Wurundjeri ceremonial cloak on display for first time

June 15 / 159

The University of Melbourne's ceremonial possum skin cloak by Indigenous artist Mandy Thomas, on public display in the Bailieu Library. Photo: Paul Burston.
The University of Melbourne's ceremonial possum skin cloak by Indigenous artist Mandy Thomas, on public display in the Bailieu Library. Photo: Paul Burston.

 

During this year’s National Reconciliation Week 2015, the University’s ceremonial Possum Skin Cloak was placed on public display for the first time as a celebration of Aboriginal culture and identity and as a tribute to our Traditional Custodians.  

 

The practice of possum skin cloak-making is alive once again, in a renewal of culture and identity. 

 

The University’s cloak was created by Wurundjeri artist Mandy Thomas (nee Nicholson).

 

It was bestowed to the University by the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences, as part of its Melbourne Medical School sesquicentenary celebrations, and was worn by Professor Ian Anderson, now Pro Vice Chancellor (Engagement), in the academic procession leading to his conferral to the degree of Doctor of Medical Science (honoris causa).

 

In a gesture of respect to her ancestors, and in recognition of the fact that the University’s Parkville campus lies within Wurundjeri Country, Mandy Thomas used traditional symbolism to guide her design.

 

The symbols on the cloak pertain to Wurundjeri Country and depict symbols for students and learning. The intricate swirls throughout the design represent the smoke of a ceremonial fire to welcome students – from near and far – to the land, and portray their personal and academic journeys while at university and beyond. Interlocking and reaching out in multiple directions, the swirls also call on students to share the knowledge learned at university within their own communities and the wider world.

 

“The cloak is a rare and significant cultural gift,” Professor Anderson said. “It is also a gift to the University of the Wurundjeri. It honours the Wurunderji tradition, their high formal culture and their countrymen, the Bunerorong, Waudawurrung, Dja Dja Wurrung, and Tungwurrung.”

 

In collaboration with the artist and community elders, the safekeeping and use of the cloak is stringently governed by the University’s conservators. 

 

Since 2012, this cloak has been worn by distinguished members of the University’s Indigenous staff at formal University occasions such as the annual Narrm Oration and the graduations of Indigenous students.  In 2012, it was worn by the first Australian to deliver the Narrm Oration, Professor Megan Davis from the University of New South Wales. 

 

Story by Ellen Day with Shawana Andrews and Gabrielle Murphy

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