Culture is Healing - Possum Skin Cloak

A traditional possum skin cloak was made and decorated by Aboriginal cancer survivors at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre during a three day workshop run by prominent artist Vicki Couzens, assisted by Aunty Esther Kirby and Gina Bundle.

Vicki Couzens said possum skin cloaks are one of the most sacred expressions of traditional south-eastern Aboriginal peoples.

“Cloaks are vessels for the body and spirit, they connect people with Country and community, and they offer pride, dignity and respect. At the same time, cloaks can be one of our most intimate belongings used in a variety of everyday activities – sleeping, wrapping babies, teaching Country and sharing stories.” – Vicki Couzens

I was asked to document the creation of the cloak with a short video, and to reveal the extraordinary connection the women made with one another during the process. I also photographed the women in the cloak, and they were presented with their framed portraits at the launch by the manager of the project, Amanda McMahon.

The women, all survivors or currently undergoing cancer therapy, sewed their stories and love into the cloak. They intend the cloak to aid the healing of, and to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people undergoing cancer treatment at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre.

The cloak is the first of its kind in a major hospital in Australia. The cloak, and the documentary, is part of a joint initiative between Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and Breast Cancer Network Australia to create a culturally appropriate space for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people undergoing cancer treatment.

BCNA’s Culture is Healing program has been made possible through Cancer Australia funding. The possum skin cloak’s creation was funded by BCNA and through a bequest to Peter MacCallum Cancer Foundation.

BCNA media release
Peter Mac media release
Medianet, 28/06/2017

Breast Cancer Network Australia website
Peter MacCallam Cancer Centre website


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Categories: Documentaries

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