'Because It's Your Country': Bringing Back the Bones to West Arnhem Land

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Essay discusses the the removal and restitution of Aboriginal remains from the 1948 Smithsonian/National Geographic Society Expedition to Arnhem Land. The essay pays homage to a senior traditional owner from Arnhem Land who became a friend and teacher to Thomas. The essay traces how the traditional owner received back into his country the spirits of kinsmen whose bones were taken during a scientific expedition in 1948, and in this way prepared for his own death. Thomas noted that he used his archival research to open a dialogue with living communities.


Arnhem Land Expedition


Smithsonian History Bibliography


Essay received the Calibre Prize for Outstanding Essay. Research was conducted while a Smithsonian Institution Fellow.

Contained within

Australian Book Review (Journal)

Contact information

Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives, 600 Maryland Avenue, SW, Washington, D.C. 20024-2520, SIHistory@si.edu


April 2013


  • Scientific expeditions
  • Repatriation
  • Anthropology
  • Human remains (Archaeology)
  • Anthropologists
  • Australian Aborigines



Physical description

Number of pages: 9; Page numbers: 1-9

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