A renowned expert in Ngarrindjeri basket weaving, Yvonne Koolmatrie was born in 1944 at Wudinna on the land of her father’s people, near the far west coast of South Australia. Her father was a Kokatha man and her mother a Ngarrindjeri/Ramindjeri woman from the Coorong. In 1982 Koolmatrie learnt traditional Ngarrindjeri weaving from the Elder, Dorothy Kartinyeri, who at that time was one of the last people practising using the labour-intensive coiled-bundle technique. Furthering her knowledge through research in the South Australian Museum’s collection of Ngarrindjeri woven objects, Koolmatrie has been instrumental in resurrecting this craft, as well as inventing her own techniques to create unique forms.

Much of Koolmatrie’s adult life has been spent along the Murray River. The material for her weaving, such as the sedge of her early vessel, Large sedge bowl, grows along the banks of the river. She harvests the materials in a sustainable way by removing the plants one by one; she also knows when and where to find the plants and acknowledges the rhythm of the seasons and life of the river.

Koolmatrie makes both customary utilitarian objects, such as the Eel traps, as well as figurative contemporary sculptures such as fish, turtles, lizards, echidnas, and even a biplane and hot-air balloon. Through these woven sculptural works, Koolmatrie draws on her Ngarrindjeri cultural knowledge and responds to contemporary life.

Weaving is linked to the river and its health - when the river suffers, the sedge grass is harder to find; when it flourishes, so do the rushes. The river, the Coorong, the sea and the lake are the four waters of the Ngarrindjeri and are all connected. Weaving is vital to Ngarrindjeri culture, it sustains us
Yvonne Koolmatrie

These traditional Eel traps and Sister baskets are made using the spiny-headed sedge (Cyperus gymnocaulos), which grows along the banks of the Coorong and the Murray River in Ngarrindjeri country. Sister baskets are two identical sides or ‘sisters’ stitched together with a handle added. Woven baskets used for carrying personal items, ‘Sister baskets’ pass on a cultural tradition that has been refined by past generations and which continues to have meaning and value today.

my material, the sedge, is known as bilbili ... and kayi in Ngarrindjeri, and also as spiny-headed sedge. It’s a culturally significant plant for Ngarrindjeri people
Yvonne Koolmatrie

Australian Curriculum Connections - Year 4 History

The diversity of Australia's first peoples and the long and continuous connection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples to Country/Place (land, sea, waterways and skies) (ACHASSK083)

Investigate the geography of the lower River Murray. What are some of the impacts on this fragile environment that have occurred in recent years?

Research the spiny-headed sedge (Cyperus gymnocaulos) used by Koolmatrie to make her baskets and find out where it grows. What other plants and technologies are used by Ngarrindjeri in daily life?

Research the animals and water creatures that live in and along the River Murray. Select one animal or water creature and create a sculpture using natural or found materials.

The Gallery’s Learning programs are supported by the Department for Education.

This education resource has been developed and written in collaboration with Nici Cumpston, Curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art, Rebecca Evans, Curator of Decorative Arts, Kylie Neagle, Education Coordinator and Gloria Strzelecki, Associate Curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art.