Closing the Gap Implementation Report, August 5, 2021. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

A ‘national resting place’ and custodian for Indigenous ancestral remains, which will also house the Australian Institute of Aboriginal  and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS), is to be built in Canberra.

Prime minister Scott Morrison announced the new  $315.6 million precinct, to be located on Ngunnawal country on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin last week. It will also serve as a place of learning and knowledge, and be responsible for caring for ATSI ancestral remains.

“Ngurra is the realisation of a long-held desire to have a home for ATSI cultures and histories at the heart of our nation,” Morrison said in a statement. 

“It will be a national landmark of the highest order, standing proudly for us all to celebrate, educate, reflect and commemorate.”

‘Ngurra’, which appears in many different Aboriginal languages around Australia, means home, country or place of belonging. One of the centre’s key functions will be to care for the ancestral remains of Indigenous Australians taken from their country until they can be returned to their communities. In cases where the origins of ancestral remains cannot be traced, they will be care for in perpetuity.

Truth-telling will also be a focus for the centre, with learning and engagement, exhibitions, research and curation projects for the world’s oldest living culture planned.

Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt said AIATSIS’ collections would make the largest collection of ATSI cultural and heritage items more accessible. 

“Ngurra will provide a new perspective on our shared history, as a significant moment for truth-telling, and a new place where the diversity of Indigenous Australia and one of the world’s oldest living cultures will be celebrated,” Wyatt said.

AIATSIS chairperson Jodie Sizer said the institute was honoured and proud to lead the Ngurra project forward.


“We care for an unparalleled and growing collection of over one million items – works by ATSI knowledge-keepers, artists, filmmakers, storytellers and writers, and academic research materials,” Sizer said. 

“We lead and influence the conduct of research in First Nations studies – including in ethics, protocols, and collections practices.”

Institute CEO Craig Ritchie noted that the new purpose-built facility would be a place for discovery for the tens of thousands of schoolchildren who visit Canberra for excursions every year. 

The government will run an architectural design competition to capture a design that ‘reflects Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ aspirations, achievements and deep connection to Country’.

The pm added that the site will be situated on the primary axis in the Parliamentary Triangle in Commonwealth Place, underscoring the importance and reverence of the institution.

“This new world-class facility will contribute to our continuing journey of reconciliation, where Indigenous Australians can tell their stories, in the way they want, for all visitors to have a greater understanding of our shared history,” Morrison said.

“It will be built fully in accordance with the proposal developed by AIATSIS and presented to government for approval, as a result of their consultation processes.”

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