Family wins cremation battle over Aborigine

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The Independent Online
AN ENGLISH woman who adopted an Aborigine won a court ruling yesterday allowing her to decide his final resting place after his natural mother lost her fight to bury him according to Australian native tradition.

A High Court judge ruled it was in the best interests of Dayne Childs's two-year-old daughter, Hollie, his girlfriend, Kirsten Milton, and adoptive mother that his funeral arrangements be made in their home city of Norwich.

Mrs Justice Hale said the wishes of Mr Childs's natural mother, Cheryl Buchanan, should be respected, but did not amount to the special reasons necessary to grant her administration of his burial.

The body of Mr Childs, who died in a car crash aged 26, has been in a mortuary since last July because his two families could not agree on where he should be buried. Mrs Buchanan claimed that plans to cremate her son were repugnant to Aboriginal culture and that his spirit could be freed only if he was buried in his homeland.

The court was told that Mr Childs's adoptive mother, Annette, had given permission for his Aboriginal family to say "farewell" in the mortuary and attend his funeral.

In her ruling, the judge said the "tall, dark, handsome man who was popular with women" had thought of himself as English but also recognised his background.

Mr Childs was born in a Brisbane hospital in 1972 when his mother, who was 18 and unmarried, worked for the Aborigine tribal council. His adoption papers showed that his birth mother wanted to keep him but had no means of supporting him and had signed adoption consent papers after four days. The Childs family adopted him in 1974 when they were living in Australia where they stayed until 1979. They named him Dayne and had their own son as well as adopting another child. "It was a close, loving and open- minded family," the judge said.

Mrs Buchanan said she had never forgotten her son and in 1991 when the law was changed and she was given the right to know the names of his adoptive parents, she tracked him down. But he did not want to talk to her and she did not try to contact him again until 1996 when she persuaded him to pay a visit to Australia to meet his natural family.

When he returned to England he was no longer the "cool and collected young man" he had been previously, but resumed his relationship with Kirsten Milton and their two-year-old daughter.

After his death, Mrs Childs planned to have him cremated and buried next to her husband who died in 1996 but his Aborigine family begged her not to do this and asked for his body to be returned to Australia. Ms Milton initially agreed but then began to have misgivings over whether it was in their daughter's best interests and whether it was what Mr Childs would have wanted. It was then that the legal battle began.

The judge said she had reached her conclusion after taking into account the deeply held feelings of both families.