Merrepen: The dyeing begins

Merrepen: The dyeing begins
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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The women – Kitty, Mother Molly, sister Dorothy, Grandmother Mercia and Marrfurra – sit in the grass stripping the palm leaves. The preparation of dyes begins with the grinding of roots which are first washed, scraped and then pounded with a rock. Everything is put into a billycan and placed on a fire. The women explain that they must be careful when putting the fibre into the billycan so that the fire does not burn it. The fibres are boiled in the billycans and coloured by the dye.

Summary by Romaine Moreton

The preparation of cultural artefacts – in this instance, dilly bags – is a time consuming practice that has been performed for thousands of years. The making of the dilly bags from the Merrepen palm requires not only knowledge of the process, but of the plants and the landscape in which they grow. All Aboriginal artefacts are symbolic forms of complex social structures and relationship to place.

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