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.
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.
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.
• Talk to the person next to you and describe three things that are special about possum skin cloaks.
• Why do you think Clarke has decided to represent the places and language groups she is connected to on her possum skin cloak?
• What materials and processes did Clarke use to create her cloak? Why do you think she has chosen to use them? For example, why might she have used colour made from ochres and resin instead of acrylic paint like you use at school? Consider tradition and heritage, meanings and messages, and practical considerations.
• Why do you think it is important to learn about and practise traditional art making?
• Take a moment to consider the places that are special to you. What makes them so special?
• The activity sheet
• Charcoal, conte or pastel pencils in a variety of colours
• Thick grade A4 or A5 paper (brown kraft paper works best)
• Jute twine
• Hole puncher
Take a moment to look at all the journeys and places you have threaded together as a class.
• Which journeys and places do you share with your classmates?
• Did you notice different things about those places?
• Which features were shared? Which were different?
• What more can you find out about the places that weren’t familiar to you?
• What did the activity make you think about Maree Clarke’s possum skin cloak? Have you had any new ideas that you didn’t think of earlier?