• The Victorian Treaty Advancement Commission's possum skin cloak will remain on display at the Melbourne Museum until February 2020. (NITV News)
The possum skin cloak is a historical document of Victoria's Treaty journey, and is made up of a huge, colourful mosaic of collected stories from across the state.
By
Madeline Hayman-Reber

Source:
NITV News
28 Oct 2019 - 5:08 PM  UPDATED 28 Oct 2019 - 5:08 PM

A possum skin cloak made up of hundreds of inscriptions by Victorian Aboriginal community members has been unveiled at Melbourne Museum's Bunjilaka Aboriginal Culture Centre.

The historic cloak documents the journey of Treaty, as the designs were done during 30 community gatherings held by the Victorian Treaty Advancement Commission (VTAC) in 2018.

VTAC Commissioner Jill Gallagher can be credited with the idea, but said it wouldn't have been possible without the help of the coordinating artist.

"I'm not an artist, so when the idea came up to have a possum skin cloak we consulted with a very renowned cloak maker, Gina Bundle, and her advice and her guidance through this whole process has been invaluable," Ms Gallagher said.

"I remember when we first went out, we commissioned Gina to prepare the pelts for us and tell us what we had to do. We took it ourselves as VTAC staff on the road and we mucked it up, we mucked it up big time."

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Ms Bundle, who is a staffer at The Women's hospital, then gained permission to take time off work and help out with the creation of the cloak.

While it meant being part of history in putting the stories of mob from across the state together into one cloak, she also learnt more about her own story in the process.

"When I was travelling - I never knew what my father did because he was away a lot - but when I was travelling with the cloak I had communities come up and tell me stories about my father, which I would never have known if it wasn't for this cloak," Ms Bundle said.

"I met other Elders who really held my father in high esteem and I didn't know that side of him. So this cloak has done the most amazing thing for me. It brought me closer to my father than I ever was."

Possums are a protected species in Australia, therefore it is illegal to kill the furry creatures for their skins. However, they are classified as a pest in New Zealand, which is where the pelts in the cloak were sourced from.

Approximately 70 pelts were used to create the masterpiece, with each being cut into smaller rectangle shapes and handed out to constituents to lay their designs on. The cloak features everything from totems, to words, stories, and messages about Treaty.

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Two kangaroo skins are included in the exhibit, which feature designs done by non-Indigenous supporters of Treaty.

"Apart from hearing people's aspirations and seeing people's cultural Clan designs, the cultural expression that the cloak brought to me and how it having is displayed at the museum for all to see," Ms Gallagher said.

"It's like us telling the world that our culture is ancient and contemporary... it's alive, it's living and it's strong."

The cloak and skins will hang in Bunjilaka Aboriginal Centre, located inside Melbourne Museum, until February 2020.

VTAC hopes it will then be transferred to an office, which will house the newly elected First Peoples Assembly.