‘Back to Country’: Henry Atkinson to participate in National Resting Place talks

Invitation to the capital: Henry Atkinson will head to Canberra to participate in a workshop about the National Resting Place.

Wollithiga man Henry Atkinson will head to the nation’s capital this week in recognition of his work on designing a national resting place for Indigenous ancestral remains.

Mr Atkinson has been involved in the repatriation of ancestors since the 1990s, often travelling overseas to return remains himself.

During NAIDOC Week, he has been invited by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies to participate in a workshop about the design and governance of the national resting place, set to be open to the public in 2026.

The precinct will be named “Ngurra”, which means home, and a place of belonging and inclusion.

It will service as a site to care for Indigenous ancestors repatriated from museum collections in Australia and across the world.

Mr Atkinson said the precinct, announced by the Federal Government earlier this year, would be a home for the remains until they are able to be returned to their Country.

“There are currently ancestors overseas now and we don’t have ownership to bring them back,” Mr Atkinson said.

“We are asking those governments and museums to allow our ancestors to be returned back to Country.”

The National Resting Place will play as a memorial, repository, educational facility and research institute, but more importantly for Indigenous people it will be a centred place to visit and honour ancestors.

Mr Atkinson said there were about 10,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ancestors across the globe.

“When the time comes that science can trace where they come from or people can claim them, then they will be protected at the National Resting Place” he said.

“We know about the ancestors that are currently held in museums, but we don’t have a clue how many are in private collections, which makes it very difficult.”

Artefacts and other significant objects will be held at Ngurra.

It took two decades of discussions with key Indigenous leaders to recognise the need for a National Resting Place that would replace existing facilities in museums.

Mr Atkinson said he and many other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples hoped it would provide more culturally appropriate facilities for caring for ancestral remains.

An architectural design competition is under way to develop a design fitting for the location and one that reflects Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ aspirations, achievements and deep connection to Country.