Joy of Museums

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Coolamons and Aboriginal Carrying Vessels

Australian Museum - Joy of Museums - Coolamons - Aboriginal Carrying Vessels

Coolamons are Indigenous Australian carrying vessel which come in many forms. Aboriginal carrying vessel are multi-purpose shallow vessel or dish with curved sides, or containers made from wood, weaving or animal skins.

Coolamons were used for winnowing grains in the traditional bread-making process, as well as a general heating and cooking vessel. Above is shown a Bark Water Holder from Flinders Island, Queensland and was acquired in 1905 by the Museum. This container was made from the bark shell of a knot formed on a eucalyptus tree trunk. The inside of the eucalyptus tree knot was then burnt and smoothed with stone and shells. The Coiled Reed basket was acquired in 1937 from Tambo, central-west Queensland. The Paperback Coolamon was acquired from Western New South Wales.

Coolamons were traditionally used by Aboriginal women to carry water, fruits, nuts, as well as to cradle babies. Coolamons were often carried on the head when travelling or under the arm if used as a cradle. If carried on the head, a ring pad, called akartne in Arrernte Aboriginal language, was placed on the head, made out of possum or human hair string, twisted grass or feathers to help support the carriage of the coolamon.

Australian Museum - Joy of Museums - Coolamons - Aboriginal Carrying Vessels 2

Tanned Kangaroo Skin Water Bag, 1893 and a Shallow Wooden Coolamon

Above is shown a Tanned Kangaroo Skin Water Bag which was made with Coolibah gum and plant fibre and was used for carrying water over long distances. This aboriginal artifact was acquired in 1893 from the Urania people at the Toko Waterhole, Toko Range and Gorge in north-west Queensland.

Essential Facts:

  • Subject:         Bark Water Carrier (top picture, item on top left)
  • Material:       Wood
  • Location:       Flinders Island, Queensland
  • Acquired :     1905
  • Museum:      Australian Museum


  • Subject:         Coiled Reed Basket (top picture, item on top right)
  • Material:       Plant Material
  • Location:       Tambo, Queensland
  • Acquired :     1937
  • Museum:      Australian Museum


  • Subject:         Paperbark Coolamon (top picture, item on bottom)
  • Material:       Paperbark, plant fibre
  • Location:       Western New South Wales
  • Acquired :     1998
  • Museum:      Australian Museum


  • Subject:         Shallow Coolamon (bottom picture, item on bottom left)
  • Material:       Wood
  • Location:       Western New South Wales
  • Acquired :     1990
  • Museum:      Australian Museum


  • Subject:         Tanned Kangaroo Skin Water Bag (bottom picture, item on the top)
  • Material:       Kangaroo Skin, fabric, plant fibre string
  • Location:       Toko Waterhole, Toko Range and Gorge in north-west Queensland
  • Acquired :     1893
  • Museum:      Australian Museum


“We are all visitors to this time, this place. We are just passing through. Our purpose here is to observe, to learn, to grow, to love… and then we return home.” – Australian Aboriginal saying



Photo Credit:By GordonMakryllos (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons