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Published: 11 July 2020

By Andy Ross

Life stories

This week, a chance comment by a fellow student at Glasgow School of Art caught my attention. It was about the possum skin cloaks of Australian Aboriginal people and the stories that they tell.

Not many of these cloaks survive from before the 20th Century, but the cloaks were once an everyday piece of clothing. At birth a few skins were sewn together and as the child grew to adulthood, more skins were added so that the garment grew with the wearer. These pieces were used for music-making, for warmth, for carrying and finally for a burial shroud. However it was not just convenience that made them such a powerful emblem for their makers for inside each was inscribed the tales and stories of the clan and of the place in which they lived. As you will know, Aboriginal people have a strong identification with and connection to the land so these cloaks were highly and wonderfully personal.

Now the possum skin cloaks are making a comeback. They are being used for healing and in 2006 were used for the opening ceremony of the Melbourne Commonwealth Games. 

There is another very informative website devoted to these fascinating articles and their making. Have a look at it here.