Indigenous Pathways placement

by Mitch Mahoney
Publish date
18 November 2013
Comments (9)

MV's Indigenous Pathways program provides Indigenous students with the opportunity to experience life behind the scenes at Melbourne Museum. Recently Mitch Mahoney, a year 10 student from Linuwel School in East Maitland, NSW, spent a week at the museum as part of the program. Mitch impressed everyone with his enthusiasm, inquisitive nature and eagerness to learn. Most of all he impressed us with his possum skin cloak.

My name is Mitch Mahoney. I am Barkindji on my father’s side and Boonwurrung and Yorta Yorta on my mother’s.

My week at Melbourne Museum was amazing. It was fantastic to learn about all the different jobs in the museum and how the different departments of work join together to run such a wonderful place. I was shown around various areas, but my favourites were the Indigenous collections. John Duggan showed me traditional tools, weapons, shields and stone tips. Kimberley Moulton gave me a tour of the First Peoples exhibition pointing out many things that I found interesting, and explaining the huge amount of work that has gone into this exhibition. It tells an amazing story of Aboriginal people. During my time at the museum I was also given the opportunity to show my possum skin cloak that I made for my year ten major work.

Detail of possum skin cloak Detail of the painted and burnt designs of Mitch's possum skin cloak
Image: Tiffany Garvie
Source: Museum Victoria/Mitch Mahoney

I am passionate about my art, the art of my people – Boonwurrung, Yorta Yorta and Barkindji people. As a young child I would always draw Aboriginal style animals and landscapes, but as I grew up I stopped. It was rare that I would draw in Aboriginal style until year ten when I had to decide what to make for my end of year major works. I decided to make a traditional possum skin cloak that would tell a story of my life and my family.  

The cloak is made of 35 possum skins stitched together with a waxy string and on the pelt side I burnt on patterns and drawings of animals.

People looking at possum skin cloak Mitch explaining the symbols on his cloak to his family, including artist Maree Clark, and museum staff.
Image: Tiffany Garvie
Source: Museum Victoria

One of the pieces on my cloak is a sun. The sun is, in my eyes, the greatest power that sustains life. It’s a symbol of hope for me as every day the sun will rise and every night it will set, but you can always be sure it will rise again. In saying that, I do believe that Aboriginal people have risen and over time they did set, but you can be sure that, like the sun they will and are starting to rise again. We are strong people and now we are being recognised for what we are. In making my cloak I am showing people that I am a strong Aboriginal and I am proud of my heritage. I do believe that all Aboriginal people should be proud and strong and show the world who they are and who their people are.

People looking at possum skin cloak Mitch showing his possum skin cloak to museum staff during his visit.
Image: Tiffany Garvie
Source: Museum Victoria / Mitch Mahoney

Hand prints of family members are pressed onto the cloak using ochre and wattle sap mixed to make a paint-like substance. Everyone has something personally significant on the skin.

Detail of possum skin cloak Detail of Mitch's cloak showing the owl, a symbol significant to his mother.
Image: Tiffany Garvie
Source: Museum Victoria / Mitch Mahoney

Like my mother's owl. The owl is a warning bird, warning of details overlooked in life. The owl sees all. She knows all and she helps remind you to be aware of your surroundings and the people in your life. She reminds you to pay attention to what you do and think of the consequences of your actions. Like a mother, she helps you; she teaches you to think before you act and to know when you have done wrong and to accept the consequences of your actions.

With the making of my possum skin cloak I realise that I have been missing out on the magic of this creative process. Now that I'm starting to become involved with the art again, I have come up with enough ideas on what I would like to make to last me the next few years. I was hoping to make a living in the arts, be involved with my people and bring Aboriginal art to new places in a new way. There are so many mediums to work with inside the “boundaries” of Aboriginal art.

I think that my possum skin cloak is only the beginning of my journey into making Aboriginal art. I thank my family and the people at Melbourne Museum for helping me to see that and I hope that my life will involve my art in a big way.

Comments (9)

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Monica 18 November, 2013 12:26
Great story and fabulous artwork!
Peter 19 November, 2013 16:28
What an inspirational story. I'm embarrased to say that my first reaction was that this beautiful cloak should be put on show behind glass. However through Mitch's words I now realize that this is a living work of art, a rational realization of his belief system, guided and encouraged by his family, a tool of his heritage that he is obviously and justly proud of. What a talented artist and moving story teller.
Siobhan 22 November, 2013 10:03
Beautifully told, Mitch, and what an amazing living piece of art you've produced. How lucky for MV that we got to host you for a week.
Jenni 24 November, 2013 15:52
I love your beautiful cloak Mitch - thanks for sharing your story.
Char 26 November, 2013 21:24
To see youth such as Mitch step up and represent his people and his ancestors is a measure of the spiritually exciting times taking place across the globe right now. Well done Mitch and continue to walk with your ancestors...they will show you much! :-)
Gen 4 December, 2013 16:35
Beautiful young man. Beautiful cloak. A very special day.
Mitch mahoney 14 January, 2014 18:37
Thank you to everyone who comented and thank u to museum victoria for putting my story up for everyone to see If u would like to see any more of my art works i have just started a page on facebook called (mitch mahoney art) its not much yet but will grow.
Banmirra Arts Inc. 24 June, 2014 11:08
Great work Mitch! We've just started a Facebook page for Banmirra Arts, so we will be sure to share your amazing work with our followers.
Lee Darroch 7 July, 2014 11:26
Lovely cloak Mitch and beautiful artwork. Stay strong in your culture and keep making your art.
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Updates on what's happening at Melbourne Museum, the Immigration Museum, Scienceworks, the Royal Exhibition Building, and beyond.