Amendment to the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006 (Vic) which commenced on 1 August 2016, outlines new obligations for persons or entities with respect to secret or sacred Aboriginal objects and Aboriginal objects (Section 21 A, 33 & Section 145). In particular the Act heralds a legal change of ownership which transfers secret and sacred objects in the custody of a person or state entity to Traditional Owners of the area in which the object originated. According to the Act: “The traditional owners of an area in which the object is reasonably believed to have originated, if they are not already the owners of the object, become the owners—” (section 21A (2)).
In response to the new requirements, the University of Melbourne conducted a second audit of its museums, galleries, cultural collections and libraries to identify all Indigenous cultural material, including secret or sacred items, ceremonial objects, domestic utensils, stone tools, films, photographs, audio recordings, paintings on bark etc. Information from the audit was collated to create an inventory of all Aboriginal cultural material in the custody of the University and the identification of potential secret and sacred material. The audit also represented an opportunity for collection managers to expand on information provided in 2014 for the University’s first Indigenous Collections Audit which identified over three hundred items defined as Aboriginal cultural heritage material in eight of the University collections.
Dr Lyndon Ormond-Parker
The University of Melbourne
Ormond-Parker, L, Murray, L, Shears, S, 2020, Report to the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander secret or sacred and Aboriginal Cultural Heritage material in the Cultural Collections of the University of Melbourne, The University of Melbourne