Monday, 2 December 2019
Private Members' Business
Captain Cook's Voyage to Australia: 250th Anniversary
That this House:
(1) notes that:
(a) 29 April 2020 is the 250th anniversary of Captain James Cook's landing in Botany Bay; and
(b) the Government is planning a range of exhibitions, activities and events to commemorate this occasion;
(a) that during Captain Cook's expedition to Australia in 1770 a number of Aboriginal artefacts and cultural heritage materials were taken from local Aboriginal people and removed to Great Britain and other countries;
(b) many of these cultural heritage materials are now on display or housed in museums and colleges in Great Britain and other countries; and
(c) the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) Return of Cultural Heritage Project has been working to intensify the effort to return material held overseas to their original custodians and owners;
(a) the historical, cultural and heritage significance of such cultural heritage materials to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and Australian history;
(b) that such cultural items, where possible, should be returned to the original custodians and owners; and
(c) that these cultural materials:
(i) play an important role in truth telling about Captain Cook's expedition and British settlement in Australia; and
(ii) provide ongoing educational opportunities for all Australians about important Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, culture and connection to country; and
(4) calls on the Government to work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities, AIATSIS, foreign governments and authorities to:
(a) establish a process for the return of relevant cultural and historical artefacts to the original custodians and owners; and
(b) identify educational opportunities from the return of these important Australian cultural items.
'Aboriginal dispossession started there, in that very place.' They're the words of Gweagal elder Shayne Williams, referring to 29 April 1770, the day Captain Cook set foot on the sand at Kurnell in Botany Bay—or Kamay, as it's known to locals—to claim the east coast of Australia in the name of King George. Cook's historic declaration and his actions began the process of the First Australians being dispossessed of their land, robbed of their culture and cut off from their language. When Cook's expedition left our shores, it took with it the sovereignty of the First Australians over the land that they'd nurtured and inhabited for tens of thousands of years. It also took with it some of the symbols of that sovereignty—cultural artefacts, materials and human remains passed down through generations, through the longest continuing culture and the longest continuing connection with the land on the planet. When Cook and his crew left Botany Bay, they had in their possession many spears, shields and other cultural pieces that tell an important story about our nation's true history. These are deeply cherished and significant cultural relics that connect today's First Australians with their ancestors and with their traditions. They tell the truth about Australian history. In the journals of Sir Joseph Banks and John Hunter are entries recording their first encounters with local Aboriginal people and some of the cultural items that were collected. These items are now predominantly housed and displayed in museums throughout Europe. They belong on their country. They belong with the descendants of those who created them. They belong in Australia.
Next year, Australia will commemorate the 250th anniversary of Cook's journey to our nation. The Australian government is planning various exhibitions, activities and events to mark the occasion. Those government-sponsored commemorations must tell the truth about Australian history. The truth, uncomfortable as it is for some, must recognise that this great land was inhabited by the First Australians—Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people—and their land was taken from them without agreement, without treaty and often through bloodshed and suffering. That was unjustified and wrong. The symbolic representation of that truth is the fact that many of those artefacts that belonged to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were taken without their consent by Cook's crew and those that followed and are now in England and other parts of Europe. Since that time, many Australian people have called for the return of those artefacts to communities in Australia. There are a few cases where these requests have been agreed to, but that practice is the exception.
As a gesture of truth-telling, as a gesture of recognition, as a gesture of reconciliation, those artefacts should be returned to their people in Australia, where requested. These artefacts should be returned to country so that the descendants of those from whom they were taken can learn their history and their culture and pass this important heritage on to their children. The Australian government should facilitate this through consultation with First Australians and foreign governments on a process for the return of significant Australian historical artefacts.
The 250th anniversary of Cook's landing is a perfect opportunity to announce an agreement with the British government on a process to identify and repatriate historic Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artefacts and remains, and I call on the Morrison government to make this an important priority of next year's commemorations. I acknowledge the wonderful work of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, which is leading the Return of Cultural Heritage project to intensify efforts to return material held overseas to country for the purposes of cultural revitalisation. I also acknowledge that the government has devoted some funding to this. It's widely recognised that there are thousands of pieces of cultural heritage that remain overseas and that it will take many years just to identify them. And, whilst the government's commitment to this project in conjunction with Cook's commemoration is welcomed, it's a job that must continue beyond 2020. Many have asked why this is important. I've asked myself this question before. The answer was provided perfectly by Rodney Kelly, a descendant who has been campaigning for the return of artefacts from Botany Bay, when he said, 'Our future will be better if we tell the truth about our past.' (Time expired)
Thank you, Deputy Speaker; I'm thrilled to be able to second this motion. I'm not going to make a lengthy speech, except to say I congratulate the member for Kingsford Smith, and to say that undertaking this project would make the recognition of James Cook's landing significant.
I rise today to acknowledge that 29 April 2020 will mark the 250th anniversary of Captain Cook's first voyage to Australia in 1770. The anniversary presents a unique opportunity for us to come together in reflection of our nation's shared history. The government is planning a range of exhibitions, activities and events to commemorate this occasion.
We must acknowledge that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples had already been here for more than 60,000 years and had well-established societies when the Endeavour arrived. Indigenous Australians have a deep understanding of and connection to the land, waters and environment and have well-established art, languages and culture. The tradition and culture of Indigenous Australians has been deeply disrupted by Australia's history of colonial violence. To make matters more complex, in the past the perspectives of Indigenous Australians were erased from our historical narrative. Sadly, many European settlers collected Aboriginal artefacts in an act of dispossession. Ceremonial items, tools, clothing and many objects of cultural and spiritual significance were taken as curiosities for museums. Many of the cultural heritage materials are now on display housed in museums and colleges in England and in other countries. It is important to understand our story from multiple perspectives, including both the view from the shore and the view from the ship.
Truth telling from the perspective of our Indigenous communities is critical to a shared future and helps us build better relationships in the journey to repairing and revitalising the Indigenous spirit. It is through truth telling that we build a nation. With funding from the Morrison government, the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies is leading the Return of Cultural Heritage project to intensify efforts to return material held overseas to their original custodians and owners. This project is part of a larger narrative to support the cultural resurgence of Australia's First Nations peoples and to support truth telling about Cook's voyage and our nation's history. At this point, over 100,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander objects have been identified in overseas collections, and the number is expected to increase as research continues.
I commend the work of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, which has already facilitated and secured the unconditional return of 42 objects from the Illinois State Museum and 43 objects from the University of Manchester directly back to the traditional custodians. The 85 objects secured for return consist of secret and sacred ceremonial and secular items, including but not limited to religious items, ceremonial body ornaments, spears, shields and boomerangs. These artefacts do not just hold historical significance for our nation's Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities; they speak to the ongoing traditions and customs of the oldest living cultures on earth.
The return of cultural heritage material is crucial for Australia's First Nations people, as it ensures significant ceremonies and cultural practices are revived, maintained and practised by future generations. Moreover, these important cultural materials play a critical role in truth-telling about Captain Cook's voyage and British settlement in Australia. They provide ongoing educational opportunities for all Australians about important Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, culture and connection to country.
The spirit of Indigenous Australians is resilient and strong. We have fought to see meaningful change and historical acceptance within Australia's narrative of the past. Over the last half century, many significant steps towards reconciliation have been taken. Nonetheless, as a country, we know that there is much work to be done in order to achieve true national unity and empower Indigenous Australians to revitalise and share their culture. We must continue to honour and celebrate the spirit of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in our journey towards restoring the spirit of Indigenous Australians, especially as we approach the 250th anniversary of Captain Cook's voyage.
Next year marks the 250th anniversary of James Cook's first voyage to the east coast of Australia. While there are mixed feelings about this anniversary, of course, it is hard to deny it is an especially significant anniversary for the land we now call Australia.
One project that I will certainly be celebrating is the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies' Return of Cultural Heritage project. AIATSIS, located on Lake Burley Griffin here in my electorate of Canberra, will investigate and facilitate the return of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural heritage materials from overseas back to country. Through investigation of the holdings of international collecting institutions, many in Britain, a database of cultural heritage objects, audio visual and images held in overseas collections will be developed. In doing so, AIATSIS will continue to build relationships with overseas collecting institutions and First Nations communities, further establishing the case with these institutions of the importance of returning items held overseas to their country of origin. AIATSIS also hopes to build a business case for a future work program. The process of repatriation of cultural heritage will be a long one, and further funding by Australian governments and effort by Australian collecting institutions will be required.
