The environment minister has announced a burial site has been chosen in her own electorate of Farrer for ancient Aboriginal remains dating back 42,000 years.
Sussan Ley said the remains of Mungo Lady (discovered in 1968) and Mungo Man (discovered in 1974) were among 108 ancient Aboriginal people whose remains had previously been disturbed from their original burial sites. The remains were taken from sites identified as some of oldest ritual burials ever recorded by humans.
“Forty-two thousand years ago Aboriginal people were living — and thriving — on the edge of what was then a rich lakeside. In the last four decades their remains have been removed, analysed, stored, and extensively investigated in the interests of western science.
“I have determined that the remains can be reburied in the Willandra Lakes Region in accordance with the wishes, rights and interests of the local Aboriginal community, represented by the Willandra Lakes Region Aboriginal Advisory Group (AAG),” the minister said.
The government has been considering the competing interests of the remains’ anthropological importance and how best to show respect for the cultural traditions that made them so special.
Ley issued a statement on Wednesday explaining the NSW state government had submitted reburial plans for the remains given the significance of the Willandra Lakes Region world heritage area.
“This has been a passionately debated issue that goes to the essence of Australia’s history and that of mankind itself.
“The Australian government’s careful assessment has now given all parties their chance to put forward those views” Ley said.
The formal assessment about what to do with the remains began last August as part of an application made under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. Since then the minister has met with local traditional owners and other stakeholders before making a final decision.
“I have found that while it is important that we are able to document history, it is equally important that we respect the cultural intent of the burial process and the heartfelt views of the descendants,” Ley said.
“The reburial process will be managed in such a way as to minimise any natural decay. The conditions I have imposed provide for their security and safekeeping during and after reburial,” she added.
Following years of passionate debate, Ley said even the return of Mungo Man to the local district in 2017 had generated controversy due to the nature in which his remains were stored, ‘incongruously held in a storeroom’ at the Mungo Visitor Centre.
“Mungo Man and Mungo Lady will soon be home at the end of this long, long road. And their spirits can rest,” she said.