Northern Health’s Koori Maternity Service hosted its first possum skin workshop earlier this month, open to both staff and the community.
Possum skin cloaks have previously been an everyday item for Aboriginal people in south-eastern Australia.
They were worn in different ways including as baby carriers, for warmth, coverings at night and in various ceremonies.
The cloaks are painted with ochre and show the owner’s story and represent their clan and country.
The skin cloaks are still of significance to Aboriginal people in the south-east parts of the country, with both contemporary and new ways of making them.
“We knew the community out here would love to have a possum skin cloak and baby wrap,” Jo Quinn from the Koori Maternity Service said
“That is why we have invited the community to work on the skins with us.”
Ms Quinn and her team were looking at creating a healing cloak for patients and families to use and a baby wrap for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander babies and families to use.
“It’s not just for Koori Maternity Service patients, but for the whole hospital,” she said.
“People in palliative care will be able to use it and it’s very traditional for babies to have the possum skin wrap when they are born.”
The artist and facilitator of the workshop, Gina Bundle, is a Yuin/Monaro woman and the program co-ordinator of Badjurr-Bulok Wilam – meaning ‘home of many women’ in the Woiwurrung language of the Wurundjeri Peoples.
Ms Bundle said in 2006, her sister-in-law and mentor Vicki Couzens, along with a group of women, revitalised the making of the traditional possum skin cloaks, sharing the craft and the story of cloak making.
“Once all these cloaks are done, we will lay them on the table and put them together like a jigsaw, telling our story through the drawings and images,” she said.
The workshops are open for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.
“It is through these workshops that we are learning about the beautiful culture we have here. Healing cloaks are different than personal or aesthetic cloaks and I am glad these will be usable cloaks for patients, on display here at Northern Health,” she said.
Ms Bundle facilitated the Treaty Possum Skin Cloak after being invited from the Victorian Treaty Advancement Commission.
The Treaty Cloak symbolises a path to treaty and has been ushered in the first meeting of the Assembly at Victoria’s Parliament in 2019.