On Friday June 25 1852 the small township of Gundagai, nestled on the river flats of the Murrumbidgee River, was completely destroyed when the flooded river burst its banks. Previous floods had not been this devastating and the early settlers ignored the advice of local Aboriginal people not to build on the low lying ground. Over two days around 80 people drowned from the 250 European residents then living in the township that had grown up around the river crossing. Nearly a third of the population were killed in what still remains as one of Australia’s greatest natural disasters. However another third of the township were rescued – plucked from rooftops or trees and ferried through the raging current to safety in bark canoes.
Moustaches were big in the late 19th century. Really big.
As the wielder of a reasonably large moustache, I thought I might look into the museum’s collection of photographs and see how many and what sorts of moustaches are there. My hunch was correct – there are hundreds and hundreds of them. From nice thick ‘chevrons’, to the simple ‘English style’, to the classic ‘handlebar’ and even a few ‘walrus’ and ‘toothbrushes’. So I thought I would create a display of Maritime Moustaches in time for that important event every year – Movember!
On 9 November the museum will host the second national conference on Indigenous watercraft. Nawi 2017 – Travelling Our Waters brings together traditional watercraft builders, community members, historians, students and others to share knowledge and culture about canoes and all the other incredible and diverse watercraft made by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
The one day symposium will feature talks by people from the Kimberley, Torres Strait Islands, Arnhem Land and Tasmania. The presentations are diverse. Djambawa Marawili AM will present on the story of the Blue Mud Bay Sea Rights Case. Jimmy Thaiday and Lynette Griffiths will talk about Ghost Nets in art. There will be talks about the heroic Yarri and Jacky who rescued dozens of people from the 1852 Gundagai floods in bark canoes, and an important focus on youth and Indigenous watercraft.
There will also be traditional bark canoes being constructed through the day and an opportunity to see the Gapu-Monuk Saltwater- Journey to Sea Country exhibition, as well as a host of other activities and displays about the maritime history and cultures of Indigenous Australia.
Registration details for this wonderful opportunity to learn about nawi tied-bark canoes, rolled bark ninghers, bardi rafts and more can be found here. You can view the full program here. Hurry – there are limited places and a special offer to attend the opening night of Gapu-Monuk on 8 November.
In 1847 Benjamin Boyd, an early colonial businessman better known for his whaling ventures, shipped 65 men from New Caledonia and Vanuatu to Eden on the south coast of New South Wales. Boyd’s experiment in finding cheap indentured labour among the Pacific Islands was a failure, but he had foreshadowed a labour practice that was in many instances to hold all the hallmarks of slavery.
Ningbo is a smallish city near Shanghai of just 7 million people. It was once one of the five ‘Treaty Ports’, when colonial powers were forcing China into trading concessions during the 19th century. Ningbo had always historically been an important juncture of trade networks between China, Korea and Japan – and beyond. Its maritime history was the focus of a conference I recently attended, exploring what is now called the ‘Maritime Silk Road’ – the incredible trade routes that stretched from China to Africa over the past one thousand years or so. The sight of Chinese junks and Sampans in the Indian Ocean is now reasonably well known and forming the basis of a possible World Heritage listing for the maritime silk road. However, there was little knowledge and some interest at the conference in my research paper on the history of Chinese junks and sampans that were built in Australia between 1870 and 1910.
The museum has been fortunate to host a travelling exhibition on the history of pearling and the uses of pearl shell. The award winning exhibition – Lustre: Pearling and Australia – has been very well received by visitors but unfortunately will close soon. If you haven’t seen it yet, do yourself a favour and get along to the National Maritime Museum before August 13. Lustre is full of fascinating objects and interesting stories, particularly the long cultural importance of pearl shell in north western Australian Aboriginal communities.
In the early 19th century Japan had closed its doors to foreign ships in an effort to resist colonisation. One day in January 1830, a British flagged ship appeared off the coast of Mugi, in Shikoku, southern Japan. A low-ranking Samurai official duly recorded information about the ship and its crew before being ordered to send it away by firing cannon at the vessel. The ship, the brig Cyprus, was in fact a pirated vessel with a crew of escaped convicts from Tasmania under the command of the self-styled ‘Captain William Swallow’. Until now, this wonderful record of Australian pirates in Japan has been sitting, unrecognised in a Japanese archive.
