The head of Griffith University’s renowned contemporary Australian Indigenous art program has won a national fellowship from the Australian Academy of Humanities.

Reviving an ancient artform

Dr Carol McGregor

Award-winning artist Dr Carol McGregor, whose practice has revived the traditional Indigenous possum skin cloak, has received the Australian Academy of the Humanities’ 2020 John Mulvaney Fellowship.

Dr McGregor is a Brisbane-based artist of Wathaurung (Kulin Nation) and Scottish descent, and is a possum skin cloak maker, painter, printmaker and sculptor.

She is an alumnus of the unique Contemporary Australian Indigenous Art program at the Queensland College of Art (QCA), which she now leads.

Griffith leading the nation in Indigenous research

This is the second year in a row that Griffith University’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers have been honoured with the fellowship.

Last year’s recipient was Indigenous Studies lecturer Dr Harry Van Issum, who used it to travel to the UK to help repatriate Woppaburra skeletal remains held in the Natural History Museum in London.

A new chapter for renowned artist and researcher

“It is an honour to be selected as the 2020 John Mulvaney Fellowship recipient,” Dr McGregor said.

“This is the start of another chapter in my research career, and it’s a huge recognition of the wonderful work being done in this space at Griffith.

“My project honours Emeritus Professor John Mulvaney’s work in the field and particularly the connection he had to the Mt Moffat and the Carnarvon Range area, and the respect and understanding he had for the rights of Indigenous people.

“This research and the continuum of culture is significant on a local, national, global scale. Not only to Indigenous communities, but to all humanities.”

Making cultural connections

Dr McGregor’s practice has focused on the revival of the traditional possum skin cloak

Dr McGregor began researching possum skin cloaks as a way to connect to her Wathaurung great-grandmother.

“After making my family possum cloak I understood the powerful cultural significance of the skin cloaks,” she said.

“Traditionally, a small possum skin cloak was created for an individual at birth and skins were added to the cloak throughout the wearer’s lifetime. A person’s cloak was unique to them being an important form of personal identity.”

Her research trip, funded by the Academy, will further her work on possum cloaks. She will meet with Elders in the Bidjara community and visit the Gunggari people who are the Native Title holders of Mt Moffat.

She plans to conduct workshops and hopes to create contemporary cloaks while educating the community and starting new conversations about their importance and tradition.

“It’s a chance to share my knowledge and skills with communities across the state and connect them to an important part of their identity.”

Sharing knowledge and skills

Dr Bianca Beetson

“Carol’s work is significant and provides new knowledge in this area which has traditionally been focused on cloaks from Victoria and NSW,” renowned artist and Director of the Indigenous Research Unit at Griffith University, Dr Bianca Beetson, said.

“Through facilitating workshops and undertaking research over many years Carol has passed on her knowledge and shared the history of cloak wearing and making with many Indigenous communities.”

Honouring researchers helping tell national story

Professor Joy Damousi

President of the Academy Professor Joy Damousi congratulated Dr McGregor on her achievement.

“We are delighted to honour Dr Carol McGregor for her outstanding work in showcasing the role and contribution of Indigenous researchers and knowledge custodians in telling and sharing our national story,” she said.

The John Mulvaney Fellowship, launched in 2019, honours the outstanding contribution of renowned archaeologist and former Academy Secretary John Mulvaney AO.

It is presented each year to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander early career researchers and PhD students working in any area of the humanities and funds research or fieldwork in Australia or overseas.