Within the subdued lighting of the Moree Plains Art Gallery, Carmen Sandy invited us to stand in a circle. While holding hands, we acknowledged the traditional elders of the past, present and future and gave respect to the land which nurtures us in body and spirit.
Learning traditional Lomandra weaving provided an opportunity for our group of 12 to share, understand and interact with each other; despite our differences in heritage, life experiences, personal beliefs and prejudices. We were celebrating the art of indigenous weaving during NAIDOC*, in the country town of Moree, New South Wales (NSW).
As our hands manipulated strips of Lomandra leaves, we checked on and supported each other, as we concentrated on our growing and individual weave. Our steady but slow progress, gave opportunity to appreciate the mini dilly-bags and flamboyant eel traps Carmen had created; formed from Lomandra and decorated with emu feathers.
A number of varieties of Lomandra grow throughout south and eastern Australia. Lomandra longifolia is the native rush most suited to weaving. Common names are Basket Grass and Spiny-head Mat-rush. It survives in sandy swamps, from creek beds to rocky hillsides. The ability to tolerate floods and droughts, make it a reliable resource for weaving. This plant can comfortably thrive as a potted plant and is resistant to many pests and diseases. Adequate watering supports the leaves in developing for optimal basketry. Not only is Lomandra a weaving fibre; the flowers produce a pleasant perfume, the base of the leaves are traditionally a bush food and the ground seeds provided flour to make cakes*.
With busy hands and minds open to further understanding, Carmen shared with us, her story of renewal. This is a story of pain, connection and healing; through learning the skill which her ancestors had developed and passed on from generation to generation.
Carmen Sandy is a Kamilaroi woman, Fibre Artist and creative designer of Sandy Designs. A number of years ago, she found support from an Aboriginal Women’s group in Sydney, while recovering from an accident. Through discomfort and limited mobility, Carmen reconnected with her kinsmen from the south coast of NSW who passed on their knowledge and stories of ancestral Lomandra weaving. In 2015, as an emerging artist, Carmen’s work was displayed in the Boomalli Art Gallery in Leichhardt, NSW. The exhibition was titled‘ Unity, Solid and Deadly’, (www.boomalli.com.au). She recently exhibited at the Casula Powerhouse Museum. In July, 2016 more woven artworks were displayed within the Moree Plains Gallery (http://www.moreeplainsgallery.org.au) in celebration of the heritage and talents of the local Kamilaroi peoples.
On the second day of our weaving workshop, Carmen disclosed her deeper pain. She reflected on her mother’s life; removed to a mission then dispatched to take care of up to 4 children at a time. Carmen’s mother was only 12 years old. For six years her mother did not receive any wages. Like many others, her mother was familiar with mistreatment. Feeling the pain within Carmen’s voice, gave opportunity for each of us to consider how this life not only impacted on the person experiencing it, but her immediate offspring, and the community in which this phenomena occurred. I realised that we all share a part within the history of Carmen and her family’s vicissitudes of life. I think of the homes and land we own and live on; the land and spirit of the indigenous people. With Carmen’s mother in my mind, I think of this country’s recent history and ‘ the help’ provided by young Aboriginal teenagers who’s lives were controlled by the ‘Aboriginal Protection Board’. Considering the past, I was filled with sadness and regret along with admiration for Carmen, the traditional weaver. But sitting around this weaving table, I am also feeling hope – as here we are together, sharing this conversation and admiring the ingenuity of this ancient indigenous weaving craft. Carmen had given us an opportunity to deeply consider and acknowledge how our spirit sits with our Australian cultural story. Here was a woman before me, surviving, healing and sharing her ancient and recent history; a culture which was denied to her mother, and regained to Carmen from other indigenous weavers. This story is not over, and we are a part of it.
Learning the traditional art of Lomandra weaving was more than slipping the ‘needle’ through the back of a stitch and under the loop; it was about feeling and healing the past, mindfully connecting and weaving wisdom and insight into our personal future.
I wonder, why did the ancestors select this plant to weave? I am connected to the resilience of this plant and am re-inspired to continue to grow into the future.
Carmen Sandy designs art works on commission and is available for workshops throughout NSW.
Her specialty is Lomandra weaving of eel traps, dilly bags and traditional mats. She is keen to share her knowledge with school students and adults.
Mobile: 0421 567 692
- NAIDOC week, is an annual series of events in July which celebrates the history, culture and achievement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
- Please note that traditional knowledge is required to safely identify and prepare bush foods. Advise and details are not provided within this Blog.
- Boomalli Aboriginal Artists 55-59 Flood St, Leichhardt, NSW
- Moree Plains Gallery, 25 Frome St, Moree, NSW