After many decades away from home, 81 Aboriginal artefacts from the Barraba region have been repatriated to Kamilaroi Country near Tamworth.

The New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council (NSWALC) returned the artefact collection on October 28 as part of their Aboriginal Artefact Strategy, which unconditionally returns cultural and ceremonial items to local Aboriginal communities.

The NSWALC Deputy Chairperson and Councillor for the Northern Region, Kamilaroi man Charles Lynch said the artefacts have given local community a peace of mind and an opportunity for young people to connect with culture.

“It’s the peace of mind that they haven’t been lost, and the excitement too. We’ve got younger generation that haven’t had the opportunity to see such items that they can hold, touch and see, and [doing that] for the first time excites them,” Lynch said.

“I think it will go a long way to fill some gaps and also, just re-focusing that cultural connection and better understanding.”

The collection contains a broad range of artefacts including ceremonial pieces and stones with grinding marks. Lynch describes them as “priceless”.

“For artefacts to be placed back on Country, in the care of those from Country, is very important,” he said.

“[It’s significant] for me personally as they were collected from a little place called Barraba, 100 kilometres north of Tamworth, and that happens to be my mother’s Country.

“From my family’s perspective it’s a very proud moment; our ties back there are entrenched for many, many centuries.”

The collection has been held by NSWALC at the Aboriginal Cultural Centre and Keeping Place (ACCKP) as part of its Aboriginal Artefact Collection.

The Aboriginal Artefact Collection is made up of artefacts, and cultural and ceremonial items bought from collections put up for sale when private estates closed.

Lynch praised the foresight of the Board for keeping the artefacts in Aboriginal hands by buying them almost two decades ago.

“There was a great opportunity that they would have been lost to our people and to Country, as they were going to be sold off,” he said.

“Some of this collection could have ended up in foreign hands, which would been alarming.”

For now, the collection will be housed at the ACCKP in Tamworth, until they can be returned onto their original sites or used in educational contexts for the local people.

Former custodian ACCKP Chair Rose Lovelock said being the caretaker for such an important collection was an incredible experience.

“Our Aboriginal Cultural Centre and Keeping Place has been honoured to be able to care for these priceless artefacts, and we’ve done our utmost to protect and respect them while they resided with us,” she said.

“It gives me, the ACCKP Board and our staff the greatest pleasure to know they’re going home safe and intact, and we’re celebrating the fact that they’ll soon be making that wonderful trip home to their community.”

Aboriginal Culture Centre and Keeping Place Director Rose Lovelock and TLALC Chair Daisy Cutmore unwrap one of the Barraba collection artefacts. Image supplied NSWALC.

The TLALC Chair Daisy Cutmore said the repatriation was a marvellous day for her community.

“On behalf of the Tamworth and Barraba communities, TLALC is honoured to welcome this collection home, which we will treasure for our future generations,” she said.

“It’s vital that we all keep working together on ensuring that important collections like these, are returned to country and community.”

By Sarah Smit