Peter Mac News

First patient to use men's possum skin cloak

28 May 2024

Shane 1Yorta Yorta man Shane with Peter Mac Aboriginal Hospital Liaison Officer Jay Hamann

Yorta Yorta man Shane has been in hospital at Peter Mac for three months – hundreds of kilometres from his Country in Avenel near Shepparton.

He’s the first patient to use the new men’s possum skin cloak, a joint project between Peter Mac and the Royal Melbourne Hospital that was launched at a smoking ceremony earlier this month. 

Possum skin cloaks hold deep cultural and symbolic significance for First Nations people, serving as a connection to Country and community.

Sitting in his bed with the cloak draped over him, he runs his fingers through the fur and says it’s a “privilege” to be the first man to use it. 

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to be wrapped in this cloak – not many people will get that opportunity and I’m very grateful to have it up here on my bed,” Shane says. 

“I can feel the connection – especially with the artwork – and it’s really comforting.”

The cloak depicts the image of Bundjil the wedge-tailed eagle, creator of the Kulin nation's lands and people - the wings wrapping around Shane as he sits in bed. 

Shane has an extra special link to the cloak as he met the elders who made it at the launch, making the journey from his hospital bed to see the cloak bathed in smoke to imbue it with cultural and spiritual meaning.

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It’s been touch and go for Shane, who has been gravely unwell with a second bout of stage four cancer that’s reemerged five years after his initial treatment.

He has a rare diagnosis called pleomorphic liposarcoma, a highly aggressive cancer that arises in fat cells. 

He’s had a number of major surgeries and complications over the past few months. 

Aboriginal Hospital Liaison Officer Jay Hamann said she’s so glad he was the first patient to use the new cloak considering the rough time he’s had. 

“He’s been here for three months and been through hell, so it feels great to give him some comfort and to connect him to culture,” Jay says. 

“It’s been a long time coming but to finally have this cloak for the fellas - alongside the one we have for women -  really goes a long way to make Peter Mac more culturally safe.”

The cloak project was funded and managed by the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO).