Possum skin cloak story reconnecting communities and culture: telling the story of possum skin cloaks Kooramookyan-an Yakeeneeyt-an Kooweekoowee-yan

Couzens, V 2017, Possum skin cloak story reconnecting communities and culture: telling the story of possum skin cloaks Kooramookyan-an Yakeeneeyt-an Kooweekoowee-yan, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Media and Communication, RMIT University.


Document type: Thesis
Collection: Theses

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Title Possum skin cloak story reconnecting communities and culture: telling the story of possum skin cloaks Kooramookyan-an Yakeeneeyt-an Kooweekoowee-yan
Author(s) Couzens, V
Year 2017
Abstract Please Note: This dissertation is accompanied by a 3D virtual gallery, which should be viewed alongside this work. The gallery is accessible here: https://publish.exhibbit.com/gallery/057344536/long-gallery-11002/

This PhD is a record of the Possum Cloak Story and takes the form of a dissertation, an online gal- lery with images, written works and audio and video works. It presents both my individual and collaborative work in cultural reclamation and revitalisation of Possum Skin Cloaks and language revival in Aboriginal communities across southeastern Australia. The study investigated the cul- tural revitalisation practice of possum cloaks and their re-emergence in more than 75 Aboriginal communities across south-eastern Australia. The research represents both a narrative and doc- umentation of the journey of possum skin cloak-making over a 17-year history. Findings show that the sustainability of this traditional practice is dependent on the sharing of cultural knowledge, of cultural and spiritual health and wellbeing, community development, and ethical engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. A model was developed to provide tools, teachings and resources to enable communities to practise their cultural traditions for future generations.

My project, Kooramookyan-an Yakeeneeyt-an Kooweekoowee-yan (my Possum Cloak, my Dreaming, my Story), examines the questions: How have Possum Skin Cloaks re-emerged as sig- nificant cultural icons of cultural regeneration and revitalisation in contemporary times? And within this re-emergence: What impact can reviving age-old Aboriginal traditional practices have on the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal people and their communities?

This project represents the first study to investigate the technical and creative processes, and health and wellbeing impact, of revitalising the cultural practice of Possum Skin Cloak making in Aboriginal communities since its revival more than 17 years ago. The research has three key as- pects to it. Firstly, it provides an autobiographical record of the birth of Possum Cloak Story and a short historical reflection on Possum Cloaks. Secondly, the main body documents the reclama- tion and revitalisation journey and tells the stories of the creative cultural expression and im- pacts in community of this contemporary cultural reclamation phenomenon. Thirdly, the final component presents findings from a survey I conducted on the impact of Possum Cloaks in com- munity and the analyses of evaluation data through a separate but related project. The survey and evaluation data from the related project were designed to garner information to provide un- derstanding of the impact that reviving traditional practices has on the health and wellbeing of Indigenous communities, and the documentation and refined development of a model of practice. In this section, I discuss the potential for this model to be adapted and then adopted across a range of healthcare sector service facilities, such as crisis centres, Aboriginal women’s safe hous- es, shelters, hospitals, maternal, children’s and family health facilities, and health and mental wellbeing programs in community services.

Whilst colonising practices forcibly interrupted many cultural traditions and ways of Being and Doing, contemporary times have seen major cultural re-awakenings flourishing in Aboriginal communities across south-eastern Australia. Possum Cloak revitalisation and tradition is an his- torically significant cultural reclamation and revitalisation phenomenon of our times. In 1999 the Vision to return Possum Cloaks to community, to bring them back where they belong, was gifted to me from my Old People and the Grandfathers who made the Lake Condah Cloak. At this time, I shared this Vision with Lee Darroch, Treahna Hamm and Debra Couzens and over the ensuing years it became a shared, collaborative journey with them and many others. Through the sharing of the Vision and the establishment of collaborative working partnerships, funding and support from Elders and community, Possum Skin Cloak teachings have been shared with more than 75 communities over the past 17 years. Participants learn cloak-making skills and are guided in the use of cloaks in ceremonies for naming, funerals, marriages, graduations, baby naming, and con- nection to Country.

The Old People sent this story to us
We heard them speak through our hearts to our spirits
They told us what to do
They are still telling us what to do
Their message, our story, is to return the cloaks to our People To reclaim, regenerate, revitalise and remember
To remember what those cloaks mean to us
And tell the stories of our People and Country

(V Couzens © 2009)

This is the Story of Possum Skin Cloaks.
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Institution RMIT University
School, Department or Centre Media and Communication
Subjects Visual Arts and Crafts not elsewhere classified
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Studies
Keyword(s) Possum Cloak
Aboriginal Culture
Wellbeing and Healing
Cultural revitalisation
Knowledge and Practices
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Created: Fri, 11 May 2018, 09:31:15 EST by Denise Paciocco
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