The Melbourne Law School (MLS) has a commitment in preserving, respecting, and aspiring to be a place where the relationship between First Nation peoples and their fellow Australians is characterised by deep mutual respect, and a community that is diverse and inclusive, in which all people regardless of backgrounds are valued.
The Aboriginal eel traps on display forms part of that commitment in the Melbourne Law School in respecting the importance of the eel trap and its history in Victoria, as they embody the cultural and historical heritage of Aboriginal communities. These traps were ingeniously designed structures used to catch eels for thousands of years.
They represent traditional ecological knowledge, ensuring sustainable resource management and food security that dates back to a remarkable 6600 years from the Gunditjmara community. The preservation of the eel traps promotes awareness about Aboriginal heritage.
Additionally, by recognizing and respecting Aboriginal practices, we can strengthen the connection between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities.
How do eel traps work?
Find out how eel traps work through its intricate design and landscaping of its natural surroundings.
Taungurung / Dja Dja Wurung, born 1974, Sale, Victoria. Lives and works in Boisdale, Victoria
Cassie Leatham is a multidisciplinary artist, cultural educator, master weaver, designer, and jeweller. The Taungurung / Dja Dja Wurung artist draws inspiration from the cultural practices of her ancestors, researching and transforming techniques perfected First Nations people from Southeast Australia. Through her weaving textiles, ceramics, and jewellery work, Leatham preserves cultural knowledge while connecting with Country.
The Eel traps I have designed have been used by First Nation people for the eel trapping and I have experienced the actual capturing of the eels in my own eel trap weaved for my personal use, the two traps I have created have been made using the traditional native plant materials of lomandra, sedge grasses, bulrush and juncus and all were hand harvested to create these significant Traps.
Sculptural Fibre Artist
Based on the Surfcoast in Victoria, Caroline Hawkins utilizes local plant fibres to create woven baskets and sculptural birds and animals inspired by her environment.
Through years of practice, she has gained a breadth of knowledge in basketry techniques and plant fibres suitable for weaving learnt from numerous basket weavers across Australia. The resulting immersion in nature; the identification, gathering and preparation of materials to use contributes to her having a greater awareness of the seasons, the cycles of growth and our reciprocal relationship with the environment, which are all evident in the themes of her work.
Caroline regularly takes basketmaking workshops and is represented by Eagles Nest Gallery, Aireys Inlet.
My wonderful friend and mentor Auntie Bronwyn Razem taught me how to coil a basket with the same stitching method of her Gunditjmara ancestors. It was a great honour to be asked to create an eel trap on her behalf and a privilege to represent her culture. I have used natural fibres which are familiar to me; New Zealand Flax and Poa grass, following design direction by Auntie Bronwyn
Learn more about Caroline Hawkins works here.
Producer of colour eel trap
This eel trap depicts the incredible waterways and generous country in which my Nan was so deeply connected to, having made many eel traps herself, and speaking so fondly of learning weaving skills from her father.
I chose to illustrate her memory in bursting colour to represent the water flowing through the trap and to celebrate our family's multigenerational sharing and the knowledge of eel fishing stories, cultural practices with their love and resilience.
Gunditjamara Artist and Master Weaver
Special thanks to Bronwyn Razem for instructing the design and stitching method used on Carolyn and Rebecca's works.