One of the most complex and beautiful examples of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander technology is basket-weaving—the myriad of local forms reflecting the diverse country of the people who make them.
Different plant fibres are used across Queensland. Plants such as lomandra species (wetland grasses), lawyer cane (a spiky vine known as “wait-a-while" for its tenacious grip on unsuspecting passers-by), pandanus and black palm have all been well-documented as basket material.
The elegant engineering of the “two horned” baskets of North Queensland embodies the flexibility and strength of lawyer vine, along with the ancestral knowledge of the rainforest people who make them. These are practical tools with great beauty and cultural power. Each basket takes 4-5 weeks to make and can last around 3 years, used every day in the rainforest. Bicornual baskets are designed to sit in running water, to leach toxins from seeds that would otherwise be poisonous. These utilitarian and beautiful baskets allowed a wider range of foods to be eaten.
Abe Muriata, a Girramay man of the Cardwell region in North Queensland, is one of few men weaving jawun. He describes himself as self-taught: he watched his grandmother weave jawun but was not taught by her. Abe experiments with technique and media, creating traditional baskets and also reinterpreting traditional techniques for modern materials.
Rhonda Brim, a Djabugay Elder, weaves bicornual baskets with lawyer cane, and dilly bags with lomandra (a wetland species) or black palm. When she was in her twenties one of her grandmothers, Wilma Walker, shared the cultural knowledge and techniques. Determined to keep culture alive, she teaches the younger generations, carrying on the long basket-making tradition.
Fine examples of weaving and the weavers who make them are featured in both the Entwined: plants and people exhibition and Kindred Spirits: plants and people publication. Kindred Spirits: plants and people is available to purchase from the Library Book Shop. With text by Shannon Brett, featuring images from State Library’s collection and more, it explores the ancient and ongoing connection between First Nations people and plants in Queensland. This publication was developed in response to the Entwined: plants and people exhibition which is open now and runs until November 14, 2021.
Other blogs relating to Entwined: plants and people