This weekend (25-26th February 2017) the President of Indonesia will visit Australia for the first time since being elected in 2014. President Joko Widodo will be talking with the Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Much of the discussion – typical of Australia’s long relationship with its northern neighbour – will undoubtedly be about maritime related affairs. As Indonesia furthers its policy of focusing on maritime development as one of fundamental importance in an archaepeligo of around 18,000 islands, the historical maritime links between the two countries should not be forgotten.
In honour of the President’s visit to Sydney over the weekend, the museum will display an exhibition that explores one of the most significant – and largely forgotten – periods of strong bonds based on maritime links in the two nations histories. The display Black Armada – Australia’s support for Indonesian Independence 1945-1949 was developed for the 75th anniversary of independence in August 2015. The exhibition has been on display at the Museum Benteng Vredeburg in Jogjakarta, the ARMA museum in Bali, as well as here in Darling Harbour.
You can read more about this fascinating and important period of Australian links with Indonesia in the museum’s Feature Story.
Dr Stephen Gapps – Curator
On 26 January the museum has often sailed the HMB Endeavour replica in the Tall Ships Race on Sydney Harbour. This year, Endeavour will not be out, but another important vessel linked to the museum will be involved in the 26 January events.
At 7.30am on Thursday at Barangaroo Reserve a bark canoe – or nawi in the Sydney Aboriginal language – will bring ashore a small fire from the Tribal Warrior vessel. The fire will be lit as part of the WugulOra (One Mob) ceremony that will begin Australia Day events in Sydney by ‘recognising our shared history’. Previously held at the Opera House, WugulOra will be at the new Barangaroo parkland site for the first time this year.
Traditional owners will find out next month if their push for a 6,000-year-old network of eel traps in south-west Victoria is to be supported for inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The eel-farms were built by the Gunditjmara people in south west Victoria to manage eels in Lake Condah and nearby Darlot Creek. They are among the earliest surviving examples of aquaculture in the world.
The eel farms cover more than 75 square kilometres and include artificial channels and ponds for separating eels, as well as smoking trees for preserving the eels for export to other parts of Australia. Just to be clear, this industry and the complex of stone arrangements including houses began around 6,000 years ago – before Stonehenge and the Pyramids.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have thousands of years of maritime history. More recently, Saltwater people were prominent in early colonial Australian voyages, such as Bungaree, the first Australian to circumnavigate Australia, with Matthew Flinders in 1802-3. Now, a crew from Sydney and south coast New South Wales are attempting to make history as the first Indigenous crew to enter the Sydney to Hobart yacht race.
Australians usually go to Bali for the beaches or scuba diving. Some go for the surfing, others to experience Balinese food and culture or see the volcanoes, monkeys, temples and rice fields. Recently, a team from the Australian National Maritime Museum went to Bali for a very different reason – to open an exhibition and lead a seminar on some amazing but largely forgotten shared histories of the two countries.
Since the early 1990s the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) has held an annual commemoration for World Maritime Day (29 September) at the museum. The union members gather to remember fallen merchant sailors during wartime and the dangerous work of seafarers in the past and present. They march across the Pyrmont Bridge at Darling Harbour and lay wreaths at the two large anchors in front of the museum.
This is part of a series by Curator Dr Stephen Gapps who received an Endeavour Executive Fellowship from April to July 2016. Stephen is based at the Swedish History Museum and the National Maritime Museum (including the Vasa Museum) in Stockholm, Sweden. He is working on several Viking Age and other maritime history and archaeology related projects.
This is the last note in this series of Viking ‘journeys’. After nearly three months in Stockholm, it was time to see some of the famous museums, burial sites and stone arrangements across Scandinavia. And some not so famous.
First stop was the island of Birka for a sail on Aifur, the reconstructed Viking Age vessel that travelled by sail, by oars on rivers and overland on wheels from the Baltic to the Caspian Sea in the 1990s. It was one of several important journeys of historical reconstruction that make it beyond doubt the Vikings could have travelled so far to the east.
In 2003 underwater sonar was being used to locate a Swedish reconnaissance plane that had been shot down in the Baltic Sea in 1952 during the cold war. They came across, as archaeologists call them, an ‘anomaly’ that indicated a possible shipwreck. At 130 metres depth, an ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) was sent down to investigate. To the surprise of all, they saw a 17th century ship sitting upright on the bottom of the sea floor, quite intact, looking like it was ready to be crewed and set sail again. In fact it, was so complete that spars and rigging lying on the deck could tell them the last sail settings – and hence manoeuvre – before the ship sank. It was such an eerie sight that archaeologists instantly named it ‘The Ghost Ship’.