On the second day of the retreat, we went on a field trip. We went to collect ‘the rushes’, a native sedge that grows in wet areas. Each–leaf?– is cylindrical and perfectly shaped to be used for basketry. Here is the place where we gathered rushes for weaving (they will be used in the future, while we wove with rushes gathered and dried previously).
The sedge in question has a three-pointed tip, and tiny sedge plants begin to grow at the end of each rush until they weigh it down to ground level where they can take root. Plants are so extraordinary! We learned about how Ngarrindjeri gather/ed the rushes and encourage/d them to thrive and how colonisation and the weeds and land practices that came in its wake have affected their availability. It was a privilege to hear stories of people’s lives and families, as well as receive instruction from those who know. The retreat had begun with a brief history of the wider picture of suffering, family dispersal and cultural disclocation wrought by colonisation in this specific part of the country, as well as the present and future for Ngarrindjeri people, who are actively involved in revegetation and cultural renewal.
On the way back we stopped at Meningie, looking out over the Murray River. Different kinds of rushes grow here and there is a set of interpretive signs about Ngarrindjeri history, culture and futures, in which the weaving plays a central part.
From Meningie we went back to Camp Coorong and returned to our weaving. I learned three different starts for a basket (oval, round and square), as well as the main weaving stitch and how to create handles, finish off, and shape a basket. We made some small pieces to be part of a larger collaborative piece. That might be my square start in front.
There were a lot of experienced weavers at the retreat from different traditions as well as some like me with little experience. There were Indigenous women there from many generations and from different places. Some women had come a long way to have the privilege of learning from the Ngarrindjeri aunties. And they were fabulous, patient instructors. As always, it was a treat to be a learner. But the straightforward and understated, but completely direct way Auntie Noreen patiently corrected me and set me on my way was a special treasure in the way of teaching.
There were plenty of interesting conversations and plenty of different perspectives on culture, tradition, basketry and life. And spectacular food as well! I made a somewhat misshapen basket, but it is certainly a basket. I also made a somewhat more skilful disc–I love the way when you are starting to learn you can see your skills leap forward! On the final day I put it down before lunch and never saw it again. I assume it accidentally went to another home, but happily, with someone who can finish it.
A lot of people grow the sedges for weaving, and I have come home with some in pots ready to plant and some more just beginning. Here they are sitting in water to grow roots (my bathroom is a strange but wonderful place, evidently).
I have examined my neighbourhood and discovered one patch of these sedges and many more patches of a different sedge that the weaving book says is also used (though less desired) for the weaving. I will research whether my suburb is a suitable place to plant more or whether these will go into the garden rather than the neighbourhood. Meanwhile, sedges are drying in the lounge room…