Repatriation and Its Critics

  • Paul TurnbullEmail author
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Pacific History book series (PASPH)


In this concluding chapter, I reflect on the tensions inherent in writing about the collecting and scientific uses of Indigenous remains as a historian who have actively assisted in the repatriation of the Indigenous dead. One cannot but be mindful of the risks inherent in subjecting the facts of past human experience to present-day ethical judgement. But in this chapter I question whether the means by which remains were acquired during the long nineteenth century is as irrelevant to the question of whether they should now be repatriated or continue to be kept for research as recent critics of repatriation would have us believe. The past cannot be so easily disentangled from the present. The history of the collecting of the remains of Indigenous Australians in colonial Australia highlights that it occurred in the context of norms of morality and law in respect of death and burial that continue to be integral to our sense of self and our relations to our fellow human beings. We would do well to be mindful of the continuity of European and also Indigenous moral traditions and law in respect of the dead when deciding whether the greater good is now to allow these relics to be buried, or to be kept for future scientific benefit observed to this day.

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of TasmaniaLauncestonAustralia
  2. 2.University of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia

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