Blog by Freja Carmichael.
Last Thursday, Amanda and I had a lovely day at Kenilworth yarning with Senior Gubbi Gubbi Elder, Uncle Nurdon Serico as part of a possum skin revitalisation and exhibition project. We are researching possum skin cloaks and while we utilise the State Library collections and other written resources, we also value our oral histories and always try and sit down with Indigenous community members to gain important insights and personal narratives to inform our work.
Although it was a drizzly and wet day, we spent time in the beautiful Upper Mary Valley country, behind the Blackall Ranges listening to Uncle Nurdon’s story and his background, family history and remarkable work as Neuro Radiographer. At a young age Uncle Nurdon became Queensland’s first Neuro Radiographer, working at the Royal Brisbane Hospital and teaching at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT). He was recognised for his excellence in this field when he was awarded the Churchill scholarship taking him all over the world. Uncle Nurdon has since retired, and dedicates his time as an active community member.
When it came to possum skin cloak making traditions, Uncle Nurdon shared much insight. Whilst sitting outside close by to the Mary River, I asked Uncle Nurdon how cold does it get here, he replied very very cold looking towards the misty ranges, definitely would have needed a possum skin covering here! As possum skin cloaks (also referred to as rugs) provided significant means for keeping warm in cooler winter months, Tom Petrie’s reminiscences of early Queensland (dating from 1837) recalls that “possum skins were greatly prized as coverings when the nights where cold.”
Alongside significance of Possum skin cloaks, Uncle Nurdon highlighted the difference in possums used in cloak making and how possum were hunted in a sustainable and resourceful manner. The black forest possum was preferred due to the strength and resilience of the fur through various wear and uses but brown possums were also common, though the fur was not as durable. Possums that were unwell, male, or in abundance were the ones that were usually hunted and it was an important practice to only take what was required. Traditional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander methodologies of caring for country is something that kuril dhagun has recently explored through our Night by fire program, further information can be found here.
Uncle Nurdon’s story will be become part of digital content for the exhibition, alongside other oral histories and researcher contributions surrounding possum skin cloak making traditions. We are so grateful for the time spent with Uncle Nurdon, and also would like to thank his daughter, Melinda Serico for her assistance and time on Thursday.
This coming Saturday we have the Brisbane contemporary cloak making workshop for Brisbane Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community members.
The workshops will be taking place over two sessions (November 21 and December 5), please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out further information.
Also, if you would like to contribute to our upcoming exhibition by sharing information, photographs or ephemera regarding possum skin cloaks in South East Queensland, we would love to hear from you!