In 2012, through the Artists in Schools Project, Heatherhill
Primary School created a beautiful artefact, a Possum Skin Cloak,
under the guidance of Aboriginal artist, Maree Clarke.
'Belonging' was a project that looked at how we all belong in Australia.
The artist worked with many students from diverse cultural backgrounds. With
the artist they each explored their own cultural heritage, where they or their
parents came from and what traditions are related to that heritage.
They then looked at the history and traditions of the Boonwurrung traditional
owners of the land where they live and go to school. From research they
explored and discussed what happened to the original inhabitants and how
that knowledge affects them as recent arrivals to the land of the
Boonwurrung. Students were involved in mapping the cloak, helping
sew each of the panels together. There was discussion around the
layout of each of the panels/designs and how it came together.
The students drew and then burnt designs onto the cloak. Maree
showed the students how, traditionally, Boonwurrung people gathered Wattle
Resin, melted it down into a liquid and mixed it with Ochre. This was then
applied to the pelt to add permanent color.
Maree explained accessing possum pelts from New Zealand as our
own possums are protected by Australian law. There was much
discussion about why we can access pelts from New Zealand and
how the Possum was introduced to New Zealand and is now a feral
pest, destroying the New Zealand environment.
Maree worked with students from a range of cultural backgrounds. With
their immersion into Aboriginal culture, students gained some
understanding of the people who came before them and upon whose
land they now live.
Maree worked collaboratively with students and guided them in
communicating their understandings of Boonwurrung culture and
history, how it compares with their own cultural background
and how they feel about living on the ancient land of the
Jane Thompson and James Rigby, musicians who have worked with
the staff and students of Heatherhill for several years, wrote
a song about the cloak. The song has been performed by the school
choir at the 2014 Boite Millennium Concert, “Gurrong” at Hamer Hall,
at the Greater Dandenong Interfaith Network 2014 Gathering at Dandenong’s
Drum Theatre, at the Castlemaine State Festival in 2015 and various
local competitions and concerts.
Listen to the Possum Skin Cloak song
The cloak is an important cultural icon for the school. It is
on permanent display in the school’s foyer and is worn for important
ceremonies, such as Year 6 Graduation and Presentation of Special Awards.