Since 2009, Saltwater Freshwater has been working with weavers from Boolarng Nangamai on the South Coast and our own Mid North Coast communities to teach in-depth weaving skills and how to harvest and use local plants for weaving purposes.  It means that our communities now have the skills and knowledge required to run their own workshops, maintaining weaving for future generations.

Our cultural revival workshops bring together Elders and cultural practitioners within our region to share, facilitate and develop skills.

We speak to Aunty Rhonda Radley, a Birpai Elder, to find out more about weaving:

What sorts of items are made via weaving, and can you tell us a little about the styles?

We make items that we can use every day: bags, headwear, armwear that we can decorate for ceremonies, we also make very practical items such as fish traps and rope.

I teach the girls to do our local weave. I also provide different colours that you can put into a headband for example, and there’s also freeweave, which lets you weave different ornamental threads through a basket.

With freeweave, we tell the women to not judge themselves too harshly – people get a little caught up in wanting to do it perfectly, but freeweave really allows that self-expression to come through. It’s all about engaging your creativity. Some people feel they’re not creative and are a bit fearful about starting any kind of art. Weaving allows you to explore your creativity in a less intimidating way.

How hard is it to learn weaving?

When you start to get to know the fibre, you realise that it can be quite complex. There’s a lot of knowledge involved in knowing what grasses to collect that would weave really well, when to collect them and also when you’re drying them, what stage is the best stage for you to start to weave with them.

What’s the significance of weaving to Aboriginal women, and of teaching it to younger women?

Weaving was very important in our community not just to know the skills and the actual technical ability around it but to actually sit in a circle and share. As you know, Aboriginal people just love yarning up, and weaving really gives people opportunities to do that in a safe space. While they’re using their hands they’re actually talking about Women’s Business.

It gave the opportunity for women to come together to talk about family or anything that they were going through emotionally or that they were processing.

That’s one of the reasons why I feel so strongly that this cultural practice is continued. If we don’t sit there and model the weaving then the younger women won’t learn it, so it’s important to bring that younger age group into the circle.

What are the benefits for younger Aboriginal women to share in weaving?

Doing something tactile really settles down the young women – sometimes they’re so caught up in their iPhones and other devices their minds are really overstimulated. So this gives them an opportunity to just focus on what’s in front of them. Once you do that, if they relax enough and have that trust in you, they often start to talk about what they are moving through and experiencing; challenges that are coming up for them. You’re really able to talk about what it’s like for them, their choices and responsibilities and rights. It can be about relationships with other girls like bullying or relationships with boys, or violence.

Sitting and weaving enables you to have that deeper exchange and they actually listen because they’re in a space of stillness, just using their hands and concentrating on weaving. So if there’s a conversation happening at the same time that they’re really interested in, they really open up.

What do people say?

“It had my mind working and my hands. I had great fun learning something we should have already known from our background.”

Peggie Quinlin, women’s weaving

“When you start to get to know the fibre, you realise that it can be quite complex”

Aunty Rhonda, Birpai Elder

“I cherished this experience because not many people get to experience culture, and it connected me with my Aboriginality.”

Roxy Geeson, Women’s weaving

“This experience has made me feel deadly proud to be Aboriginal.”Angela Roberts, fish traps workshops

“Thank you for funding these workshops, they are invaluable to urban Aboriginal people.”

Djakki Travers, fish traps workshops