Questacon’s Indigenous Engagement Manager Tegan Cross, a Bunitj and Murran woman, with connections to Gurig (Coburg Peninsula at the top of Arnhem Land, in the NT) and Gagadju country, (Kakadu National Park) is on a quest to revive and celebrate the ancient practice of weaving, connecting with her own culture and enabling Questacon visitors and staff to experience it as well.
In a new role in Questacon’s Indigenous Engagement team, Tegan felt a strong responsibility to share her culture with Questacon staff, and at a smoking ceremony at the beginning of 2023, Tegan spoke of her culture, her mob back home and her rediscovery of her connection to weaving.
Inspired by Tegan’s stories, her colleagues showed a keen interest in learning to weave. Tegan realised this simple practice could not only inspire people to connect with Australian history and Indigenous culture, but also ensure invaluable knowledge wouldn't fade away. The sharing of that knowledge is very important to Tegan. "A big philosophy of my ancestors is that they were very generous with sharing knowledge and making it public for all Australians, not just Indigenous people. So I sort of wanted to take on that legacy."
Tegan's deep connection to country was nurtured in her from a young age by her grandmother. She remembers learning to craft string by stripping sand palm and pandanas to make fibres for weaving. She describes the connection to culture through weaving. “It creates a space for dialogue and discussion. When your hands are busy, it creates an environment for people to talk, learn, and share.
"Traditionally we would connect with our mob by sitting, creating and talking. It wasn't something that you would do every day, we would weave with purpose. You'd spend a lot of time making these things, but they would then last a lifetime. You'd hand that on to the next generation and they would repair it. I think we've lost a bit of that, and as a society I think we crave it."
When weaving together, Questacon staff found common ground where job titles and badges were set aside, and people connected in a very different way through this grounding activity.
Tegan described her family’s move from Larrakia (Darwin) in 2019 to where she now resides on Ngunnawal country, as being a ‘polar opposite’ to where she grew up. “The country looked very dry and sick compared to what I was used to. It took a couple of years to get an understanding of what the beauty was of this new country and its natural resources.” Some of these were new weaving materials, such as Lomandra, New Zealand flax, and Bullrush, which Tegan found in abundance in the Canberra bushlands, but also in playgrounds and parks.
Questacon embraced Tegan’s cultural offering and introduced weaving as an activity in Gallery 5 ‘The Shed’ during National Reconciliation Week. Visitors accustomed to the typically fast-paced Questacon experience, responded positively to the opportunity to slow down and explore the intricate art of weaving.
A number of visitor groups spent over an hour learning with facilitators, who noted the joy of seeing multi-generational families connecting over this shared experience.
Gallery 5 Coordinator, Kristi Chisholm, says the technology of weaving has been used by indigenous cultures around the world for thousands of years. “The interlacing of threads in different directions allows the final product to have strength, flexibility, and stretch. People often associate weaving with making jewellery and baskets, but it has also been used to engineer fish traps, house roofs and baby carriers. The Shed really wanted to explore and showcase this versatile technology."
Now part of the fabric at Questacon, facilitated weaving workshops run occasionally throughout the year, and Gallery 5 now hosts a portable 'Weaving Wall'. The three-metre, double-sided framed wall of mesh can be used as a canvas by visitors of all ages to weave with different materials and recycled fabric. For younger visitors it is an opportunity to develop dexterity and pattern making skills, while for older visitors it can be more a contemplative activity in what is normally a bustling gallery space.
As Kristi explains, bringing Indigenous culture into the Centre had been on the radar for some time but wasn’t possible until after COVID. “We worked alongside Questacon’s Indigenous Engagement team to bring weaving into Gallery 5 which is focused on innovation, tinkering, and working with your hands. Tegan trained our facilitation staff in the basics of weaving so that we could then share that knowledge with visitors when they came in.
“During the weekday weaving activity in Reconciliation Week, we had several families from different cultural backgrounds visit and reflect on how nostalgic weaving was for them as a part of their lives growing up. It was an opportunity for visitors and staff to reminisce and share stories and skills. It was also wonderful to see children getting excited about this physical representation of their ancestry and being able to see their family's culture in action.”
Tegan is now collaborating with the Questacon Educator Team teaching them how weaving aligns with various aspects of the curriculum. It’s Tegan’s personal hope that knowledge and passion for weaving will spread, but her bigger mission is to share the story of First Nations technology in Australia and have it acknowledged it as a part of the nation's history, a culture to be proud of.