Chinese junks and Australian sampans

A section from a panorama of Hong Kong, circa 1940. Courtesy of the Hong Kong Maritime Museum.

A section from a panorama of Hong Kong, circa 1940. Courtesy of the Hong Kong Maritime Museum.

Celebrating maritime connections between China and Australia

On July 11 in the year 1405 Admiral Zheng He’s Grand Fleet of over 300 ships with 28,000 crew departed China on the first of several expeditions through Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean. The expeditions were aimed at establishing Chinese influence over long established trade routes, now often referred to as the ‘Maritime Silk Road’.  The 600th anniversary of the date of the commencement of the first of these massive expeditions – July 11 – was chosen in 2005 as the annual China National Maritime Day. The Institute of Ancient Chinese Ships has led a conference on Chinese maritime history on this day for the last ten years, with a different international focus each year. Last year was the UK, and this year it was Australia’s turn. The Australian National Maritime Museum’s director Kevin Sumption was invited to deliver a keynote presentation on ‘Chinese Connections at the Australian National Maritime Museum’ and I was invited to give a paper on my research into Chinese watercraft built in Australia between 1870 and 1910.

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Sailing over the horizon

Matt Hayes, an Australian Olympic sailing champion, has departed on this once-in-a-lifetime adventure of the World ARC in his trusty <em>Influencer</em>. Image: Gail De Raadt/ANMM.

Matt Hayes, an Australian Olympic sailing champion, has departed on this once-in-a-lifetime adventure of the World ARC in his trusty Influencer. Image: Gail De Raadt/ANMM.

A racing adventure

The World ARC is a bucket list item for many yachting enthusiasts. The sailing rally is a round-the-world adventure, covering 26,000 nautical miles over 15 months. Following the classic trade winds, this circumnavigation event attracts over 200 boats and 1200 participants every year. Not only is it about circling the globe, but also the friendships formed between sailors from around the world.

Matt Hayes, an Australian Olympic sailing champion, is about to depart on this once-in-a-lifetime adventure and gave us a behind the scenes look at what it took to prepare for such an adventure on the high seas.

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RV Investigator: A science lab goes to sea

RV <em>Investigator</em> at sea. Image: Ben Arthur, CSIRO/Marine National Facility.

RV Investigator at sea. Image: Ben Arthur, CSIRO/Marine National Facility.

Investigating Australia’s oceans

Commander Matthew Flinders and the crew of HMS Investigator spent three years circumnavigating Australia. From 1801-1803 a team of British sailors, soldiers, artists and scientists and an Aboriginal man, Bungaree, from the Guringai area around Broken Bay, just north of Sydney, charted the coastline and analysed marine and terrestrial flora and fauna. To support scientific observations the ship was outfitted with a greenhouse, microscopes, and a library. The cartographic and hydrographic work conducted by HMS Investigator stands as a meticulous record of the natural composition of our coastal nation and its surrounding waters.

215 years later, at the behest of the Australian public, CSIRO Marine National Facility (MNF) blue-water research vessel RV Investigator, is rewriting history as it pieces together the most complete modern map of our territorial waters. It is capable of hosting 40 scientists on sea voyages up to 60 days over a 10,000 nautical mile radius from the icy waters of Macquarie Island to the Coral Sea. A modern version of its historic predecessor, RV Investigator is outfitted with laboratory spaces, acoustics and scientific winches to accommodate all aspects of atmospheric, oceanographic, biological and geosciences research. Plus, onboard cameras beam back live images from its current voyage every 10 minutes.

Here at the museum, we also have a keen interest in exploring the oceans; scientific and environmental issues and actions as well as cultural understandings of the ocean sphere. Luckily for me, I’ve recently started at the museum as the inaugural Curator of Ocean Science and Technology, just in time to score a berth on board the vessel for last week’s eight-day transit voyage (14-21 May 2018) from Brisbane to Hobart.

