The federal government has announced a commitment to establish ‘Ngurra’, a national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural precinct in the heart of Canberra, as well as a design competition for the precinct and the structures within it.

Ngurra proposed site

The proposed site of Ngurra, from an AIATSIS video announcing the project.

The precinct will will provide a national resting place to house and care for repatriated ancestral remains and any associated cultural material on their journey back to Country, and will feature a learning and knowledge centre where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australia can tell its own stories and celebrate the 65,000-year history of this nation.

This centre will also provide a purpose-built home for the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS). Established by parliament in 1964, it is an Indigenous-led national institute that houses a collection of more than one million items encompassing films, photographs, audio recordings, art and objects, printed and other resource materials.

The name of the precinct, ‘Ngurra’, appears in many different Aboriginal languages around Australia and refers variously to ‘home’, ‘camp’, ‘a place of belonging’ and ‘a place of inclusion’. It will sit within the Parliamentary Triangle, on the foreshore of Lake Burley Griffin, amongst the Tent Embassy, National Library of Australia, Questacon, the National Portrait Gallery, the National Gallery of Australia, and the High Court of Australia.

Ngurra proposed site

The planned site of Ngurra, with Parliament House (top), and Old Parliament House, Questacon (right), and Lake Burley Griffin. Image © David Wall

The announcement was welcomed by Chair of the AIATSIS Council, Jodie Sizer, who said that “the Ngurra precinct will reinforce the country’s appreciation of the important place that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and histories play in the story of this nation.”

“It will be a place of storytelling, and of teaching”, Sizer continued, “and of sacred rest for ancestral remains and other sensitive materials for which the provenance is uncertain. The inclusion of a National Resting Place is of vital importance, and is long overdue. Consultation on this concept dates back more than two decades.”

Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt said the learning and engagement, exhibitions, research and curation that would occur at Ngurra would be significant acts of truth-telling.

“At its heart will be a national resting place where the remains of Indigenous Australians taken from their country will be cared for until they are able to be returned to their communities,” Minister Wyatt said. “And in instances where provenance has been forgotten or erased, they will be cared for in perpetuity with dignity and respect.”

“As a new home to AIATSIS, the precinct will also house and make accessible the world’s largest collection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural and heritage items. Ngurra will provide a new perspective on our shared history, as a significant moment for truth-telling, and a new place where the diversity of Indigenous Australia and one of the world’s oldest living cultures will be celebrated.”

An architectural design competition will be run in 2022 to develop a design appropriate for the location that reflects Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ aspirations, achievements and deep connection to Country.

See more more about the Ngurra project on the AIATSIS website.