The making and wearing of badhang wilay, pieced together from Brushtail possum pelts, is a traditional practice with strong emotional and spiritual resonance for Aboriginal people from South Eastern Australia. The cured skins are embellished with pokerwork designs that speak of the status, place, and identity of the wearer.

Only a handful of possum skin cloaks made prior to 1900 still exist today, preserved in museum collections held in Australia and overseas.The scarcity of old cloaks is due both to their fragility and purpose; they were designed to be used during the lifetime of their owner and often as a burial wrapping.[1]

This possum skin cloak was made for Aunty Joan Tranter by Professor Michael McDaniel, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous Leadership and Engagement). In recent years, the practice of possum skin cloak making has re-emerged as an important practice for Aboriginal people in south-eastern Australia. Professor McDaniel, a member of the Kalari Clan of the Wiradjuri Nation of Central New South Wales, has been one of these contemporary practitioners with a commitment to the preservation and teaching of cloak-making, with the encouragement and approval of Wiradjuri elders. Rather than taking the skins of local possums (now a protected species in Australia) skins are sourced from New Zealand where the Australian brushtail is regarded as a pest species.

Once an everyday item for Aboriginal people in south-eastern Australia, possum skin cloaks were worn for warmth, used as baby carriers, coverings at night, drums in ceremony and for burial. Worn from a young age, cloaks started out small with a few skins sewn together to wrap a baby. Over time, more skins were added so that as a person grew, their cloaks grew with them.[2]

For Professor McDaniel, the making and wearing of these cloaks in formal and ceremonial settings is a sign of real progress towards mutual acceptance by Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples of the strong connections between culture and country, recognition and respect, and a visible and tangible connection to Aboriginal people’s own stories and histories. This cloak was donated to UTS by Aunty Joan Tranter upon her retirement, and is displayed alongside her portrait outside the Jumbunna Institute for Indigenous Education and Research.

[1] "Possum skin cloak",

[2] "Possum skin cloak",