Return of the tunala to Nepal

  • Speech, check against delivery

Respected Secretary of the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, Mr Ghimire.

Respected Mayor of Lalitpur, Mr Maharjan.

Head Priest of the Ratneshwar Temple, Mr Rajopadhyay and members of the Temple Trust.

Director of the Art Gallery of NSW, Dr Michael Brand.

Friends from Nepal’s heritage conservation community.


I am humbled to be here today, as Assistant Minister, on behalf of Australia and all Australians, to oversee the return of this tunala.

In 1975, thieves took it.

A collector acquired it, treasured it. 

When he died, he donated it.

It sat in an Australian art gallery, which exhibited it, honoured it.

People came to see it, were moved by its elegance and craft.

But it didn’t belong there – that wasn’t its home.

One day, someone recognised it, told the gallery.

The Art Gallery of New South Wales confirmed through research and painstaking evidence that this tunala was the one illegally taken from Ratneshwar temple.

And when that fact was irrefutably established, there was only one logical, pure and right course of action.

Thanks to our art gallery friends, I am proud to be able to witness the return this precious item of your living culture – this sacred yakshi – to Nepal, and to all Nepali people.

It’s back.  It’s home.  It never should have left. 

Today is a day of celebration.

This is a noble and significant gesture by the Art Gallery of New South Wales, deserving of praise.

Today, we have shown ourselves to be absolutely committed to the highest standards of ethical practice and international obligations.

That is what the Australian people expect of us, and what the world expects of Australia.

We know that in order to show moral leadership abroad, we must show moral leadership at home.

That is why Australia is holding a referendum later this year to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our constitution through a Voice to Parliament.

This proposed change to our constitution will recognise 65,000 years of shared history and continuous connection to this land by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. 

I recognise the leadership of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, one of Australia’s foremost cultural institutions, in setting an example for cultural institutions everywhere.

Today, we live in a world where – happily – the fences separating us no longer seem so tall, nor the distances between us so daunting.

So, it’s my hope that today is not the end of the story, but the beginning of a new one. 

An opportunity to deepen collaboration between our cultural institutions in Australia and Nepal.

Today is a day of celebration…

…because it is clear that the Australia-Nepal relationship is flourishing.

Our ties have never been deeper nor stronger.

Because it’s our people who have been at the heart of these ties.

Like Nepal, Australia is a multicultural country.

We’re home to one of the earth’s oldest continuing cultures, and our people speak over 300 languages.

When Australians look out to the world, we see ourselves reflected in it.

See Australia today and you’ll see Nepal. 

You’ll see over 50,000 Nepali students enrolled in our schools and universities.

You’ll see our Nepali-Australian communities are some of our fastest growing, with over 130,000 people of Nepali ancestry living in Australia already.

You’ll see that Momo Fest, in my hometown of Melbourne, is a beloved culinary fixture – and certainly one of my family’s favourites!

Australians love Nepal – the tens of thousands of Aussie tourists who travel here every year make that plain.

Ours is a relationship that is growing significantly, and deserves significant attention.

We’re pleased we’ve been able to work with Nepal on climate change, disaster preparedness, and good governance.

And we’re always interested in new initiatives, like the possible introduction of direct flights between Australia and Nepal.

We’re bringing our two countries closer and connecting our peoples.

Today is a day of celebration…

…because with the return of this tunala, we celebrate the ties between Australia and Nepal.

We celebrate here.  And in Australia, they are also celebrating.

We create karma, I’m told, through our words and our deeds.

Today, we have made a wrong a right. 

Turned a sadness to a joy.

We have returned a 700-year-old goddess to her home. 

We can only hope to receive 700 more years of her blessings.

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