Merrepen: Collecting roots and dye

Merrepen: Collecting roots and dye
WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
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A group of women walk through bush collecting Merrepen and natural dyes to make dilly bags. The women tell us a good time to collect Merrepen is during the wet season when the spear grass is very dense and long. It is also the season for collecting dyes. Succulent green Merrepen seeds fill the screen, they provide the dye and will be crushed, and boiled in the billycan. The five women move from plant to plant gathering their resources. The pandanus plant is quite high so they use a stick to hook it and bring it down within reach.

Summary by Romaine Moreton

The collection of shoots and seeds from the Merrepen and pandanus plants is time consuming. This clip gives a good insight into the labour of love exercised by the women who make these cultural artefacts. They use technology and knowledge passed on through millennia, generation to generation. It is a reminder that these skills need to be passed on to a new generation.

Merrepen Synopsis

A documentary about the gathering of the leaves and berries from the Merrepen plant by Indigenous women from the Nauiya community on the Daly River to make dilly bags and baskets.

Curator's Notes

A wonderful documentary about the making of dilly bags and baskets. The observational style captures the ancient tradition of collecting the leaves, which are stripped and eventually coloured by dye made from the berries of the plant. The Merrepen Arts Centre in Daly River was created to develop a space where women can practice their cultural knowledge, preserve traditions and find ways to pass them all on. The gathering and preparation of the raw materials, from which the dilly bags are made, represents a tradition that is thousands of years old. The baskets, however, are a more recent skill introduced by the missionaries.

This program has also screened on NITV, National Indigenous Television.

Notes by Romaine Moreton

Production company:
CAAMA Productions
Executive producer:
Jacqui North
Series Producer:
Rachel Clements
Director and writer:
Steve McGregor