Skip to main content

‘The Lardil Elders and the Wellesley Islands community sincerely appreciate the generosity of both Mr Routhan, who donated this item, and AIATSIS, who organised its return from England.’ 

Tommy Wilson, senior Lardil man. 

Lardil return

Number of objects Return destination Institution Dates
1 item (Headdress) Lardil Elders and the Wellesley Island, Mornington Island, QLD Private collector, UK

Request submitted: NA

Return celebration:
24 March 2022

Private return

A headdress, used during the opening of the Sydney Opera House in 1973, was owned privately by Mr Maurice Routhan in the UK. Mr Jack, a Lardil man and Traditional Owner of Gununa (Mornington Island) in the Gulf of Carpentaria, gave the headdress as a farewell gift to Mr Routhan, his neighbour in Sydney, when he returned to the UK in the 1970s. In recent years, Mr Routhan wanted the headdress to go back to where it belongs.

‘I am extremely proud to be given the headdress as a gift before I left Australia. Now that I am old, I felt it right and proper for Mr Jack’s headdress to be returned to its true home. It has been an honour to care for it, but it belongs there’   

Mr Maurice Routhan, previous owner of Lardil headdress. 

The headress leaves Mr Routhan's house in the UK. Photo: The Camden Photographer, courtesy of Nakita Leigh Lang.

Lardil ceremonial headdress returned from overseas. Photo: D Walding, AIATSIS.

AIATSIS worked with the community, Mr Routhan and his family to arrange the return of the headdress to Australia in late January 2021. The COVID-19 pandemic delayed the return celebrations which took place in March 2022 at AIATSIS. For Lardil elders the return of the object after more than 50 years in the United Kingdom, signifies hope for the future. 

‘We lost many artefacts like boomerangs, spears, paintings, rocks. All of these are important because it's how we teach the younger ones. It's how we tell our stories, and that's how we keep our culture alive.’ 

Lawrence Bourke, Lardil Elder and Songman. 

Return event at Maraga, 24 March 2022. Left to right: Craig Richie, AIATSIS CEO, Michael Gavenor, Dr Sharon Rundle, Elaine Rundle, Lawrence Burke. Photo: D Walding, AIATSIS.

Lawrence Burke singing to the Lardil headdress. Photo: D Walding, AIATSIS. 

Related news and resources

Returning a Lardil headdress to its traditional owners | SBS The Feed

Last updated: 29 August 2023