Controversy has surrounded the re-burying of the Mungo Man and Mungo Lady on Tuesday, after the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE) was informed the reburial had occurred on May 24 despite the department having been told it would not take place on that day.
“On 24 May 2022, the department was advised by the NSW government that the Willandra Ancestral Remains had, in fact, been re-buried that day, and that the NSW government was taking urgent steps to determine what actions had occurred,” a departmental spokesperson said in a statement.
DAWE is waiting for further advice from the NSW government.
The remains of the Mungo Man and Mungo Lady, discovered in 1968 and 1974 respectively, date back 42,000 years. The remains had been taken from their original resting places and been stored controversially, including in a storeroom at the Mungo Visitor Centre.
Earlier in the week, an injunction by three Indigenous groups had been filed to prevent the burial.
“This is just so disrespectful on all fronts and goes against the wishes of hundreds of past and present elders who have pleaded for a culturally-appropriate re-burial for our ancestors,” Mutthi Mutthi man Jason Kelly told ABC.
Federal government approval was required as the location for the reburial was within Mungo National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the reburial was a ‘controlled action’ under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.
Last month, then environmental minister Sussan Ley announced a burial site had been chosen in her electorate of Farrer, as reported in The Mandarin. At the time, the minister said the location had been chosen according to the wishes of the local Aboriginal community.
“The Australian government’s careful assessment has now given all parties their chance to put forward those views” Ley had said.
NSW heritage minister James Griffin had also welcomed the decision at the time.
Prime minister Anthony Albanese is yet to announce his full cabinet, with the environmental minister unnamed. The re-burial took place three days after the federal election, when the Coalition lost control of the government.