Canoe model at Custom’s House

Well it’s great to see that the few metres of yellow stringy bark which was magically folded into a canoe shape at the Nawi – exploring Australia’s Indigenous watercraft conference has become a two metre model of a Sydney-style nawi, AND that it is already on display, revealing Gadigal stories of fishing, fires, travelling and trading.

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Model canoe on display at Virtual Warrane II exhibition

Murramarang man Paul Carriage from Ulladulla and our curator David Payne demonstrated how to fold the bark, to shape it and to tie strands of stringybark at its ends, at David’s Canoe making workshop session. The finished model is today in an exhibition by Indigenous interactive artist Brett Leavy entitled Virtual Warrane II at Sydney’s Customs House at Circular Quay, or Warrane as it was named by the Gadigal people.

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Virtual Warrane II exhibition

Virtual Warrane II is an immersive 3D computer simulation of the Gadigal people’s rich connection to the harbour (which was by installed by Customs House producer Jennifer Kwok).

The canoe model, set in a diorama of rocks and bush and an incredible harbourscape of graphics, is displayed alongside tools from the Australian Museum. It shows something of the physical, tangible representation of life of Gadigal people on the harbour’s lands and waters before the arrival of the Europeans.

Diorama you say? These sets at Virtual Warrane II are not your 19th century dioramas of old museology though. There are no painted black mannequins here. It’s as if the people have left the scene for a moment and it’s up to the visitor to imagine the characters to populate this pre-colonial landscape.

The immersive heritage experience on screens and a number of computer stations shows more of the intangibles, the stories told, natural resources used, waters and pathways roamed – you can hop in a canoe and follow ‘the sacred tracks of the Gadigal’ around the harbour, in Brett’s words.

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Amazing seafood banquet at exhibition opening

The experience is enhanced by a soundscape, and on opening night additionally enhanced by an incredible seafood feast – a table laden with Balmain bugs, prawns, mussels and fish – a feast for the eyes as much as the stomach! A reminder to all of the bounteous wealth of the Gadigal waterways of pre-colonial Sydney. All that was missing were the huge shell middens…

How great to see canoes being used to help unlock these hidden histories and to see how work initiated at the Nawi conference can inform other projects. Wonderful.

The exhibition is on display at Custom’s House until 19 August 2012.

In September the model goes to Mosman Art Gallery for an exhibition on Bungaree of Broken Bay, voyager and mediator between the colonists and local Aboriginal people.

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Brett Leavy and Redfern Elder Molly Ingram at the exhibition