Historical information

This project was initiated by teacher Fred Cahir inspired by an 1894 painting by Eugene Von Guerard called 'Barter', which depicted the exchange of possum skins between indigenous peoples and white settlers in the early 1800s. The students were each directed to research their own stories and totems which would then become the basis for the possum skin cloak design. Further discussions led to the central image and overall theme - the platypus. The swimming, egg laying marsupial, with its duck bill and webbed feet, aptly represented Ballarat and its many nations of people who journeys far to settle here, so too the artists who worked on the project - indigenous peoples from different 'nations' around Victoria and Australia. Prior to starting the project research was undertaken into how possum skin claks were traditionally made. Due to the fact that possums were, and still are, a protected species in Australia; twenty pelts were sourced from New Zealand. Textile teacher Valda D'Angri worked with students on sewing the pelts together with kangaroo gut, burning designs into the skins and creating a permanent resin for the ochres that had been collected from the surrounding areas by the artists themselves. Apart from the platypus, there are ten different designs adorning the cloak; the eel trap, whale, cockatoo, snake, turtle, fish, eagle, emu, swan and the gathering place. The cloak is relatively smaller than traditional cloaks, which used anywhere between 60-80 pelts. This item is part of the Federation University Art Collection. The Art Collection features over 2000 works and was listed as a 'Ballarat Treasure' in 2007.


This Possum Skin Cloak was created by eleven indigenous students.

Physical description

A number of possum skin pelts stitched together, engraved and coloured with ochre. The work was undertaken by students in the Ballarat School of Mines Advanced Certificate of Koori Art and Design in 2002. Artists: Greg Clark, Laura Guest, Tim Karpany, Kym Krasa, Joe Lee, Jason Marks, Sam Morrison, Bianca Nikkelson, Diana Nikkelson, Kelly Saylor.