10 June 2024

Government's 'revamped' Indigenous cultural precinct to be built in Acton

| James Day
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The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies building in Acton.

The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) building in Acton sits beside the National Museum of Australia. Photo: AIATSIS.

A “revamped” Ngurra – or National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Precinct – will be built on the Acton Peninsula in Canberra.

Meaning ‘home’, ‘country’ or ‘place of belonging’, Indigenous Australians Minister Linda Burney said Ngurra will be a place where Australians and international visitors can learn, experience and engage with over 65,000 years of culture, tradition and story.

Ms Burney said the new plans will sit Ngurra on the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies’ (AIATSIS) current premises. The existing AIATSIS facility will be upgraded and expanded to include a National Indigenous Knowledge and Cultural Centre.

It will also have a National Resting Place to house and care for First Nations ancestral remains with provenance to Australia only.

Ms Burney said this will complement the government’s repatriation program, and address the absence of a culturally appropriate facility to house and care for limited provenance First Nations Ancestors returned from overseas.

“By revamping Ngurra, the Albanese Labor Government will be able to build this important national institution in both a financially responsible and culturally appropriate way,” Ms Burney said.

“Ngurra will ensure that AIATSIS will be an iconic national cultural institution alongside the National Museum, National Gallery and National Library.”

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The original plans for Ngurra, announced in January 2022 by the former government’s Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt, set it on the foreshore before Old Parliament House. However, the project never got off the ground after some of the ACT’s Aboriginal elders said they had not been consulted.

According to the current government, the Coalition’s proposal was also estimated to cost around 50 per cent more than was originally allocated.

The new design process is set to begin shortly. However, in the meantime, the federal government said it would undertake further consultations, including with local traditional owners, to ensure the National Resting Place is delivered in a culturally appropriate way.

AIATSIS CEO Leonard Hill said the National Resting Place element will be a private and quiet place where Ancestors will be cared for with dignity and respect, and according to cultural protocols – “the realisation of a long-held aspiration of First Nations communities”.

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Labor senator for the ACT Alicia Payne welcomed the announcement and said this project is a central part of the nation’s story, “and therefore an integral and overdue addition to our national institution”.

Chair of AIATSIS Jodie Sizer acknowledged Ms Burney for prioritising their vision to create a world in which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ rights, knowledge, culture and stories are recognised, respected, celebrated and valued.

“The National Indigenous Knowledge and Cultural Centre will ensure that modern, fit-for-purpose and world-class facilities are developed to protect and share our collections for decades to come,” said Ms Sizer.

“This internationally revered and critically important national asset deserves world-class facilities to continue to nurture and safeguard its significance.

“As we celebrate a significant milestone this year – our 60th anniversary – we reflect on how far we have come and the opportunities the establishment of Ngurra will unlock for future generations and for all Australians.”

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