By Troy Brown
Here at GEGAC we carry a tradition that has been used for generations – the practice of burning art onto possum skins.
We have a Planned Activity Group (PAG) for the Elders at GEGAC every Tuesday, during which they will regularly undertake traditional crafts such as possum skins, basket weaving and emu egg decorating.
Why do we do this at GEGAC?
We do this because our Elders before us carried on these traditions like the Elders before them.
It’s a part of our culture, and as we move into the future we want the next generation to also carry this unique history in their arms.
Historically, in cooler climates of south-eastern Australia, our ancestors would wear possum skin cloaks as a source of clothing, and to stay warm.
They wore a possum pelt at birth, and as they grew so did the possum cloak, by adding more possum pelts.
Incised and painted with ochre, possum skin cloaks mark the identity of their owner, holding stories through art of clan and countries.
It once was an everyday item for Indigenous people, being used for warmth, baby carriers, covering at night, drums in ceremony and for burial.
What’s the process of making a possum skin?
In earlier times, once the skin was removed from the possum we would then carefully scrape it with a shell, and then stretch it out by pegging it out onto the ground.
Once the skins were fully dried, animal fat would be used to rub into the pelts to make them more pliable.
Using a sharp object, the edges of the skins were then pieced with little holes, then threaded through to make the skins sewn together to make a whole cloak out of 40-70 pelts.
Today, a soldering iron is used to burn artwork and designs onto the possum skin.
Welcome Baby to Country
The giving of possum skins to newborn babies is a central part of GEGAC’s Welcome Baby to Country ceremony, which was held in July this year during NAIDOC Week.
At this year’s Welcome Baby to Country ceremony, Boorai born in the past year were welcomed by Elders Aunty Helen Morgan, Aunty Betty Solomon, Uncle Harry Stewart and Aunty Edna Ritchie.
GEGAC’s Boorai Play Group Facilitator, Aunty Margaret Pearce, explained the cultural significance of the possum skin.
“Today we welcome our Boorai to the land of the Gunaikurnai people with cultural gifts,” she said. “In our culture a possum skin was an Aboriginal child’s first blanket, and would follow their journey through life and grow as the child does. The possum skin cloak connected our Boorai spiritually to the land and the spirit of our Elders that have past, and our Ancestors before them.”
Is Aboriginal Culture important to you?
Please join us at important yarning sessions in July to talk about how we can continue to represent Culture in everything we do at GEGAC.
More info at www.gegac.org.au/culture/