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While boys also collected food and small objects, it was young girls who usually accompanied their mothers while collecting, as women traditionally gathered food. Foods collected included fruit, insects, honey ants and small lizards, shells and edible roots.

The following descriptions outline the importance of teaching young girls about collecting food, and being able to provide for yourself and your family.

Girls soon learn to follow their mothers and to help them in the search for food., and when the mother sits down in the bush or at the camp to prepare this, the child will imitate her actions, taking a small quantity of food of using some that she herself has gathered in a small dilly bag, and preparing this.

(Donald Thomson, The Aborigines of Australia, Australian Junior Encyclopaedia, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Studies, 1958)

The youngest ‘girl’ I saw collect Tapes hiantina was Djinbor’s six-month-old baby, Ganggabalinga, who gathered two or three shells while on the beds with her mother. Everyone present acknowledged her ‘cleverness’, smiled at her, and kissed and cuddled her. The next day she was wearing a tiny dilly bag woven for her by her grandmother, Bandeiyama, from Pandanus.

(Arnhem Land - Betty Meehan, Shell Bed to Shell Midden, Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, Canberra, 1982)

In our collection we have a child’s basket made by Lucille Wilfred from the Walker River (Andanangki), an outstation of Numbulwar, Arnhem Land, NT. It is made from pandanus fibre, with the handle made from string of ficus virens bark. The yellow dye is probably from the bark of morinda citrifolia. It was purchased from Mimi Aboriginal Arts & Crafts by Dr Betty Meehan in 1986. The fine fibre string handle would have been placed around the child’s head, so that the basket hung behind their head and neck.

More information
Haagen, Claudia, Bush toys: Aboriginal Children at Play, Aboriginal Studies Press Canberra, 1994