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Possum skin cloaks in new exhibition and book

24 OCTOBER 2005

The cultural revival of making possum skin cloaks is explored in a new exhibition and book being launched at the Koorie Heritage Trust in Melbourne tomorrow.

The exhibition, Gunya Winyarr - a Yorta Yorta phrase for women's cloaks - and the book, Wrapped in a Possum Skin Cloak, celebrate the Victorian tradition of cloak making.

The exhibition is the culmination of a five-year journey of discovery and revival by Koorie artists Treahna Hamm, Vicki Couzens and Lee Darroch. It features cloaks, dance outfits, pastel drawings, paintings, print etchings, woven sculptures and contemporary etched breastplates and shields.

'When I create, I remember the old sayings about going back to our land to make it stronger,' Treahna said. 'When we paint and create, we're making our land stronger too. We're helping to keep Koorie culture alive forever.'

The Wrapped in a Possum Skin Cloak book, penned by the three artists, along with Debra Couzens and National Museum of Australia curator Amanda Reynolds, tells the story of the artists' emotional journey to re-create two historic cloaks held by the Melbourne Museum.

These re-created cloaks, along with drawings, etchings historic images are now on show permanently at the National Museum in Canberra. They explore the traditional use of possum skin cloaks for warmth, protection, bedding and burial. The meaning of the intricate designs is also explored.

'The designs help you pick up the whole meaning of the land, bringing it into you through your creativity,' Treahna said.

Media are invited to attend the book and exhibition launch at the Koorie Heritage Trust, 295 King Street, corner Little Lonsdale Street, Melbourne, at 6pm tomorrow, 25 October.

Gunya Winyarr has been funded by the Melbourne City Council Indigenous Arts Program and is being hosted by the Koorie Heritage Trust. It runs from 25 October to January 2006.

Wrapped in a Possum Skin Cloak, published by the National Museum of Australia Press, 2005, 64 pages, is available at bookstores for $19.95.

For more information or a review copy of the book please contact Leanda Coleman at the National Museum on 02 6208 5338, 0438 620 710 or email media@nma.gov.au