“The strength and unity of family, and community, during the challenging and traumatic times of the bushfires across the country is embedded in this artwork,” explains Alice Pepper regarding her artwork that became Melbourne Vixens Indigenous Dress for the 2020 Suncorp Super Netball competition.
Given devastating bushfires of 2019/20 and the pandemic, Alice – a Gunai artist (with connections to Gunditjmara, Yorta Yorta, Mutti Mutti and Arrernte Peoples), the Aboriginal Community Engagement Coordinator with GunaiKurnai Land and Water Corporation (GLaWAC), and an elected member for Gippsland on the First Peoples Assembly of Victoria, which is leading work in the development of a Treaty Negotiations Framework for Victoria – has been turning to art to heal.
Further explaining the Vixens dress, Alice has said, “This style of artwork is traditional to the Gippsland area where line-work is used to give meaning. The landscape of East Gippsland from the mountains, bushlands, rivers and sea have been depicted.”
“Painting this story was healing for me. After a traumatic experience watching our country burn, the new sign of life gives a sense of calm and healing. That’s what we need to do as well after such a traumatic time is find ways to heal. We need to look after the land because in turn the land looks after us and if it’s sick, we’re sick.”
Over the past three years, Alice has created some key pieces utilising natural pigments on possum skin cloaks.
The Message (2019), with its three prominent circles, is about, “the high country and the low country, our land and our totem animals from the mountain ranges to the bushland, river and lakes systems”, and is a striking environmental statement.
As Alice explains, “The circles represent different meeting places on Country, with the central circle a place where our people would travel many pathways for gatherings. The Bogong moth brought many clans together for alliances, ceremony, a food source and many other things.
“The Bogong moth is also a main source of food for the pygmy possum during the springtime. Due to climate change [we’ve] seen a decrease in Bogong moth migration to the high country caves, which will affect the future of the pygmy possum.
“We need to look after the land to keep it beautiful, and in turn it will look after us. The land… always looks after her children, it’s time for her children to look after our mother… Mother Earth.”
During 2020’s period of pandemic isolation, Alice worked on the possum skin painting of Borun, the pelican.
This year, as part of the FLOAT Artist Residence on Lake Tyers, Alice created a possum skin cloak rooted in the concept of the community, particularly women, healing on Country with the assistance of the Ancestors.
While genuinely hoping that 2022 is less challenging than the past couple of years, the idea of spending part of it draped in one of Alice’s warm, and warmly coloured, possum skin cloaks is very comforting.