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‘I’m happy you came to ask me about everything and our Old People. Talking made me feel good not sad. When they bring it back, it is for everyone.’  

Edith Mamarika, Senior Wanindilyakwa Elder. 

Anindilyakwa returns

Number of objects Return destination Institution Dates

174 items (incl. paintings, boomerangs, spear throwers, spears/heads, pipes/scrapers, message sticks, armbands, baskets, shell dolls) 

Groote Eylandt   Manchester Museum,  The University of Manchester 

Request submitted:
13 June 2023 

Return celebration:
5 September 2023 (handover)

21 November 2023 (on-Country return)

Manchester Museum

In September 2022, Manchester Museum (UK) joined the RoCH team for consultations with the Anindilyakwa community, traditional owners of Groote Eylandt (NT). The focus of these discussions was a large collection of objects acquired by Peter Worsley, whose manuscript collection is held by AIATSIS and object collection is held at Manchester Museum UK.

These consultations included more than 80 shell dolls painted with Anindilyakwa clan designs. Senior women at Umbakumba shared their memories of the shell dolls with consulting parties and younger artists of the Umbakumba Art Centre. 

A group of women at Angurugu Women's Art Centre, Angurugu, September 2022. Photo: I Johnston, AIATSIS.

Anindilyakwa shell dolls collected by Worsley. Photo: Manchester Museum.

‘Seeing such spears can bring back lost memories of the past. [But] they can’t be in a container, we want it in a museum… [They’re] better off coming back to Australia, and we can see the things that are made here. Five-and six-years-olds want to see what Old People did, in a museum display for us.’ 

Ida and Elaine Mamarika, Wanindilyakwa Elders. 

In a handover ceremony at Manchester Museum on 5 September 2023, 174 objects were formally returned to representatives of the Anindilyakwa community who travelled from Groote Eylandt. The process of returning these items is already supporting Anindilyakwa cultural strengthening and revitalisation. Descendant generations are using the items to connect with their heritage and revive traditions.

'We have only just begun to appreciate how valuable the repatriation of the Worsley Collection will be in the future.'
Thomas Amagula, Deputy Chair of the Anindilyakwa Land Council.

Amethea Mamarika, Danjibana Noeleen Lalara and Maicie Lalara speaking at the Anindilyakwa handover ceremony at Manchester Museum.

Representatives from AIATSIS, Manchester Museum, University of Manchester, the Anindilyakwa community and the Honourable Stephen Smith Australian High Commissioner to the UK at the Anindilyakwa handover ceremony at Manchester Museum. 

'The repatriation project is paving the way for future collaboration between the Anindilyakwa People and Manchester Museum, including a display of contemporary works from the Anindilyakwa Art Centre.'

Esme Ward, Director of Manchester Museum.

Film of the AIATSIS and Anindilyakwa delegation to Manchester Museum UK for the handover of the Worlsey collection 2023. AIATSIS and Anindilyakwa Media, Anindilyakwa Land Council 2023 AIATSIS and Anindilyakwa Media, Anindilyakwa Land Council 2023

Groote Eylandt

On 21 November 2023, the Anindilyakwa Community celebrated the return of 174 cultural heritage items to Groote Eylandt in the Northern Territory, from the Manchester Museum. This event marked the culmination of the partnership between the Anindilyakwa Community, Manchester Museum and the AIATSIS. 

Members of the Anindilyakwa Community, Traditional Owners of the lands and waters of the Groote Archipelago in the Northern Territory, gathered at Umbakumba where the items were originally collected to welcome home their treasured cultural heritage material.

These significant items include enungkuwa (spears), ajamurnda (bark baskets), errumungkwa (woven armbands) and dadikwakwa-kwa (painted doll shells).  

  • Anindilyakwa community members celebrating the return of their treasures from the Manchester Museum. Film credit: Anindilyakwa Media

    Anindilyakwa on-Country return celebration

  • Elvis Bara

  • Noeleen Lalara

  • Selena Uibo

  • Edith sharing her memories of Dadikwakwa-kwa (Shell Dolls)

  • Mijiyanga (Boat) | Elvis Bara

Shell Doll project

Re-discovering the shell dolls led to the Women’s art program at Umbakumba and Angurugu to reinvigorate the practice of creating shell dolls, now as expressions of Anindilyakwa artistic practice and culture.  

‘Seeing the photos and hearing the old ladies talk about the dolls inspired the shell project. We follow the old ways, weaving like the ladies using the string to make clothes for the dolls. We don’t want to lose our culture and we want to share our knowledge to the world.’ 

Masie Lalara, Wanindilyakwa artist. 

Anindilyakwa Art Centre's Dadikwakwa-kwa (Doll Shells) © Anindilyakwa Arts, Anindilyakwa Land Council, 2023. 

Noeleen Lalara is holding shell dolls that were recently made as part of the shell doll project. Photo: Anindilyakwa Land Council.

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Last updated: 19 June 2024