Apology to Tasmanian Aboriginal People

Apology event in TMAG courtyard

At a ceremony in Hobart today, the Royal Society of Tasmania (RST) and the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG) apologised completely and unreservedly for nearly 200 years of scientific, research and museum practices that resulted in immense hurt and suffering to Tasmanian Aboriginal people.

There is ample, undisputed evidence that Aboriginal burial sites were violated, culturally important sites were desecrated, and that the remains of Aboriginal people were exploited and traded as artefacts, against community wishes.

Both institutions placed on permanent record that these actions were real, they were morally wrong, and that such actions will never occur again.

Today was about the RST and TMAG individually taking full responsibility for their past actions and apologising directly to the Aboriginal people of Tasmania, and the organisations provided separate apology statements at a combined event in the Courtyard of TMAG, in recognition of their shared history.

The Chair of TMAG’s Board of Trustees, Ms Brett Torossi, said that it was a hugely important occasion for the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery.

“It is impossible for us to understand the pain, suffering and anger associated with the museum’s past damaging practices, but what we do know is that these actions were morally wrong,” Ms Torossi said.

“We acknowledge that TMAG was responsible for removing ancient cultural artefacts without consultation with Tasmanian Aboriginal people. The removal of the Preminghana petroglyphs in the 1960s is a key example of such practices.

“However, our apology is broader than just the petroglyphs and covers a range of past actions and practices that have resulted in immense hurt and suffering to Tasmanian Aboriginal people.”

“That is why the Board of TMAG has made the important decision to apologise unconditionally for these actions.

“We hope that today marks a more honest way of being with the past and a new sense of responsibility for all that has kept us apart.

“We make our apology with no expectation of forgiveness but it is given from our hearts, as we look to the future with a genuine commitment to change.

“The journey towards developing our apology has already taught us many valuable lessons about the importance of truly listening and engaging respectfully with members of the Tasmanian Aboriginal community.

“However, there is always more to do. TMAG has laid out in its apology a range of commitments to a different future working together with Tasmanian Aboriginal people, which we hope marks the beginning of a new phase of respect, good faith and productive collaboration.”

RST President, Ms Mary Koolhof, said that the Society expressed hope that today’s apology would be a step towards healing.

“The historical record shows very clearly that actions by past members of the Royal Society of Tasmania caused harm to the Aboriginal community,” Ms Koolhof said.

“Aboriginal remains were exhumed by members of the Society, without regard for the cultural, spiritual and personal significance of those remains.

“These actions took place in the past but the harm it caused remains very real today, especially for Tasmanian Aboriginal people.

“The Royal Society of Tasmania offers this apology because it is the right thing to do, and in the hope that it will be a step forward.

“We also acknowledge that this apology has taken too long, and that it can never reverse the wrongs of the past nor erase the pain and grief felt by many people.

“The Society expresses hope than an apology, coupled with a commitment to action, can become a step forward.”

A copy of the full apology statement made on behalf of TMAG has been published on the organisation’s website, and a printable version can also be downloaded here. A copy of the statement made on behalf of the RST is available at the Society’s website. The apology statements will also be on public display within the museum and in the RST lecture room at TMAG.