Our body is our home, our shelter. Our physical senses are how we engage with life and create it. The physical relates to the body, and how best to nurture and care for it using touch healing, herbal remedies, medicinal foods and cultural practices. It is all about growth and development.
Background: Image of mau rākau group standing in the ocean. Image by Jeremy Nikora.
Leah Lindrea-Morisson is a Yorta Yorta woman, living and working in Shepparton, Victoria. Leah is also a cancer survivor.
“Aboriginal people have a holistic way of looking at health and healing, which embraces physical, social, cultural, emotional and spiritual elements together.”
Leah Lindrea-Morisson wearing an Aboriginal flag t-shirt and draped in a possum skin cloak.
With the help of her community, and for her community, Leah headed up a project providing possum skin cloaks for Indigenous patients going through cancer treatment.
“The project aims to integrate biomedical and traditional healing perspectives of health within a regional hospital setting. Culture is at the centre — it’s vital for wellbeing, it’s who you are, it’s identity and connection. The cloak will provide a cultural ’embrace’ at a time when you are most vulnerable.”
”Western-developed health care often fails to address issues relating to connectedness, culture and spirituality, empowerment and control that are so crucial to Aboriginal health and wellbeing. Instead, it focuses on specific diseases, diagnoses, and treatment.”
Possum skin cloaks worn by Karen Dickson, Cynthia Scott, Leah Lindrea-Morrison and Juwan Lindrea
“Being wrapped in the warm, familiar possum skin cloak will soothe and comfort people and connect them to their culture and to healing. Cultural healing is part of that holistic approach that we use.”
Leah ran a workshop in February 2021, inviting cancer patients and survivors to join her in making two possum skin cloaks: a woman’s cloak and a man’s cloak. She is planning on setting up a foundation to enable First Nations cancer patients to have their own, personal cloak if they become palliative.
Tom Baksh and Leah Lindrea-Morrison in the completed possum cloaks. Image courtesy Leah Lindrea-Morrison.
Background: Many possum skins have been sewn together to make cloaks. Images by Peta Clancy and footage by Nigel Parsons.
Dr Kirsten Garner Lyttle is a Melbourne based artist and researcher who is of Māori descent. Her Iwi (tribe) is Waikato, (Ngāti Tahinga, Tainui). Her work explores the intersection of Indigenous customary art practice and digital technologies.
‘Natural Crown’ is a digital work created during Melbourne’s long second lockdown in 2020.
It is “…a performative act of self-care in a time of lockdown and COVID. The documentation of a grooming practice that embraces natural hairstyles that are inextricably tied to race, colour and ethnicity”.
Watch Natural Crown below, and read the short essay that accompanies it.
Background: ‘Sheltered the arms of the ancestors’ (2019), Weraroa, Waiaretuu marae.
Cassie Leatham is a Taungurung woman of the Kulin Nations. She is a cultural educator, artist, bush tucker specialist and weaver. From her home on GunaiKurnai Country, Cassie spoke about different types of healing.
“Healing is a big part of who I am. Every day, without fail, I’m healing by weaving, or foraging or cooking. There’s something there that’s got something to do with Country and my people.”
Cassie in her home, surrounded by cultural objects she has made or been gifted.
“By making a possum skin cloak, by carving a coolamon, by collecting my medicines, I’m doing their work because it’s a part of my genes, it’s a part of my bloodline, it’s part of my heritage.”
Detail from Cassie’s possum skin cloak, representing totems, family and connection to Country.
Cassie mixing white ochre and emu oil in preparation for ceremony.
“I’m walking, every day, in my ancestors’ footprints, every day. And, that makes me proud; a proud, strong, cultural woman. I want to pass on that empowerment to others if I can, through my work, and mainly targeting the youth.”
“Weaving is significant to me because it connects me, not only to my ancestors, but to my passed grandmother, and also my mother, too. So, it connects us together, and it also connects us to Country. For me, weaving is nurturing and healing so it gives me that feeling like I’m meditating. It’s so relaxing and it just takes me into another place of connection to my ancestors and the women weavers.”
Cassie weaving a mat in her backyard shelter.
“I use these mats to heal people with illness, sickness, mental health as well. It’s like a meditation. I lay these mats on the ground, I sit on them, and then I do a ceremony in song and paint up and do a smudging, and then I hop off the mat and I allow the participant to sit on the mat and I do ceremony on them.”
Cassie also uses the mats to teach weaving techniques.
“I’ll teach them beautiful weaving techniques and we’ll talk about the mats and significance and then I take them out foraging for the emu feathers. Then I get them to bind with the beautiful wax and string and we weave the emu feathers, so it becomes a part of their journey. And, it’s like a tool, a tool of teaching, and keeping our culture alive, especially the weaving techniques.”
Weaving foraged emu feathers into a woven grass mat.
Cassie performing a cleansing and healing ceremony.
Background: Completed woven grass mat with emu feather fringing. All video and images by Wayne Quilliam.
EXPLORE THE FIVE PILLARS
Symbolism by Mandi Barton.