On a cold and wet winter morning in Canberra, staff from the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) sat down with Yorta Yorta, Mutti Mutti and Boon Wurrung woman Lee Darroch to design the first ever AIATSIS possum skin cloak.
Lee was invited to work with AIATSIS staff to develop an artistic representation of the Institute which will then be drawn on to the possum skin cloak.
“Possum skin cloaks are one of our most sacred cultural expressions as South-Eastern Aboriginal people. They record our clan, tribe, cultural sites, family stories, and contain what Gunaikurnai call waribruk or a maker’s mark,” Lee said.
AIATSIS Curator and Yorta Yorta, Wamba Wamba and Wergaia woman Alana Garwood-Houng said the cloak will become a valuable representation of AIATSIS.
“When people wear cloaks, they feel different. For some it’s part of healing or ceremony. It’s really an individual’s choice as to whether they wear it or not.”
AIATSIS Archive Officer and descendant of both Gamilaraay and Wiradjuri peoples Rhonda Smith believes it’s important to share the story about AIATSIS and wanted to be involved in the project.
“The staff who were listening, talking and providing ideas about the design should feel a sense of pride about what we’ve learnt together while working at AIATSIS..
“I look forward to collaborating with AIATSIS staff on this project designing a cloak that reflects the cultural expression of AIATSIS and the important work the Institute continues to do,” Rhonda said. The cloak will be held by AIATSIS for use in exhibitions, and will be presented to AIATSIS at a ceremony next year.
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