The Possum Skin Cloak Project


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 Boonwurrung people.

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.

The Possum
Skin Cloak Project

The Possum
Skin Cloak Project

The Possum Skin
Cloak Project




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