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Celebration for the return of cultural heritage material from the Israel Museum, Jerusalem

The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) has celebrated the return of a large collection of stone artefacts to Australia from the Israel Museum, Jerusalem.

The over 1800 returned artefacts include stone tools, grindstones, and other material. The collection was donated to the Israel Museum in the 1970s by Mr Carl Shipman of Melbourne. This is the first return from the Middle East under the AIATSIS-led Return of Cultural Heritage (RoCH) program.

Speaking at the event, AIATSIS CEO Craig Ritchie said: 'This work is central to what we are about in AIATSIS – helping Indigenous people to facilitate cultural resurgence in their communities. It’s not just ceremonial items or spiritually-significant objects that matter. These are everyday items, used in everyday life that is the basis of culture.

'The other important thing is that this program exerts an influence on the practices of those collecting institutions that engage on the process of return.'

The Hon Ken Wyatt AM MP, Minister for Indigenous Australians, said work will continue to bring back home other objects that still sit in overseas museums.  

'Every time we lose an elder or a traditional owner we lose a walking encyclopaedia of knowledge that can never be replaced,' Minister Wyatt said. 'When you look at those artefacts you think of the old hands that made those, that person making one spearhead, and then you think of its use. But you also see the engineering feat.'

Also attending was Mr Ron Gerstenfeld, Deputy Chief of Mission at the Embassy of Israel, who said the RoCH program had provided a great opportunity for Israel and Australia to come together once again.

'Though our countries may not seem too similar on the surface, they share the quality of being both old and new,' Mr Gerstenfeld said. 'As states, they are modern but both have an ancient connection between land and people, and it is this connection that is really the reason we are here today. To preserve these stories is a great responsibility.'

Professor Ido Bruno - Director of the Israel Museum, Jerusalem, sent a message of support.

The collection will be temporarily housed at AIATSIS while further research is undertaken and the material is separated into discrete sub-collections.

AIATSIS has commenced engagement with a number of relevant Indigenous communities about how they wish to proceed with the return of their material to Country.

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

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Last updated: 16 August 2022