Skip to main content

Lardil headdress nears journey’s end in return from United Kingdom to Wellesley Islands

After several months of preparation, transit, quarantine, and final checks a ceremonial headdress returned from the United Kingdom has arrived in Australia.

Consisting of a conical bark base wound with a string of human hair painted with ochre and topped with emu feathers, the headdress originally belonged to the late Mr Philip Jack – a member of the Mornington Island Dance troupe, which performed at the opening of the Sydney Opera House in 1973. 

In the 1970s the headdress was a farewell gift from Mr Jack to Mr Maurice Routhan, his neighbour in Sydney, as Mr Routhan prepared to return to the UK. 

The headdress is now in Canberra following the transfer facilitated by AIATSIS under its Return of Cultural Heritage program. 

Lardil ceremonial headdress returned from overseas. 

‘This cultural ceremony dancing headdress came from the Lardil tribe of the Wellesley Islands in the Gulf of Carpentaria, who welcome its return,’ said Senior Lardil man Tommy Wilson. ‘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.’

From the UK, Mr Routhan expressed his relief at the success of the journey to Australia.

‘I am extremely proud to be given the headdress as a gift before I left Australia,’ Mr Routhan said. ‘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.’

AIATSIS CEO Craig Ritchie said the return is the culmination of many months of work and much cooperative effort.

‘The return of items such as this Lardil headdress helps to strengthen community – strengthen the sense of ownership of history, of identity, of cohesion,’ Mr Ritchie said. 

‘Further, this return adds to the national cultural estate. The story of the circumstances of this return provides the opportunity for Australians to learn more about the many histories of this land – including the fact that Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander cultures remain dynamic, engaged, and evolving in nature.’

The Lardil headdress arrived back in Australia in late January and was received by AIATSIS in mid-February. The Gulf Region Aboriginal Corporation, who represent the Lardil people in this matter, has asked AIATSIS to care for the headdress until facilities are prepared for its permanent presence in the community on Mornington Island.

A high resolution image of the headdress is available for media use.


Last updated: 16 August 2022