Holding a cradle lined with silken possum skin, Kristine Stewart breaks into a smile.
“We would put our baby in there and . . . cosy!” she said.
“Our possum skins, there’s nothing like them.”
When the bangalow palm shed its curved bark, Yuin craftswomen saw a sturdy but light pack for their babies, a watertight vessel, or a tray for the day’s harvest.
In native grasses, reeds and barks, they saw rope, baskets, fishing nets, traps and jewellery.
Ms Stewart sees a chance to link kids to country and weave a proud past into a strong future.
The Surfside woman has been visiting schools and communities up and down the NSW coast, sharing with children of many cultures what she has reclaimed of her own.
“This is the traditional necklace our women wore,” she said, showing off a rope threaded with hollow pieces of still-common swamp reed.
“Here is our traditional string. This one is made from brown kurrajong inner bark.
“String was not just useful, it was a connection to country, to people.
“We adorned ourselves with it, we used it in ceremonies, as handles on our bags, to bind tools.
“Collecting materials was a way to resolve issues. The women would go together and talk about their home lives. They would resolve conflicts, out on country.”
Ms Stewart learned weaving from her Gerringong mother, Phylliss Stewart, who determinedly re-
claimed it herself 20 years ago.
As a child, Ms Stewart also spent rich time in Batemans Bay with her father, John Stewart’s people.
One of Phylliss’s bags is on permanent display in a Sydney museum.
“It took her six months to make from stringybark,” Ms Stewart said.
She points to an intricately woven sedge grass bag.
“This is a man’s bag and, in the movie Australia, David Gulpillil wears one made by the same man, my mum’s partner, Steven Russell.
“My mum made all his arm and head bands and dilly bags.”
Ms Stewart says a weaver’s skill is required to safeguard culture.
“That is what is missing in our young people. This is ancient knowledge and something you can’t dismiss lightly. Our kids need it badly; they need that connection back to country.”
Four years ago, Ms Stewart took native plants and weaving to Mundarra Preschool.
“I have never forgotten those kids,” she said.
“They had things to taste, feel, smell, the room smelled of lemon tea-tree.
“I brought in some Bomaderry swamp reed and they made a necklace. It was a brilliant day. They were like, ‘where did all the old people go?’.
“I said, ‘they are still here’.”
“We were the first generation of empowerment. The generation before was not allowed to practise any culture, so we have a big voice. I am in the middle between young and old, trying to piece it all together. I can’t keep this to myself. This was never mine.
“We only need one person from each family to learn this and they can teach.”
Her other heartfelt desire is for the significance of traditional meeting places such as Joe’s Creek, which flows through Batehaven and Catalina, to be appreciated.
“One day I would like the community to know what Joe’s Creek really meant and look after it.
“It has been a meeting place for thousands and thousands of years.”