Home / On Country is an exhibition of photographs by Sydney photographer Sarah Rhodes. Eight Victorian Elders are pictured on country and at home in cloaks that they either made or wore at the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony. This exhibition is a touring exhibition from MAMA, Albury.
What are possum skin cloaks?
Possum skin cloaks were a vital part of Aboriginal people’s lives in pre-European times. Cloaks were used in daily activity, to keep warm, to sleep in and carry babies. Cloaks were an important trade item. Cloaks were significant in ritual and ceremony. Aboriginal people were buried in their cloaks – wrapped in their country. Traditionally, cloaks were made in South-eastern Australia (from northern NSW down to Tasmania and across to the southern areas of South Australia and West Australia), where there was a cool climate and abundance of possums.
When a baby was born it was wrapped in a single possum pelt on which the family story was marked. As the child grew more pelts were added, sharing individual and tribal stories, and at death the cloak became their burial shroud. You can think of the possum skin cloak as a pictographic dictionary, a geographical map, and autobiography and an educational tool. For thousands of years, indigenous language groups have relied on the knowledge, maps and stories marked onto their individual possum skin cloaks.
Revitalising the cloak making tradition
From the 1820s, when Indigenous people started living on missions, they were no longer able to hunt and were given blankets for warmth. In 1999, a group of Aboriginal women in Victoria revitalised the cloak making tradition. They invited the communities in each of Victoria’s 36 language groups to make a cloak to be worn by an Aboriginal Elder at the opening ceremony of the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne. The participants were very proud to be part of this project to connect with their heritage and passing on knowledge.
Watch here a series of videos, where the Elders talk about the significance of the cloaks in their lives, explain the meanings of some of the designs and motifs, and reflect on how the cloaks reinforce cultural identity and empower upcoming generations.
Exhibition on show
The exhibition Home / On Country is on show at Hurstville Museum & Gallery from 21 January – 13 April 2017. Free entry.
Friday 3 February 2017, 6.30pm.
Guest speakers: Sarah Rhodes and Dr Fabri Blacklock.