as Jeremy Eccles discovers

The Beanie may be the humblest of headwares, but it has proud history going back to the calotte in Ancient Greece and forward to the football terraces of the world, via Cromwell’s Roundheads in the English Civil War.

But the indigenous beanie in Australia also predates the White arrival
— the ‘Mukata’ being a ceremonial headdress in Aranda and Pitjanjatjara Lands, made from human hair, grasses and emu feathers, and often used to carry sacred objects.

Ten years ago the two traditions came together in Alice Springs with the founding of the Beanie Festival by women. It was a logical follow-up to the living skills workshops that one of them, Adi Dunlop had been running for Aboriginal women in remote communities. Crocheting hats got the women together, encouraged story-telling and singing as they wove their land into their hats, and gave them something warm to wear on freezing desert nights.

There were 50 beanies at the first exhibition in 1996, and every one sold to appreciative Alice folks. Ten years later, what had now become a national festival — with workshops, international entries and prizes — had 3000 beanies! A folk art had become a high art, with beads and feathers and seeds and stories all incorporated. An elder like Ungakini Tjangala, who started with beanies, moved on to grass weaving then painting on canvas as her confidence grew. Prize-winning beanies and their creators have travelled to the Canberra Folk Festival. A one day event has become a long weekend – Friday 27th June -Tuesday 1st July this year.

And this year a group of Redfern women have used their Desert sisters’
inspiration to start their own crocheting group in Sydney. They’ve all made entries for the Festival, and desperately want to get there. The Knitting Circle has become a space for Aboriginal women to come together and work towards a collective goal that will also allow them to develop mentoring and skill sharing roles. They hope to make on-going connections between Redfern’s Mudgin-Gal Aboriginal Corporation and the Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Women’s Council in Alice.

But they need funds, more than $11,000 to get 10 beanie-makers to Alice.

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