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Grand times at Geelong

A view of the 2018 Wooden Boat Festival of Geelong, onshore with some of the couta boats in the foreground. Image: David Payne/ANMM.

A view of the 2018 Wooden Boat Festival of Geelong, onshore with some of the couta boats in the foreground. Image: David Payne/ANMM.

Wooden Boat Festival of Geelong, March 2018

The 9th Wooden Boat Festival of Geelong was held over the Victorian long weekend in mid-March, and it was another very successful event, drawing a big crowd over the three days. It was managed by the Royal Geelong Yacht Club and the GWBF committee, and featured a wide range of activities and displays on and off the water. Geelong is at the end of Corio Bay in the south west of Port Phillip. It has been a strong regional city and the yacht club has held, state, national and world championships over many years.

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Pinisi and the art of boatbuilding in Sulawesi recognised by UNESCO

LEFT:<em> Pinisi </em>trading ship on the Barito River, S.E.Kalimantan, 1983. RIGHT: <em>Patorani </em>fishing boat, Makassar Harbour 1985. Photographs: Jeffrey Mellefont.

LEFT: Pinisi trading ship on the Barito River, S.E.Kalimantan, 1983. RIGHT: Patorani fishing boat, Makassar Harbour 1985. Photographs: Jeffrey Mellefont.

UNESCO heritage-lists Indonesian wooden-boat building

Across the 17,000 equatorial islands comprising the Republic of Indonesia, the ingenious arts of timber boat building have been a crucial enabler of human ventures from prehistoric times until today. As ports, kingdoms and states developed, distinctive traditions of boat building and seafaring underpinned trade, politics and warfare, transport and communications as well as day-to-day livelihoods and subsistence … more so in this sprawling tropical archipelago than in just about any other region in the world.

These accomplished seafarers, key participants in the world’s spice trade since ancient times, have also had long-standing economic and cultural connections with nearby northern Australia and its Indigenous coastal populations. Best-known was a centuries-old fishery that brought annual fleets from the central Indonesian island of Sulawesi, harvesting a costly, luxury marine product for trade with imperial China. This teripang or bêche-de-mer fishery was long-established when British settlers first arrived, but was prohibited in 1906 by customs officials of the new Commonwealth of Australia.
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A voyage to Adelaide: Attending the 2017 AIMA conference

Archaeology on the Great Barrier Reef. Image: ANMM.

Shipwrecks and maritime archaeology are key parts of understanding Australian’s history as a land that is gurt by sea. Image: Measuring artefacts in situ, during an archaeological dive on the Great Barrier Reef, 2013 / ANMM.

Over the past six months, Em Blamey, Creative Producer at the museum, and I have travelled Australia engaging regional and remote maritime museums with the exhibition project Submerged: Stories of Australia’s shipwrecks. In late September, we were honoured to attend the 2017 AIMA Conference: Claimed by the Sea, to present the results of our endeavours.

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Searching for nagega in Papua New Guinea

Breakfast spot on 4th August, an atoll in the Engineer group. Image: David Payne / ANMM.

Breakfast spot on 4th August, an atoll in the Engineer group. Image: David Payne / ANMM.

David Payne, Curator of Historic Vessels, is currently on a research trip in remote Papua New Guinea to document traditional watercrafts and their construction techniques.

We have spent a bit of extra time at Alotau, there are a few things needing attention: doing some running repairs, reprovisioning, taking on fuel and water.

We had a break through on the morning of Sunday 13th August: We have located our first nagega, the big canoes that are a focus for this next part of the voyage in Massim region.

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The Massim canoes of Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea

A sailau coming to a village. Image: David Payne / ANMM.

A sailau coming to a village. Image: David Payne / ANMM.

David Payne, Curator of Historic Vessels, is currently on a research trip in remote Papua New Guinea to document traditional watercrafts and their construction techniques.

