Skip to main content

Anindilyakwa cultural heritage material to come home to Australia from Manchester Museum, United Kingdom

Yesterday, a ceremony at Manchester Museum, saw the return of 174 cultural heritage items to representatives of the Anindilyakwa community, Traditional Owners of the land and waters of the Groote Archipelago in the Northern Territory.  

These significant items include, enungkuwa (spears), ajamurnda (bark baskets), errumungkwa (woven armbands) and dadikwakwa-kwa (painted doll shells). The material was collected by Professor Peter Worsley during his PhD fieldwork on Groote Eylandt in the 1950s.

Anindilyakwa community representatives Danjibana Noeleen Lalara, Maicie Lalara and Amethea Mamarika travelled thousands of kilometres from Groote Eylandt to receive the material in a ceremony that included a recording of a song sung by the Anindilyakwa Aunties.

The Minister for Indigenous Australians, The Hon Linda Burney MP said each item in the collection holds its own story and she commended the work of AIATSIS, the Anindilyakwa Land Council and Manchester Museum to return the collection.

‘Today is one of celebration for the Anindilyakwa people, as they welcome back these culturally significant items, including the dadikwakwa-kwa or shell dolls that have been returned to the children and grandchildren of those who made them.

The Return of Cultural Heritage Program, funded by the Australian Government plays such an important role in making sure significant cultural materials are returned to community and Country, for future generations.’

Stephen Smith, Australian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom said today:  

‘The return of these significant cultural heritage items is important for Australia’s reconciliation process. It also helps renew cultural practices and safeguard such practices and items for future generations.  

Returning this collection of items to representatives of the Anindilyakwa community and the children and grandchildren of those who made them is a great thing. I commend the collaborative way in which AIATSIS, Manchester Museum and the Anindilyakwa community have brought this project to fruition,’   

Thomas Amagula, Deputy Chair, Anindilyakwa Land Council (ALC) said:  

‘On behalf of the ALC and the Traditional Owners of the Groote Archipelago, I would like to say how pleased l am that these culturally significant objects are being repatriated to our islands. The ALC represents the 14 clans of the land and seas of the Groote Archipelago, and the repatriation of the Worsley Collection by Manchester Museum is an important step for the ALC in pursuing one of our core visions: to protect, maintain, and promote Anindilyakwa culture.’  

By exploring connections and stories held in the archives of AIATSIS and the Manchester Museum with the memories and cultural knowledge of Anindilyakwa Elders, the project worked to collectively determine where this material can be best cared for so that it inspires future generations and is cherished by contemporary ones.   

In a first for AIATSIS, Manchester Museum curators accompanied researchers from AIATSIS’ Return of Cultural Heritage team for collaborative consultations on Groote Eylandt with the Anindilyakwa community in 2022.   

Esme Ward, Director of Manchester Museum, said:  

‘Our collaboration with AIATSIS over the course of the past four years has been characterised by openness and warmth and we’re grateful to be able to support their mission in ensuring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledge and cultures are recognised, respected and valued. We have learned so much from working with them, putting us in an even stronger position to deliver on our commitment to returning collections and belongings.  

When museums extend their care beyond objects, to communities and relationships, they build understanding and empathy and open up more opportunities for people to tell their stories on their terms.  We believe collaborations and actions like this speak to a more equitable and hopeful future for museums, as places of exchange and learning, reconciliation, social justice and community wellbeing.’   

AIATSIS leads the Australian Government’s Return of Cultural Heritage (RoCH) program that supports Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in exercising sovereignty over their cultural heritage material in overseas collections and facilitates its return. Since its inception, the program has returned material from overseas collectors to fourteen communities.   

AIATSIS acting CEO Leonard Hill remarked at the official handover:  

‘AIATSIS and the Manchester Museum have a productive and committed partnership and I thank them for their collaborative and ethical approach to caring for their collections and respecting the Anindilyakwa community’s wish to have their material returned to Country.   

This is a highly significant return and demonstrates how respectful partnerships between AIATSIS, First Nation communities and overseas collecting institutions can create opportunities for people to encounter, engage and be transformed by the stories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.  

For more than 50 years, Manchester Museum has been a custodian of this collection, and now, in collaboration with AIATSIS, they are being returned to their custodians - the children and grandchildren of those who created them.’  The act of returning these materials to their custodians has the power to maintain and revitalise cultural practices. Already we have witnessed this through the Anindilyakwa Art Centre and their Dadikwakwa-Kwa which are the first doll shells to be created in 50 years. This collective artwork, created by ten female artists from across the Groote Archipelago, is a finalist in the esteemed National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards (Telstra NATSIAA).   

Beyond the handover ceremony, a series of activities, including a Dadikwakwa-Kwa (doll shell) making workshops are planned throughout the first week of September, at Manchester Museum. These activities aim to celebrate further and honour the cultural heritage of the Anindilyakwa community.  The material will begin its journey back home to Groote Eylandt by both air and barge in the coming weeks where it will be welcomed by senior Anindilyakwa community members. An on-country return celebration is planned for later this year.   

The AIATSIS-led Return of Cultural Heritage program is funded by the National Indigenous Australians Agency. 


For media inquiries, interviews, media pack or further information, please contact:    

Media enquiries:   


or SMS to 0476 843 522    

United Kingdom 

Mae Cuthbertson  

+44 749 549 5119 


About Manchester Museum: 

Manchester Museum is one of the oldest museums in the United Kingdom, with a rich and diverse collection that spans millions of years of history. It is committed to promoting understanding between cultures and fostering partnerships with communities worldwide.  About AIATSIS:  AIATSIS is a world-renowned research, collections, and publishing organisation that focuses on preserving and promoting Indigenous Australian cultures.  

About Anindilyakwa Land Council: 

The Anindilyakwa Land Council is the representative body for the Anindilyakwa people, providing cultural and social services and advocating for the community's rights and interests. 

About AIATSIS:  

AIATSIS is a world-renowned research, collections, and publishing organisation that focuses on preserving and promoting Indigenous Australian cultures.  About Anindilyakwa Land Council: 

The Anindilyakwa Land Council is the representative body for the Anindilyakwa people, providing cultural and social services and advocating for the community's rights and interests.


Last updated: 08 September 2023