Traditional Aboriginal Clothing: Cloaks

Traditional Aboriginal Clothing: Cloaks

When you think of traditional Australian Aboriginal clothing, you might envision a pretty minimalistic approach to dressing (or perhaps, even none at all!) However, this is far from the reality of traditional Aboriginal clothing, which varied significantly across regions and was deeply influenced by the environment.

For many Aboriginal communities, clothing wasn't just about covering the body but was also a reflection of their surroundings. In colder regions like Tasmania, Victoria, parts of New South Wales and South Australia, full cloaks made of animal skins were common. These cloaks were crafted from different animal skins and feathers, including possum, kangaroo, wallaby, quoll, sugar-glider, and emu. The choice of animal often depended on its availability in a particular region. For instance, while the Koori people in Victoria and New South Wales favoured possum skin cloaks, the Noongar people of Western Australia had a penchant for kangaroo and wallaby skins.

Murri family in Queensland. Woman wears emu feather cloak. Image: Koori History.

Creating these cloaks was an intricate process. Skins were pinned flat, cleaned, and then dried. Unlike today's tanning methods, traditional methods involved decorating the cloaks with art, etched using tools like mussel and oyster shells, bones, and stones. These designs often depicted personal identities and representations of Country.
But traditional Australian Aboriginal clothing wasn't limited to cloaks. In various regions, belts made of animal skins or woven plant fibres were worn, often signifying rites of passage, like a boy's transition into manhood. Skirts, made from plant fibres, sometimes incorporated human or animal hair, and often showcased an array of feathers, with emu feathers being particularly popular.
The revival of traditional clothing forms, like possum skin cloaks and feather skirts, began in the mid-1990s. This resurgence not only celebrates cultural expression and pride but also serves as a testament to the history and diversity of traditional Australian Aboriginal clothing.

Modern possum skin 'Grandmother's Country' cloak by Vicki Couzens 2014
Image: Australian Museum

In conclusion, traditional Australian Aboriginal clothing, like the cloak, is a beautiful tapestry of culture, environment, and artistry. These capes showcase the adaptability and creativity of Australia's First Peoples, and its revival today ensures that these traditions will continue to inspire future generations.


[1] Koori History. Traditional Aboriginal Clothing. Retrieved from

[2] TOTA. (n.d.). Aboriginal Australian Clothing and Ornamentation. Excerpted from "Natives of Australia" by Northcote W. Thomas, 1906. Retrieved from