Possum skin cloaks with Maree Clarke

Levels 3-6

Find out about possum skin cloaks with artist Maree Clarke. Discover how she made her possum-skin cloak and the personal meaning of the design, then create a design representing significant places or journeys of from your own lives.

Learning Objectives

  • Identify and describe the historical and cultural significance of possum skin cloaks to Koori culture
  • Discuss the materials, techniques, technologies and processes Maree Clarke has used to create her possum skin cloak
  • Analyse and interpret the meanings and messages in Maree Clarke’s possum skin cloak
  • Use symbols, patterns and colour to design a map of an important place or journey

About Maree Clarke

Maree Clarke is an artist and designer based in Melbourne. She is connected to the traditional lands of the Mutti Mutti, Wamba Wamba, Yorta Yorta and Boonwurrung peoples. She makes art to connect with her culture and she shares it with her family, friends and community to keep culture strong for the next generation.

About the possum skin cloak

Walert – gum barerarerungar, 2021, is a possum skin cloak by artist Maree Clarke. It is made from sixty-three possum pelts which have been stitched together using sinew from kangaroo tails.

Historically, in the cooler climates of south-eastern Australia, Aboriginal people wore possum skin cloaks to stay warm. They were given a possum pelt at birth and, as they grew, more pelts were added and the cloak grew with them. Possum skin cloaks weren’t only clothes; they were also used as blankets, to cradle babies and to wrap around the deceased in burial ceremonies.

Possum skin cloaks often have personal maps and stories illustrated on the inside. Traditionally, they are etched with mussel shells, possum jawbones or kangaroo incisor teeth. Today, cloak makers commonly scorch their designs into the pelts using burning tools, just as Clarke has on her cloak. Clarke has also painted black, red and green onto the cloak. These colours were prepared from a mix of wattle resin and ochre (the natural pigments found in soil, rocks and clay).

The seven map-like shapes on Clarke’s cloak symbolise the different language groups and places she’s connected to. Five of these are shapes of Yorta Yorta, Mutti Mutti, Wamba Wamba, Trawlwoolway Country. The other two, marked with green ochre, represent her connection to Tipperary, Ireland and Dunstable, UK.