Tasmanian Aboriginal people and culture have
survived the impact of conflict and colonisation over the last
two hundred years. The history
of Tasmania over this period has been an extraordinarily
difficult one for Aboriginal people. Despite these trials, Tasmanian
Aboriginal people maintain their cultural traditions through
Art forms created by Aboriginal people in Tasmania today are
varied and imaginative in scope and material. Tasmanian Aboriginal
culture is an evolving one, and artists reject any suggestion
of a static Aboriginality based on traditional practices.
Surviving cultural concepts mixed with modern elements provide
new and exciting cultural expressions, a base for creative ideas
and a future shaped by traditions and cultural aspirations.
Tasmanian Aboriginal people are sometimes encouraged by their
families to incorporate references to the 'old people', special
places and family stories into their art work. Thus, some art
may reflect childhood experiences, personal spirituality and
responses to islands and ancestors.
Shell Necklace Making
One of the major cultural art forms still practised is shell
necklace making. This is a delicate and laborious traditional
custom that is recognised nationally and internationally.
Tasmanian Aboriginal women have been collecting Maireener
shells for thousands of years and making them into gleaming
necklaces and bracelets.
This practice continues by Aboriginal women whose families
survived on the Furneaux Islands, handed down by elder
women to maintain an important link with traditional lifestyle.
Shell necklace by Lola Greeno
Late in the nineteenth century a number of women aimed to keep
this part of their traditional culture alive in order to allow
their daughters and granddaughters to participate in their cultural
heritage. Today, there are only a few Tasmanian Aboriginal women
who maintain this art, but they continue to hand down their
knowledge and skills to younger women in their community.
However, during the past ten years or so the shells have become
more difficult to find. Also, all of the current shell necklace
makers now live away from the Bass Strait islands, requiring
them to return to the island beaches, usually during the low
spring tides, to collect enough shells, thus ensuring that the
art of necklace making continues.
Basket making is another traditional craft which has been carried
through into contemporary art. Baskets had many uses, including
carrying food, women's and men's tools, shells, ochre, and eating
utensils. Basket-like carriers were made from plant materials,
kelp, or animal skin. The kelp baskets or carriers were used
mainly to carry water and as drinking vessels.
Plants were carefully selected to produce strong, thin,
narrow strips of fibre of suitable length for basket making.
Several different species of plant were used, including
white flag iris, blue flax lily, rush and sag, some of
which are still used by contemporary basket makers, and
sometimes shells are added for ornamental expression.
Reed baskets by traditional weaver
Aboriginal artists in Tasmania draw on themes and images from
their culture, country and experience to create new forms of
expression. See our Tasmanian
aboriginal paintings page for examples.
Tasmanian Aboriginal men continue to make spears and waddies
from native hardwoods, using skills handed down from their fathers
and uncles. Traditional clapsticks are still made and coloured
with ochre by both men and women.
Ochre is an important cultural resource for the Tasmanian Aboriginal
community. Traditionally, Aboriginal women had the exclusive
role of obtaining ochre. Today, many Tasmanian Aboriginal men
continue to respect the traditional cultural custom by obtaining
ochre from women only.
Tasmanian ochre ranges in colour from white through yellow
to red. It has many uses, including ceremonial body marking,
colouring wood craft products, tie-dyeing and various other
uses in crafts and arts. Tasmanian Aborigines consider ochre
to be a special cultural resource.
Source: based on the publication "Respecting
Cultures", Arts Tasmania 2009