A unique and essential item of rainforest life was an elegantly constructed, crescent-shaped, woven basket. These beautifully crafted baskets were made from lengths of split lawyer cane, a prolific climbing plant found throughout the rainforest. The lawyer cane was not collected until needed because the basket-maker had to complete the task within five days—after this time the cane could no longer be made pliable by soaking. The distinct crescent shape of the basket was formed by stringing the ends of the split lawyer cane like a bow and attaching it by top-stitching to the inner surface. Two handles, one small, one long, were fitted to the mouth and held there by tightly woven thin strips of split lawyer cane.
Undecorated crescent-shaped baskets were used to gather and leach foods. … In flood times women caught large quantities of small fish with these baskets. Very large baskets were used to ferry goods—and also children—across rivers. Crescent-shaped bark baskets were also made for carrying honey or water.
Painted baskets were used by men for various purposes: to carry ritual objects, for trading purposes, or as a gift to a friend.
(Kate Khan, ‘Adornments and design in north Queensland: A view from the nineteenth century’ in Oxford Companion to Aboriginal Art and Culture, 2000, p.181)
This basket was purchased for the national collection in 1998, having been acquired by the vendor c.1988 from an opportunity shop. The vendor related to Gallery curators how the basket was put to use in their kitchen to hold fruit such as oranges. The vendor also described how the remaining ochres were unfortunately scrubbed from the basket when they decided to wash off decades of accumulated grease.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra