THE IMPORTANCES OF POSSUMS
The relationship between the Possum and the Boonwurrung people provides the opportunity to
explain the dualism and multi levels of relationships within their society.
The multi levels and dualism that existed within Boonwurrung society can be examined through the relationship
with the possum.
The possum, at its basic level provided sustenance, a tender and sweet tasting meat that was roasted and
enjoyed by young and old.
The pelt of the possum, was tanned with native wattle bark, and stitched with kangaroo sinew.
One of the little know uses of the possum skins, was the drums created and used by the women by wrapping
them over their knee, during ceremonies we call Nargee.
Another more comman example are the Cloaks which at a basic level provided warmth and shelter.
These cloaks would be the first thing the Boonwurrung were wrapped in from birth, through life to death.
At an economical level, these cloaks were traded. In the 1840’s the Boonwurrung manufactured and
sold possum skin cloaks to the Europeans in Melbourne, along with woven baskets.
The possum skin cloak has become an enduring form of public art – it was designed by women and
provided a map or exhibition of journey cycles and identity.
The tradition of possum skin design and has been maintained by Boonwurrung women.
The cloaks produced at sovereignty are now located in museums in Europe, however the tradition has been
continued and it serves as contemporary expression of Boonwurrung public art.
The collection and sale of possum skins provided an income to the Boonwurrung, oral evidence
suggested that up until the 1930’s, my great grandfather hunted and collected possum skins for sale.
At a spiritual level, the Possum was a totem to some members of the group and was used as a
vehicle of transport for the spiritual healer which due to laws and customs can not be named or shared by me.
Boonwurrung Walert ‘Possum Skin Cloak’ 2016
Maker: Caroline Martin, Yalukit Wilam of the Boonwurrung
boorndup boonwurrung biik weegabeel guleeny ba bargurrk
“Honoring Boonwurrung Country and our Esteemed Ancestors”
Prior to the mid- nineteenth century, every member of every language group wore animal skin cloaks. In Victoria and New South Wales, a possum skin cloak was a highly prized possession. Although they were once abundant, there only remains five historical cloaks in existence. Two are held in the Museum Victoria Collection: one collected from Gunditjmara Country (Lake Condah) in 1872 and the other collected from Yorta Yorta Country (Echuca) in 1853. The other three are held in International Museums.
Today the revival of Cloak making is once again seeing them abundant and again they are highly prized, with families following our Ancestors tradition of celebrating the significance of the Cloak for both warmth and ceremony.
The central feature of my Cloak is a map of Boonwurrung Country, which extends from the mouth of the Werribee River, including what is now known as Port Philip Bay, to the Mornington Peninsula and along the coast to Wilsons Promontory.
The overall design is a tangible reminder of the legacy of my Ancestors, a story that speaks of a tradition that continues to survive and in doing so, celebrates 2000 generations of our rich vibrant living culture.
“boorndup boonwurrung biik weegabeel guleeny ba bargurrk”
This Possum skin cloak is a significant commission to the City of Port Philip collection and Council is very proud to display this cloak in the St Kilda Town Hall