When it comes to the history of knitting, the story of aboriginal Australia is often forgotten. Not least because much of it was almost lost. The ancient history of textiles in Aboriginal Australia and the Torres Strait is complex, but its cultural impact on ancient Australia can still be seen.
Their skills in basket weaving, knotting, and utilising animal skins is evidenced by the everyday tools they use such as fishing nets. While these ancient crafts are still practised, the aboriginal people have recently expanded their crafts to include rug making and hand-painting fabrics. This, however, does not diminish the skill and excellence involved in their traditional crafts.
Aboriginal string figure.
Strangely, human hair was often used to make wool. They would cut their own hair, and a spindle would be used to create a thickness of 8 ply. This is used to make spears and headbands, as well as coolamons which are used to carry fruits and nuts.
Cat’s Cradle is a game often played by aboriginal Australians with the string made from their hair. It involves making figures out of the material using their hands. A young aboriginal woman was noted to be particularly excellent and even gave names to her favourite creations; Dangurang was a lobster and Matjur was an ibis flying into a tree.
After colonisation of Australia, much of the weaving and knitting culture of Aboriginal and Torres Strait islanders has eroded with time. Fortunately, the traditional crafts have not been entirely lost and they’re preserved thanks to the perseverance of the aboriginal people. There are a number of events, such as the Weaving Culture Market Day, they help to promote the aboriginal arts and crafts, maintaining these unique skills for future generations.