Protecting, Preserving and Promoting Koorie Culture and Heritage
Lee Stewart, Cultural Officer at the Koorie Heritage Trust, describes the founding of the Trust and the work the Trust is committed to.
-My name's Lee Stewart. I'm a descendent of the Boonwurrung group. They're a coastal group around the Melbourne area itself. Firstly, welcome to the Koorie Heritage Trust. The Koorie Heritage Trust was formed in 1985 with the returning of aboriginal skeletal remains to their traditional resting places. In 1984, the CEO of the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service and also an inspector under the Archaeological and Aboriginal Relics Act initiated legal proceedings against various different institutions in Victoria. He was helped by legal counsel, in particular Ron Merkel, to get those remains returned to their traditional resting places.
The Murray Black collection was a collection of aboriginal remains from the all around the Murray River between the 1930s and the 1960s. Those remains were being held by different institutions in Melbourne where scientific study was being performed on those. It was over 100 full skeletal remains.
Unfortunately, there were 38 remains that couldn't be returned. In November 1985, the 38 remains that were left were taken through a march through the city, which the Trust instigated, down to the Kings Domain Gardens. Those remains went through a smoking ceremony. They were then wrapped in paper bark in a traditional way and interred into the ground. There was a large two-ton boulder placed over the top of those remains and a plaque with the 38 aboriginal groups within Victoria written onto that plaque itself. This boulder can still actually be seen today in the city. It's not far from the Sidney Myer Music Bowl.
The Murray Black collection was a significant point in the Koorie Heritage Trust's history. It was a way of starting to give control back to the community.
After the Murray Black case and the returning of the skeletal remains, the Trust started raising funds to acquire artefacts from local collections, from overseas collections, and through auction houses themselves. The first items purchased by the Koorie Heritage Trust were a collection of 12 items from the New South Wales Aboriginal Lands Council. Since then the Koorie Heritage Trust has been continuing to collect artefacts, items that date back well over 200 years old right through to contemporary pieces.
Our artefact collection consists of over 2,500 items, which contain pre-contact shields, clubs, weavings right through to contemporary items like glasswares and ceramics. Our picture collection contains over 800 pieces consisting of paintings, drawings, collages, and various other materials. We have a photographic collection. We have thousands of photographs, historical and contemporary. Our library consists of over 6,000 items, including books, manuscripts, letters, and government reports. Our oral history area consists of 1,400 items, which records the oral histories of the aboriginal people, because we had a spoken tradition and passed down our stories through the spoken word.
In 2003, the Koorie Heritage Trust moved into their new building, located in 295 King Street in the city of Melbourne.
One of the main aims of the trust is to preserve, promote, and protect the indigenous cultures of southeastern Australia. We do this through the various programs that we run through the trust, through our art galleries, our retail shop, our exhibitions, our collections, our education programs, and our oral history and family history programs. The motto of the trust, "Gnokan Danna Murra Kor-ki," is a combination of two aboriginal languages, translated it means, give me a hand, my friend, and bridge the cultural gap.