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Australian Aboriginal Fibrecraft

The indigenous Australians used fibre to create baskets, fish traps, mats, and shelters. The baskets and bags are divided into those of a practical nature and those used for religious ceremonial purposes. Much of the significance of these ceremonial pieces is kept secret by the clan.  Some of the materials used are Pandanus spiralus, Brachychiton diversifolius, Brachychiton paradoxum,   Ficus virens and certain palm leaves. Today most Australian Aborigines are living in mainstream society not practicing their traditional crafts. However in Arnhem Land there are many tribal language groups still living a traditional life.

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Shirley Minyingarla wears a dillybag in the traditional manner.

In Arnhen Land, Maningrida is the centre of administration by the Bawinanga Aboriginal Corporation servicing 30 outlying stations composed of about a dozen language groups. Maningrida Art and Culture is a department within the corporation which helps to market the art and craft. Painting, sculpture, and basketry are the main items focused upon.

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Once a year The Australian Forum of Textile Arts has conferences with many workshops offered. These are held in various locations around Australia. Some years a group of Aboriginal Women from Maningrida attend the conference as teachers of their traditional fibre skills. This is always a well attended workshop set up outdoors around a camp fire using all the authentic materials gathered in Arnham Land. 

 

Here dyes are obtained from roots dug up in Arnham Land and brought down to the conference. Betty Wanduk is pounding the woody roots to release the dye material. This root which produced yellow dye in the first dyeing gave red dye when ash was added to the boiling pot. Originally the fibres were not dyed but decorated with pigments after construction as the indigenous people did not have containers to boil liquids. However since European settlement and the availability of metal containers dye material has been experimented with and used widely. 


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Stripping the leaves looks like an easy job but requires expertise.

   

Shirley shows the fibre after dyeing.

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Shirley Malgarrji starts a new dillybag with pandanus fibre. A base is interlocked to form a framework to twine more pandanus around and upward.

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Several Aboriginal women artists living in modern Australian society  are going back to their traditional materials and forms but are adapting them to create art work that has a contemporary message. I will endeavour to contact them for permission to show their work on these pages.


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