Pandanus collecting in Kakadu

Bag being woven

I have been fascinated by what goes into making Kakadu’s beautiful woven items, like bags, baskets and bracelets, for years, and now thanks to Taste of Kakadu, I’ve found out. A tremendous amount of skill. And as I experienced first-hand today - a lot of hard work.

We started our day by stocking up on water for our journey. The object of the day: to collect pandanus leaves to demonstrate weaving throughout Taste of Kakadu. Trust me, it’s thirsty work.

Traditional owners and expert weavers Keina Djandjomerr, Vienna Wood, Julie Badwana, Linda Badwana, Vicky Wood and Syanne Naborlborlh kindly allowed me to tag along on their collecting day, so I could experience first-hand how it’s done.

Ladies sitting

The ladies showed me how to use the special long-handled hook tool they fashion to pull down only the best and greenest leaves from the pandanus trees. Pandanus grows up to about 10 feet - so it’s a stretch in anyone’s imagination.

Collecting pandanus

Once broken, the leaves are then pulled by hand from the trees - the object is to take each leaf from it’s base as that is the part that makes green dye for later in the process.

Each and every leaf used is stripped by hand. I asked Julie how much is used for a regular-sized basket and her answer said it all. Lot’s, she simply replied with a smile.

So then the younger ones, Keina and Syanne decided it was my turn to have a go. I hacked into a pandanus with little effect before the girls took pity on me. There’s a smaller one over there, Keina told me (I’m around five foot two).

So, determined to get it right, or at least contribute one leaf to somebody’s basket, leaned into the tree and pulled with all my might. It turns out I’m the pandanus-collecting equivalent of a 90-pound weakling.

Miranda watches the pandanus collection

But determined to get one, I cheated and asked for a hand. Keina gave an expert tug and I promptly lost my footing and tripped in the mud! Hysterical laughing all round.

Further laughter followed when we started to strip the pandanus leaves down to prepare them for weaving. You strip each individual leaf in half, and then create an edge, like you would on a roll of sticky tape, before peeling back to reveal the actual fibres of the pandanus. Judging by the face of my teacher Linda, I’ve got a lot to learn there too!

So round one to the pandanus and an epic fail to me really. As a pandanus collector I give myself an F. But the ladies kindly taken my complete uselessness on board and tomorrow we head out again to do the second part - collecting the plants that provide the brilliant colours you see - the yellows, purples, pinks and reds that make these artworks so unique.

I’ve promised them I’ll try not to fall over this time.

Miranda, Parks Australia