The process of returning cultural heritage is important for a number of reasons. In my mind, the most important reason is that the return of cultural heritage will support a deeper appreciation and knowledge of the rich cultural heritage of our First Nations people. Non-indigenous Australia is waking up to this rich cultural heritage of this land's First Nations. We are waking up, with the help of thought leaders like Bruce Pascoe and his book, Dark Emu, to the sophistication of Aboriginal cultures and societies. We are waking up to the rich and numerous languages and dialects that have in many places survived colonisation. Other languages, such as the language of the Ngunawal people of the Canberra region, have been resurrected through a comprehensive process of research.
The thing that has struck me as I learn more about our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures is that these cultures have been staring us in the face in spite of the active suppression of these cultures by colonisers. Whether it is the artefacts still visible at Tidbinbilla or Namadgi here in the ACT, aquaculture systems in the Budj Bim cultural landscape of the Gunditjmara people in Victoria or the use of observations by early settlers and colonists to piece together cultural histories and languages, First Nations cultures are there to be understood and embraced if Australia as a nation chooses to do so. It is clear to me that Canberrans and Australians across the country are eager to learn more about the oldest continuing civilisations that inhabited this land before white settlement and continue to inhabit this country now.
In addition to work on international returns of cultural heritage, significant returns have occurred in Canberra, including the return of Mungo Man by the ANU to the Willandra Lakes area of western New South Wales in 2017. Mungo Man, Australia's oldest human remains, confirmed that people have lived in the Willandra Lakes for over 40,000 years. The significance of this return should not be underestimated, with traditional owners expressing the spiritual significance of the return, as well as its importance in the ongoing process of reconciliation in Australia. And now the Mungo Man story will be part of the Australian history curriculum, with a program designed for year 4 to year 7 students launched in Melbourne earlier this month. The Mungo Man example demonstrates the broad range of impacts the return of First Nations cultural heritage has, not only for First Nations communities but also for our nation as a whole.
I support the member for Kingsford Smith's motion calling on the government to support AIATSIS and the Return of Cultural Heritage project and to identify educational opportunities that the return of these important Australian cultural items provide. Australians, both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and the broader community, have a strong desire to see First Nations culture incorporated more broadly into our education systems, into our politics and into our everyday lives. Just like New Zealand has embraced Maori culture, the opportunities for Australia to incorporate First Nations cultural heritage are immense.
Here in the ACT, the Legislative Assembly moved a motion last week to begin each sitting day with an acknowledgement of country in the Ngunawal language. I call on this parliament to adopt this approach also, with our daily acknowledgement of country delivered in the language of the Canberra region.
The suffering of our First Nations peoples is significant and continues to be felt through the generations. It is projects like the AIATSIS Return of Cultural Heritage and regular acknowledgement of our first peoples in places like this parliament that provide the building blocks for achieving really significant changes. (Time expired)
Australia has a rich history, and we are richer for knowing it in all of its colour and all of its depth. Next year, next April, we will celebrate and commemorate the 250th anniversary of Captain Cook's arrival in Australia. Captain Cook was one of the most remarkable men of his era. His voyages greatly contributed to the expansion of human knowledge. Responsible for navigating and mapping, among other places, Labrador, Newfoundland, New Zealand, Hawaii, New Guinea and the east coast of Australia and Tasmania, Cook created accurate maps, later confirmed by satellite images, using what were quite unsophisticated tools. With Sir Joseph Banks, he promoted a greater understanding and knowledge of a wide variety of Australian flora and fauna.
Cook was fastidious about health and hygiene, and, on his long voyage between 1768 and 1771, he lost not a single person to scurvy. This was an amazing feat because, although scurvy had been linked to bad diet, the link between it and vitamin C had not been established until that particular voyage of Captain Cook.
Last year, along with Senator Dodson, I had the honour and privilege of chairing a committee into the constitutional recognition of Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and much has been said about the recommendations we made in relation to the Voice, but perhaps less has been focused on the recommendations that we made in relation to having a richer appreciation of our history. I just want to quote again, from the foreword to that very important report, what we both said about Australia's history:
We believe there is a strong desire among all Australians to know more about the history, traditions and culture of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and their contact with other Australians both good and bad. A fuller understanding of our history including the relationship between Black and White Australia will lead to a more reconciled nation.
