Above: Colourful creations woven by Gunditjmara women
Women have quietly passed on their knowledge and skills to younger people for thousands of years, helping to build confidence and capability.
Sandra Aitken and Aunty Eileen Alberts, Gunditjmara women from south-west Victoria, say their talented elder, Aunty Connie Hart, helped start a community-wide initiative by sharing her knowledge of traditional basket weaving.
Sandra is an artist who uses the skills she learned from Aunty Connie in bold new ways, fusing western influences and materials to create unique pieces including traditional baskets made of copper and wool, and intricate objects crafted from grass and binding twine.
In addition to accepting commissions for private collectors, Sandra and Aunty Eileen, also create smaller pieces to sell to foreign tourists who disembark from the large cruise ships at the Port of Portland for a scheduled stop at Budj Bim.
Both sisters are passionate about ensuring the craft lives on, which partly comes from the fact it was very nearly lost forever.
Aunty Connie grew up in the mission at Lake Condah where passing on cultural knowledge was punished. The elders refused to teach Aunty Connie and she had to ‘peek around the corners’ to learn. Fear of reprisal was so ingrained that Aunty Connie was 67 years old before she practiced the craft again; when Aunty Eileen convinced her it was culturally safe for her to pass on the knowledge.
The women are inspiring new generations of basket weavers by generously sharing their knowledge with the broader community at classes run by the Winda-Mara Aboriginal Corporation in Heywood.
While the techniques are passed on, the location of the poonyart grass remains a closely guarded secret. The materials they work with change depending on the season.
Sandra strongly believes that basket weaving can ‘build bridges’ towards reconciliation. “Time just disappears when you are basket weaving. Often the classes overrun because we are all enjoying each other’s company and stories while we weave,” says Sandra.