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Unmarked remains given new home 

The Gooniyandi rangers have taken on one of their most important jobs to date – assisting with the repatriation of unmarked human remains from the banks of the Fitzroy River.

The project, which has been led by KALACC, involved the removal of the remains of Aboriginal people from the Old Pioneer Cemetery that had become exposed or were at risk of being exposed due to erosion and flooding.

Over many months the rangers, KALACC and the Fitzroy community have worked together to ensure the work has been undertaken in the right way with the right people involved.

The project commenced in April 2017, when initial checks of the site found that several remains were at immediate threat of further erosion and being lost.

Before any work was conducted, Traditional Owners from surrounding language groups came to smoke the area as many different people were buried at the site after they were brought into Fitzroy Crossing from surrounding communities, stations and missions.

Ranger Coordinator Kyle Raina said the Gonniyandi ranger team was then selected to complete the delicate task of removing the first seven remains.

“From previous work and training, as well as cultural trips with elders that the Gooniyandi rangers have undertaken, it was determined that they possessed all the skills required for the role,” Kyle said.

“After being taught how to conduct the work they were able to assist in the removal of the first seven remains.”

Following further studies of the site, meetings were held and community members were notified that the project would begin again in October 2017.

“The Gooniyandi rangers felt very committed to the work being done and were eager to continue with their involvement to ensure it was done in the right way,” Kyle said.

“The Traditional Owners came down and did a smoking ceremony and talked in language to the remaining deceased to explain that where they were buried was in danger from the river and that the people working had come to help move them to a safe place.”

The difficult and at times emotional task continued for the next two months during the hottest part of the year and the rangers’ involvement was a key factor in ensuring that all the remains were successfully removed before the start of the wet season.

Throughout the project, KALACC has worked closely with the Fitzroy community to ensure that appropriate culture supervision occurred at all times. Cultural supervisors were present to ensure that all of the work conducted by the rangers was done in the right way. Bunuba rangers also assisted in the process.

The final stages of the project are now underway with the reburial of the remains, this time on higher ground, far from the reach of the Fitzroy River. The buried remains will be marked with crosses and code numbers, with the hope that future DNA testing will be able to identify the living relatives of those who have passed away.