And that is something that all people in this House wish to see. We made recommendations about how one might go about having a greater appreciation of one's history, and I see this in my own community, where school groups and community organisations want to know more about the Indigenous people who lived and continue to live in our area.
In relation to the issue of remains, the committee made a recommendation that:
… the Australian Government consider the establishment, in Canberra, of a National Resting Place, for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander remains which could be a place of commemoration, healing and reflection.
I'm pleased to say that the government adopted all of the recommendations of that report, including those two recommendations.
Much has been said in this debate about the role of AIATSIS. I would like to talk about another one of Australia's great institutions and show how that institution has well and truly married the telling of the story of the Cook voyage with due respect to Indigenous people. That institution is the National Library of Australia, and I'm honoured to be the House's representative on that library's council. Last year the National Library of Australia opened the Cook and the Pacific exhibition. It opened on 22 September and ran until 10 February this year—it was timed to coincide with Cook's departure.
Cook and the Pacific told stories of exploration, contact and conflict of Europeans encountering people in the Pacific for the first time and the different ways of understanding the world. Some 80,000 people visited that exhibition, and 53 per cent of those people were from outside Canberra. That exhibit drew on the National Library's extensive collection of materials relating to Captain Cook, including manuscript No. 1, which is the World Heritage listed Cook Endeavour journals, as well as taking material from libraries in the UK, New Zealand and the United States and from other institutions in Australia.
In relation to First Nations, the exhibition content included a strong First Nations voice. The Library consulted with First Nations communities to ensure that the exhibition represented their stories in a culturally sensitive and appropriate way. Consultation with First Nations communities was a significant part of the development of the exhibition process. The curatorial team reached out to all First Nations communities represented in the exhibition in Australia and across the broader Pacific. In Australia, contact was made with the traditional custodians of the Ngunawal and Ngambri peoples of Canberra, the Guugu Yimidhirr of Cooktown, the La Perouse Local Aboriginal Land Council, the Ulladulla Local Aboriginal Land Council, the Sydney Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council, the Tasmanian Aboriginal Corporation and the peoples of Cape York. The participation of each community varied, from minimal to highly engaged and involved, but the feedback that the Library received from those First Nations communities was that this was an incredibly successful process. Indeed, the Library, which had already developed a very strong reputation for engagement with First Nations people, further developed its connections and ways of engaging with people. I think what the Library did in the Cook and the Pacific exhibition shows what can be done with our cultural institutions telling a richer story of Australia's history. (Time expired)
The electorate of Lindsay has vibrant and diverse communities. We are hardworking, generous and resilient. Our community spirit is strong enough and our relationships mature enough to have an important reflection on Captain James Cook's journey to Australia in 1770, which shaped our nation. This voyage is what made Australia the country it is today. Next year Australia will mark 250 years since Cook's journey, from the perspectives of the ship and from the shore. It is also a time to reflect on the Aboriginal historical and cultural perspectives.
This year's NAIDOC theme was 'Voice. Treaty. Truth.'. Truth-telling engages all Australians in the important process of understanding together. The messages and learnings of NAIDOC Week are not limited by the week itself. The continuation of these themes is integral to further reconciliation. When the Minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt, joined Aboriginal members of our community in Lindsay for an open forum, we all experienced the value that comes from honest, mature local conversations. People in my community want a voice on the issues that matter to them—health, housing and, very importantly, education. I am passionate about ensuring all children have access to the best education and engagement in their education throughout their school journey so that they get the best opportunities to secure a job in the future and to have a secure future themselves.
With over 6,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in my electorate of Lindsay, truth-telling and understanding of our heritage and history deepens the relationships within our community. Cook's journey on the Endeavour to Australia holds historical and cultural significance for all Australians. The Endeavour encapsulates one of history's most storied maritime voyages of scientific exploration and discovery. As our Prime Minister Scott Morrison said, it contributed to making what Australia is today. The 2020 anniversary will see educational experiences along the ship's journey, to provide new generations with insight into this historic venture. We will encourage all Australians, on the anniversary, to take the opportunity to learn more about the voyage's contribution to knowledge, science and history and about its impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Sharing in this important process about this significant part of our nation's history will build on the path to reconciliation through open dialogue and a better understanding of our heritage and shared history.
