Share this @internewscast.com
9News has spent the past year investigating why hundreds of human remains sit in storage at the South Brisbane site.
Some traditional owners who know what is contained there will not even step into the building.
9News can reveal the Queensland Museum holds the remains of almost 900 people, many whose bodies were stolen from fresh graves or hospitals decades ago.
That includes the remains of 833 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and 65 individuals from across the Pacific nations.
The museum holds an additional “445 separate secret and sacred objects” which have also been earmarked for repatriation.
The bulk of these ancestral remains and objects were collected by the museum from the mid-1800s to the late 1960s for the purpose of scientific study and display.
Historian Dr Gemmia Burden spent years sifting through museum archives and said the grim collection was amassed in the name of science.
“It’s really distressing,” she said.
“There was a school of thought that was built around the idea that races were different species so there was a lot of research going into trying to prove that.
“There was a lot of interest in the study of anthropology and that was premised largely on the study of racial differences.”
Burden said the bodies were often collected from fresh graves or even snatched from hospitals, without the consent of families or communities.
“There was a lot of plundering of grave sites,” she said.
“There is evidence in the archives that people knew that taking these materials would cause distress and they did it anyway.”
In June, while discussing plans for a First Nations museum in Cairns, the premier said she would personally travel to the United Kingdom to retrieve items taken overseas by European collectors in the past century.
“If we have to go over to the British Museum and get back those artifacts that belong here, I’ll personally come with you and do that,” she said at the time.
A First Nations Elder, Uncle Bob Weatherall has been working for decades to get remains back to country at times taking the fight to overseas institutions.
He said our own establishments are falling behind.
“We’re stumbling,” he said.
“We’re pretty lazy about getting up, pulling the socks up and getting on with it.
“Queensland’s still dragging its feet, you know, we’ve been doing it for over 40 years.”
Queensland Museum has returned about 200 ancestral remains to country since repatriation efforts began in the 1990s.
Since 9News first lodged enquiries with the museum one year ago, the Queensland government allocated $4.5 million to ramp up repatriation efforts.
A Queensland Museum spokeswoman said the ancestral remains and secret and sacred material have officially been “deaccessioned” from the main collection and decision-making powers rest with First Nations communities who have been identified to date.
“Identified communities who requested their Ancestors and Objects be returned as soon as possible, received this material,” she said.
“Other identified communities who were unable to accept, or declined to accept their Ancestors and Objects, at that time, entered into an “In Care by Request” agreement with QMN.”
Watch 9News at 6pm on Friday for the second part of the exclusive story.