Image Sedge hunting baskets, 1936, 1980s

TLF ID R7583

These are four hunting baskets from Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory. All are made from sedge grass. The top bag on the left and the two at the bottom were made in the late 1980s, while the bag on the top right-hand side was collected in 1936. The oldest bag is 113.5 cm high, 51 cm wide and 28 cm in diameter. The other three are smaller with heights of between 60 cm and 69 cm and diameters of 24.5 cm to 29 cm.

Educational details

Educational value
  • These baskets demonstrate the continuation of traditional cultural practices among Indigenous Australian people. Prior to European settlement almost all older Aboriginal women would have been basketmakers and certain men also practised this specialised craft, particularly for making fish traps. Today Aboriginal women across Australia continue to pass on their skills, with Arnhem Land having the greatest number of skilled weavers. Sale of fibre work is an important source of income.
  • In Arnhem Land, conical baskets such as these, known as 'hunting bags' because of their strength, were made in a variety of sizes and used for a range of purposes, including carrying heavy loads of game, fish and vegetable matter. In camp they were hung from forked sticks to keep meat and fish away from dogs. Smaller baskets were used as sieves for straining food, and were placed in running water to leach poisons from bush foods.
  • These baskets are all made from tall sedge grass ('Cyperus javanicus' or 'Cyperus conicus'), harvested after the beginning of the rainy season, and are crafted using a twining technique in a conventional style with two warp strands interlacing the weft. They are rarely decorated and their open weave allows sand, dirt and other matter such as blood and water to drain off. 'Miwana', a name for sedge grass itself, is a term that can also refer to sedge grass baskets.
  • Stories relating to baskets like these are known to have originated from different parts of Arnhem Land, such as the account of two ancestral women who travelled in the area of Ramingining: 'An open-weave bag [was] first used by the two Spirit Beings in the form of women who lived in the Yathalamarra waterhole. They collected their ngatha (waterlily bulbs and stems) and guya (fish)' ( Women traditionally wore such bags hung down their backs, with the string handle across their foreheads.
  • Sedge grass bags continue to be made in the traditional manner in Arnhem Land, but new styles and techniques have since been introduced. Innovative shapes with European-style handles are created using coiling, plaiting and other techniques and a greater use is made of pandanus. Metal containers have allowed the dyeing of fibres using natural vegetable dyes from local bush plants. A blue-grey colour is sometimes obtained by boiling printed cardboard boxes.
  • These baskets all come from Maningrida, the base of one of Australia's largest Aboriginal artist's cooperatives, Maningrida Arts and Culture. The arts centre markets both traditional and contemporary arts and crafts made by Aboriginal people from eight different language groups living in the town and at 34 surrounding outstations. Work from Maningrida can be found in galleries and museums both nationally and internationally and is highly sought after by private collectors.
  • The oldest bag here was collected by anthropologist Donald Thomson in 1936. Thomson lived in Arnhem Land in the mid-1930s and built up a collection of Aboriginal artefacts and took a large number of photographs of people still living a bush life. His photographs are used by Aboriginal people across Arnhem Land and provide a source of inspiration for rediscovering traditional knowledge and skills.
Year level

3; 4; 5; 6; 7

Learning area
  • History

Other details

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  • Name: Museum Victoria
  • Organization: Museum Victoria
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  • Address: VIC, AUSTRALIA
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  • Name: Education Services Australia
  • Organization: Education Services Australia
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  • Copyright Holder
  • Name: Museum Victoria
  • Organization: Museum Victoria
  • Address: VIC, AUSTRALIA
  • Publisher
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organization: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Description: Publisher
  • Address: VIC, AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
  • Resource metadata contributed by
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Address: AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
Access profile
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Learning Resource Type
  • Image
  • © Education Services Australia Ltd and Museum Victoria, 2016, except where indicated under Acknowledgements