The Cook 250-year anniversary also marks an important milestone in the repatriation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural heritage. The significance of over 60,000 years of Indigenous culture, society, art and language is captured in over 100,000 objects in museum exhibits around the world. The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies is leading the Return of Cultural Heritage project, making great strides in bringing cultural heritage material back to the traditional owners and custodians of country. I am proud that the Morrison government is funding these important efforts to return items of such rich historical and cultural significance. This cultural heritage material plays a key role in the intergenerational transfer of knowledge and the continuation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and tradition.
The anniversary of the Endeavour's journey to Australia offers a chance to revisit and further understand an event that shaped our nation's history. We all share in this history. While some have recently arrived and others have a connection to this land spanning tens of thousands of years, the diversity of heritage strengthens our country and makes it what it is today. Understanding the many perspectives that form the complexity and diversity of Australia brings us closer together. I look forward to continuing the important local conversations that I've started with members of my community of Lindsay. I encourage people in my community to be part of the 250-year anniversary from the perspectives of both the ship and the shore.
As we heard in the fantastic contributions of the members who spoke before me, next year will be the 250th anniversary of Captain James Cook's landing at Botany Bay, in the electorate of my friend the member for Kingsford Smith. It was Captain Cook's first voyage of scientific investigation to the South Pacific, and his mission was to seek evidence of the prophesied Terra Australis, or South Land.
During his voyage, Captain Cook sailed up the east coast of Australia and made several landings, most notably at Botany Bay on 29 April 1770. During these landings, a number of Aboriginal artefacts and cultural heritage materials were taken from First Australians and taken back to Great Britain, where they were archived in universities and displayed in museums. Many of these cultural heritage materials have since been moved and are now on display or housed in museums and colleges not just in the UK but around the world. The arrival of Captain Cook in 1770 marked the start of a process of removal of First Australian cultural heritage from Australia. The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, AIATSIS, through its Return of Cultural Heritage project, has been working to return material held overseas to its original custodians and owners.
The repatriation of ancestral remains is of great significance to First Australians and many other indigenous peoples worldwide. Repatriation is an extraordinary achievement and has garnered a better relationship between First Australians, museums and universities. Its importance is enshrined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Repatriation has revealed deep histories and stories, and it creates opportunities for understanding cross-cultural relations, reconciliation approaches and the work of First Australian organisations to achieve their aspirations.
Currently, over 32,000 sacred First Australian objects and ceremonial items held by British institutions have been identified by AIATSIS for return to communities. It's a lot! AIATSIS has identified more than 100,000 items in 220 institutions around the world, most of which were gathering dust in the basements of museums in the US, the UK and parts of Europe. We must recognise the historical, cultural and heritage significance of such items to First Australians and Australian history. Such cultural items, where possible, should be returned to the original custodians and owners.
In 2011, Ned David travelled 13,000 kilometres from his home in the Torres Strait to the Natural History Museum in London. He was on a mission to collect the bones of his ancestors that were collected as scientific specimens from the Torres Strait Islands by Europeans in the 19th century. Recently, sacred Indigenous artefacts have been returned to the Arrernte elders of central Australia after over 100 years in the United States. Arrernte elders spent years working for the return of these objects, which recently arrived in Alice Springs in the Northern Territory from the Manchester Museum in the UK and from the Illinois State Museum in the USA, amongst others.
These cultural materials play an important role in truth-telling about British settlement in Australia. This repatriation provides ongoing educational opportunities for all Australians about important First Australians history, culture and connection to country. I call on the federal government to expand work with First Australian people and communities, with AIATSIS and with foreign governments and authorities to establish an ongoing process for the return of relevant cultural and historical artefacts to the original custodians and owners.
I acknowledge the things that the federal government are doing, but additionally the federal government should identify educational opportunities from the return of these important First Australian cultural items to continue the understanding and recognition in our land. To quote my friend and fellow Territorian, Ted Egan, the return of these items must be done in a sensitive and research based approach that has at its heart mutual recognition and respect for our First Australians.