Human remains

Handling of human remains

Burials are highly significant to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and it is important not to interfere with human remains.

All burials in Queensland are regulated under the Criminal Code Act 1899, Coroners Act 2003, Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act 2003, Torres Strait Islander Cultural Heritage Act 2003, and local government by-laws.

The Department of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships (DATSIP) is responsible for administering the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural heritage legislation.

Legislative regime

Under Part 2 of the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act 2003 (PDF) and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Heritage Act 2003 (PDF) (the Acts), Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with traditional or familial links to human remains become the owners of those remains. This applies regardless of who owned the remains previously.

If the remains are in the custody of the State, Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people with traditional or familial links to the remains may request their return or ask the State to remain custodians until such time as they wish them returned.

Under the Acts, it is an offence for anyone, other than Traditional Owners, to possess Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander human remains, regardless of when they came into their possession.

If an individual possesses or has knowledge of the existence of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander human remains, they are required to report them to DATSIP as soon as possible.

The legislative definition of 'human remains’ includes burial objects and associated material – such as bark coffins.

Accidental discovery of Aboriginal human remains

Any human remains that are found must not be disturbed. All human remains must be reported to the police in the first instance.

Police will undertake appropriate scientific or other procedures to assist the Coroner in making an appropriate determination about the remains.

If the remains are determined to be ancestral remains without the need for removal, the relevant Traditional Owners of the remains will be responsible for their management.

In cases where remains are removed by Police and subsequently determined by the Coroner to be of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin, the remains will be released to the Minister responsible for administering the Acts.

Please refer to the guidelines to assist with the discovery, handling and management of human remains.

Contact us

For further information on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander human remains, contact the Cultural Heritage Unit:

Phone: 1300 378 401
Email: cultural.heritage@datsip.qld.gov.au

Queensland Museum Repatriation Fund

The return of human remains (repatriation) is about helping to return Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander human remains back to Country. The Queensland Museum Repatriation Fund provides funding to help communities repatriate ancestral remains, burial goods and secret and/or sacred objects to their community of origin.

Contact the museum for information about:

Is your feedback

Please submit your comments on the department's Compliments and Complaints section.

Please submit your comments on the Queensland Government website Contacts form.