The Australian government has announced a new cultural precinct dedicated to the preservation of Australia’s Indigenous history, which is set to open in four years on the shore of Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra, the country’s capital. The precinct will be called Ngurra—meaning home, or place of belonging in several Indigenous Australian languages—and will include a national resting place for ancestral remains repatriated from overseas collections and a new headquarters for the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS).
The news was announced Friday in a joint statement by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Ken Wyatt, the Minister for Indigenous Australians. The government has allocated $228 million toward the project, with a national design competition expected to be launched this month.
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Ngurra will sit within the parliamentary triangle, which includes the National Library of Australia, the National Portrait Gallery, the National Gallery of Australia, and the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, a permanent protest site for generations of Indigenous Australians. Now a heritage-listed location, protestors have gathered there since 1972 to fight to retain rights to their traditional lands.
In a statement, Wyatt said Ngurra’s national resting place will mean “the remains of Indigenous Australians taken from their country will be cared for until they are able to be returned to their communities,” adding that “in instances where provenance has been forgotten or erased, they will be cared for in perpetuity with dignity and respect.”
The new National Resting Place will take over as custodians of ancestral remains from the National Museum of Australia. Remains whose provenance cannot be established will be made accessible in perpetuity in case future technologies afford insights into their repatriation. Additionally, members of Indigenous communities will be able to visit the resting place.
The new learning center will display the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies’ expansive collection of historical documents, films, photographs, language recordings, and objects which were described in the release as “the world’s largest collection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island cultural and heritage items.”
The reaction to Ngurra by Australia’s Indigenous communities has been mixed.
Jodie Sizer, chair of AIATSIS’s council, said that “the Ngurra precinct will reinforce the country’s appreciation of the important place that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and histories play in the story of this nation.”
She continued: “The inclusion of a National Resting Place is of vital importance, and is long overdue. Consultation on this concept dates back more than two decades.”
However, some of Canberra’s Indigenous leaders say the proper groups were not consulted on important aspects of the plan, or acknowledged in the news release. Canberra has been home to the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people for more than 20,000 years.
Speaking at a press conference, Ngambri leader Paul Girrawah House, said the “announcement appears to exclude the Ngambri people and the the acknowledgement of the Ngambri people and country here in the Parliamentary Triangle.”
House added: “That doesn’t work, that doesn’t work for us: that’s offensive, and excludes and continues that dispossession and intergenerational trauma.”