Leave our dead alone: elder

THE ORIGIN of the skull found on Fraser Island a week ago remains a mystery with police bone experts continuing to examine it, along with shoulder and upper-arm remains discovered at the same time.

The Chronicle understands the police consensus is the skull, picked up by a woman tourist in a sandbank 60m north of Kingfisher Bay resort, is indigenous.

Butchulla elders insisted yesterday that if that fact is proved the skull and bones would have to be returned as quickly as possible for traditional burial in one of their secret island burial places.

“Leave our dead alone,” elder Frances Gala pleaded.

And Dr Mike Pickering, the National Museum of Australia’s director of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander program, said he hoped the repatriation, if the remains were indigenous, would be “handled quickly and sensitively”.

“This sounds like an odd case because the skull hasn’t been collected by a museum or a private collector so it comes under Qld heritage legislation. It will go to the coroner who will make a determination on whether it’s Aboriginal, what age it is and whether it’s been exposed from a traditional burial ground.”

Butchulla leader Norman Barney, who worked at St Lucia University and on Fraser Island with prominent anthropologist Dr Peter Lauer in the 1980s, said the skull had been found close to a former mission burial ground.

“Our people were thrown into unmarked graves around the mission at McKenzies Creek, a swampy inlet near Kingfisher Bay.

“Dr Lauer and I found artefacts around there and we were studying the sand movements of the dunes. It could be this skull and remains were blown by the sand. It happens.

“If this skull is Butchulla – and remember seven to 10 other tribes had their people transported by force to Fraser Island missions – then these remains must be returned and buried in our special place up near the lakes.”

Butchulla elders Aunty Joyce Smith and Frances both want the skull to be returned to the island, which they call k’gari.

“K’gari is our ancestral Country, our homeland. But none of our people ever wanted to be buried in missions. We have our own burial places on the island.” Joyce said.

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