Round Pandanus Handbag
This basket is made from natural, local materials sourced from the Gunbalanya area. Weavers gather fresh young leaves from the pandanus palm using a hooked stick, then strip and dry them. The pandanus is then boiled up on the campfire with local plant dyes.
Today’s coiled fibre works are the result of a rich cultural exchange and artistic innovation. The coiling technique was traditionally used by southern Aboriginal people of the Murray River, and was introduced to Goulburn Island by missionary Greta Matthews in the 1920s. From here it spread amongst Aboriginal people throughout Arnhem Land. These works are living embodiments of Australia’s history. Kunwinjku women have been developing the artform for almost 100 years, experimenting with new forms and adapting it to local materials.
Pandanus handbags have been made in Gunbalanya since at least the 1950s. They are a form shared with southern Aboriginal weavers, who call them “Sister Baskets” because of their two identical sides.
The old plant dyes used in Europe like indigo, saffron, woad and logwood fell out of use with the Industrial Revolution. But here, a natural “paintbox” thrives.
The most common dyes include:
Yellow-orange: Mandjurndum (the bright orange roots of the Pognolobus reticulatus bush)
Brown: Wirdilwirdil (the red bulb of Haemadorum breviculae grass)
Green: The growing shoot of the pandanus itself (Pandanus spiralis), boiled with the ashes of pandanus leaves.
Purple-pink – Windilk (the seeds of the Haemodorum coccineum plant, related to Kangaroo Paw)
Grey-Black – Manbedde (the leaves of the quinine bush, Petalostigma pubescens)
Source: Louise Hamby (ed.) “Twined Together”.