Naghlingah Boorais: Beautiful Children

Three children in possum skin cloaks
Three children wearing possum skin cloaks in Naghlingah Boorais: Beautiful Children.
Source: Museum Victoria

Naghlingah Boorais: Beautiful Children is a project led by the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency (VACCA) in partnership with Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre and artists Vicky Couzens, Maree Clarke and Elder Esther Kirby. This project supports VACCA’s belief that the key for young people to have a strong future is to have a strong culture, to know where they come from, who they are and to be proud.

Through the making of possum skin cloaks in a series of workshops held over five months at various locations across Melbourne, more than 30 Koorie children and youth explored their cultural identity. They learnt how the cloaks represent connection to country, language and clan, about the traditions and values of their Ancestors and culture, traditions that have been a part of this land and our peoples for thousands of generations. 

The children and youth built lasting connections and developed a sense of pride in and understanding of their cultural identity and began to appreciate their own role in passing on this knowledge.

Naghlingah Boorais: Beautiful Children was also an opportunity for the children and youth to connect with Elders and community to learn about and participate in their own culture in ways that are relevant and meaningful to them.  By strengthening Aboriginal children and young people’s cultural awareness, identity and connection to community, their resilience is built, supporting them to feel strong and proud in who they are.

The healing aspect of sharing stories, learning together and from each other is across and between generations, and was an integral part of these workshops. As the children made the cloaks and learned the stories of their Ancestors, their designs evolved into the beautiful cloaks that have been created. When they wore the finished cloaks, you could readily see that they had grown strength and a deeper connection to who they are as young Koorie people and their importance to the community; they are our Nahglingah Boorais, our beautiful children wrapped in culture. 

Possum Skin Cloaks

Possum skin cloaks have been made for thousands of years by Koorie communities from across South Eastern Australia, traditionally used as clothing they also held great significance to the owners personal identity and status. A cloak was first made for the wearer after birth, and more pelts were added as the person grew to adulthood. Cloaks also held important designs that were incised or painted on the possum skins; these markings mapped the owner’s life, country and spirit.

Museum Victoria holds in trust two significant cloaks, a Gunditjmara cloak from Lake Condah in Western Victoria and a Yorta Yorta cloak from Maiden's Punt, Echuca, North east Victoria. These cloaks were collected in the mid 1800s and are two of only five known surviving historic possum skin cloaks across the world. These beautiful cloaks show us a deep connection to culture and incredible skill held by Koorie people, a knowledge and tradition that continues today with contemporary artists and in Naghlingah Boorais: Beautiful Children, the next generation of strong, proud Aboriginal people.

Naghlingah Boorais: Beautiful Children is on show at Birrarung Gallery from 12 July 2013 to 24 February 2014.

Image Gallery

Boy in possum skin cloak child with drawing Two children