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A controversial proposal to rebury a set of globally-significant ancient remains will need to undergo a formal assessment, delaying the process.
Karen Michelmore

6 Aug 2021 - 2:50 PM  UPDATED 6 Aug 2021 - 3:43 PM

Traditional Owners have welcomed a move by the federal government which will delay the controversial reburial of more than 100 globally-significant ancient remains in NSW Mungo National Park.

There had been fears the reburials - including of Mungo Man and Mungo Lady - would take place within months, despite objections and a preference by some traditional custodians for a Keeping Place and Cultural Centre instead.

The NSW government submitted the proposal to rebury the remains, some of the world's oldest, in the World Heritage-listed national park to the Federal Government for approval.

But federal environment Minister Sussan Ley ruled today that a formal assessment was needed, as the proposal would likely impact the Willandra Lakes Region World Heritage Area.

Paakintyi spokesperson Michael Young welcomed the move, and said some Traditional Owners had been fighting the reburial plans for years.

"I think its a good move," Mr Young said.

"It should never have gotten to this stage but I hope they can actually include some of the conversations that are around."

"We are looking at a NSW version of Juukan Gorge here and nobody wants that to happen."

But others, such as Paakantyi Maraura elder Dottie Lawson (Mitchell) strongly believed the remains should be reburied as soon as possible.

"Put them back in the ground and leave them alone," she said.

"Let them be at rest."

Minister to consult Traditional Owners

Environment minister Ms Ley will travel to the area to consult personally with Traditional Owners and members of the community, and the NSW Government would be required to hold a further 20-day public comment period.

“I appreciate the deep cultural sensitivities on all sides of this debate and believe the matter requires careful consideration as a ‘controlled action’ under the national environmental law,” Minister Ley said in a statement.

“These are some of the most important and unique human remains in the world, and through the AAG, Traditional Owners have expressed their wish to see the remains returned to their resting place.

“This will be a further chance for the community to put forward their views, and to understand the deeply held views on the issue and I will be travelling to the area to personally meet with Traditional Owners and community members.

“The assessment and approval process set out under national environment law is open and thorough and will take into account expert scientific advice and public comments including the views of Traditional Owners.”

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The decision was also welcomed by the scientific community, which would have lost the opportunity to further research the ancient remains.

"It's really great news," said archaeologist Dr Michael Westaway, of the decision.

"It's such a significant group of ancient people, they have got obvious World Heritage value.

"A lot of Aboriginal people have expressed concern these stories are possibly going to be lost, along with the opportunity to develop a Keeping Place and cultural centre."

In late 2018, after frustrating years of fighting unsuccessfully for a Keeping Place, an Aboriginal Advisory Group to government decided the remains should be reburied, and research halted.

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