Possum skin cloak: Boonwurrung
Carolyn Briggs was the cultural leader in the making of the Boonwurrung and Wemba Wemba cloaks. Aunty Carolyn wore the Boonwurrung cloak at the Opening Ceremony of the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games.
Boonwurrung language group extends to the northern, eastern and southern shorelines of Port Phillip, the Mornington Peninsula, Western Port and its two main islands, and land to the south-east down to Wilsons Promontory. Coastal people.
Click here to watch Interview: Boonwurrung Elder Carolyn Briggs
Carolyn Briggs explains the designs on the Boonwurrung cloak:
We made our cloak from willert, which is the possum skin. If we prepared these possum skins in the traditional manner, we would have tanned them with the water bark and then carved the shell or the stone with images of maps of our Country.
This is what a map would've looked like, with the seas, the rivers, the creeks. We've put symbols in them. We put the eel trap, where the eel used to journey our Country in a particular season. Then we had to note our Country’s boundaries so to do that we had to draw the language map of what was spoken.
It first made me aware when my son said to me: ‘I reburied those remains at the heart and the lung of the Bunatalang country.’ And, the heart and the lung was down here, near Western Port Bay.
Then someone else said to me: ‘’Carolyn, when we did our boundaries, we just mapped out something of the Kaurna people, in South Australia, on our cloaks.’ They're the Western Red Kangaroo because the image that came out of this mapping of language showed them the map of who they are. ‘She said to me: ‘We're the Western Red, you're the Eastern Grey.’
When you start to map all those things out you will see how we belong to certain parts of the country and what meat we can eat and what meat we can't eat. When my cousin said: ‘We're the bottom part of the emu’, I realised everything has to fit within the landscape. Like weaving, it's about the stories. Then we learnt the word Bunatalang. It means ‘Eastern Grey’ and this is what we've got.
So when we're making these cloaks, we actually weave our stories using modern technology. This sewing would have been done with the sinews of the kangaroo, the tan of the possum skin with wattle bark, the tan, the skin, the blood of the Earth, the ochres would be rubbed into the skin and the fat. The ochres, the fat, the blood would all be massaged into the skin. Everything had a being, a thing, a place.
It's about the flora and fauna, the rivers and creeks. The images would show that we had to travel through different places to get to a certain area and to get home.