Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Textiles as Cultural Expressions: Proceedings of the 11th Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, September 24–27, 2008, Honolulu, Hawaii


Copyright 2008 by the author.


My name is Denise Ava Robinson. I am Tasmanian, often referred to as a Tasmanian Aboriginal Artist. Others question or ‘challenge’ me on being Aboriginal. Almost daily I raise this question myself. I have no simple answer. In the words of Henry Reynolds “There is no easy, nor a collective answer to the question of Aboriginality…. such identification should not be undertaken lightly”1 In Barry Lopez’s Arctic Dreams he refers to a quote by Peter Schledermann: “Everything we are is in our spirit. In archaeology, you are examining the long line of what we are” My paternal ancestry is Aboriginal, my maternal English.

Being Tasmanian, knowing your ancestral bloodline reaches back to the original caretakers of the place I call home fills me with a deep pride and yet, a deep yearning. A yearning for the belonging I sense and know but unable to experience fully – it is as if I exist in a place between the past and present.

I am not alone in my ‘in between-ness’. One forms a universal ‘community’ with others sharing the complexity of identity. When identity includes a culture once tattered, considered lost this ‘community’ becomes a vital lifeline to the understanding of who we are. The searching, unveiling and sharing of familial histories, cultural practices and tradition are activities that revive a spirit of belonging. The courage of one individual claiming ground in a complex cultural history encourages another. A healing begins.

As with many colonised nations Aboriginal culture and tradition in Australia were disregarded, scorned, feared and dismissed as primitive and savage ways of an uneducated race. Aboriginal people were herded and driven from their land, forced to adopt the so-called ‘civilised’ practices of white European settlers. Throughout the nation violent acts were perpetrated, Aboriginal families torn apart, cultural tradition disqualified, native language forbidden, and massacres of Aboriginal people occurred across the land. It is a history that was, and in some instances, is still not widely spoken of!