• A sign at Britain's former nuclear test site in Maralinga, southern Australia, warns about items with low levels of radioactive contamination in the area. (AAP)
The South Australian government says it will pay for the remains of an Indigenous baby to be reburied after they were exhumed from a burial cave.
SBS News
7 Feb - 6:51 PM  UPDATED 7 Feb - 7:51 PM

An Indigenous baby, believed to have died following the British nuclear tests at Maralinga in the 1950s, will be reinterred after its remains were removed by a forensic pathologist.

The APY community responded angrily after the baby's body was removed from a burial cave by Professor Roger Byard on December 13 last year.

The Adelaide Advertiser reported Professor Byard believed the remains had been buried more recently than the 1950s, despite the word of a respected Aboriginal elder who knew of the baby's burial at the time.

He also found the circumstances surrounding the burial to be "highly unusual".

The newspaper reported the body was discovered in November last year and the police called in Professor Byard to examine the scene.

The South Australian Coroner, Mark Johns, told SBS News the professor removed the remains for further examination.

"Professor Byard, when he was asked by police to travel to the caves in the first instance, was shown photographs which depict the handling of the remains by people who appear to be members of the APY community, in a way that he and an anthropologist agreed seemed highly unusual," he said.

"This contributed to his request for permission to relocate the remains to Adelaide for closer examination. Following that examination, Professor Byard concluded that the remains are Indigenous."

The state government has since pledged to cover the cost of reburying the infant.

"I understand the removal of historical remains from the APY Lands has caused distress among members of the community," Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation Minister Kyam Maher told SBS News in a statement.

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"I have spoken with one of the traditional owners affected, whom I have known for well over a decade and a half, and made sure he is aware the government will pay for the reburial of the remains.

"I’ve written to the police and the coroner’s office, asking them to ensure the appropriate policies are in place and followed."

The Advertiser reported an APY traditional owner, Rex Tjami, was so concerned about the removal of the baby he engaged barrister Rosanne McInnes to ensure such sites were protected from such actions in the future.

In an affidavit filed by Ms McInnes, Mr Tjami said the child and its parents came from the Maralinga area and had left during the testing.

They were staying in the cave when the child died and they buried the child's body there, protected from scavengers.

Mr Tjami's affidavit says his mother told him the story of the child.

Mr Johns said he was still waiting to receive a report detailing the processes that were followed in the identification and removal of the baby's remains, despite requesting it on December 23.

"I immediately asked the officer in charge of the Coronial Investigation Section of SA Police to obtain a report setting out: 'how the information about the discovery of the remains occurred and what exactly happened from there, ie description of the scene, remains located and what process ensued to cause FSSA (Forensic Science SA) to be contacted and the pathologist and anthropologist to attend and what happened after they arrived'," he told SBS News.

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"The request also asked for: ‘A statement from Professor Roger Byard, FSSA and Dr Ellie Simpson FSSA regarding their involvement in the process and why they determined that the remains might not be historical and why they recommended to the State Coroner that the remains be transferred to Adelaide.’ 

"Even now I have not received that report."

SBS News contacted Professor Byard, but he declined to comment, citing the ongoing coronial investigation.