Coral Haven is at the eastern extremity of the Louisiades Archipelago in Papua New Guinea. Yesterday afternoon it was a windswept place with rain squalls – after all, the south east trade winds blow strongly in August. To get here involves travelling into the trade’s rough seas, passing through the Engineer Group and then the Conflict Islands, having started out from Alotau in Milne Bay about eight days ago. Today it is time to leave our sheltered anchorage on Nimoa Island, beside Sudest Island down at the eastern end of Coral Haven, and start the return journey.

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Sea Gypsies to Sultans: Meeting the mariners of the Java Sea

Arriving at Pasongsongan, Madura, to inspect a flamboyant fishing fleet returned from its nightly fishery on the Java Sea. All photography by Jeffrey Mellefont.

Arriving at Pasongsongan, Madura, to inspect a flamboyant fishing fleet returned from its nightly fishery on the Java Sea. All photography by Jeffrey Mellefont.

Thirty years ago, field-research for the museum took me to a remote little Indonesian island called Raas in the Java Sea. It was so far off regular motor-ship routes that I took passage on an engineless trading prahu propelled by a huge lateen sail. Prahus like these, called lete-lete, provided transport and livelihoods for Raas and adjacent islands, and some of them were sailed on long-haul fishing expeditions into northern Australian waters. The museum, which at that time was just beginning to develop its collections and first exhibitions, wanted to learn more about various types of maritime contacts linking Australia and Indonesia.

This autumn I returned to these same waters, leading a small group of visitors from Australia, the UK and Canada who were eager to meet some of Indonesia’s least-known maritime communities, in a region of the Java Sea where tourism has not yet arrived.

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Travelling the Maritime Silk Road in Ningbo, China

Chinese junk from the David Waters collection, Royal Museum Greenwich, circa 1930.

Chinese junk from the David Waters collection, Royal Museum Greenwich, circa 1930.

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.

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Visiting the JFK Library in search of the President’s rescue coconut

Coconut on President John F. Kennedy's Desk. Image: JFK Library, KN-C23153.

The coconut on President John F. Kennedy’s Desk. Image: JFK Library, KN-C23153.

After the Battle of the Coral Sea Commemoration dinner on the USS Intrepid, I was up early and on the train to Boston and the John F. Kennedy Presidental Library and Museum.

I seem to have bad luck visiting this northern city, teaming rain, windy, 6 degrees (celsius) – just like my last three visits! Bad to worse, the train ran late by half an hour and when I arrived at the JFK Library for my meeting with Karen Abramson, Head of Archives, building works nearby had cut their cable to the outside world. So, with no computers, no phones, and no voicemail, the friendly docent (US word for volunteer) at Reception did not have any mobile numbers, couldn’t look them up and didn’t have access to ‘go fetch’ Karen, and the security officer didn’t have a radio and couldn’t leave his post.

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Dinner on an aircraft carrier: Remembering the Battle of the Coral Sea

Last Thursday I had the privilege to attend the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea on board USS Intrepid, a WWII aircraft carrier, where the museum’s new documentary Clash of the Carriers, premiered in front of Prime Minister of Australia, Malcolm Turnbull and Mrs Turnbull, President of the United States, Donald and Mrs Trump, veterans of the battle and 700 guests.

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BIG IS BETTER: ‘Ovation of the Seas’ comes to Australia.

No help needed. Image: David Payne / ANMM.

No help needed. Image: David Payne / ANMM.

Big is best,
Big wins
Big is like – OMG – gigantic
Big is beautiful!

Look what’s outside my hotel window in Hobart: Ovation of the Seasone of the biggest ocean cruise ships in the world. It’s here, you can’t miss it, it seems longer than the docks, wider than the widest sea, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound – anything goes in this department.

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‘Freedom or Death!’ in Bali

Balinese Independence hero Ngurah Rai features on the 50000 rupiah bank note

Balinese Independence hero Ngurah Rai features on the 50000 rupiah bank note

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.

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Of ships, stones and graves

Viking boat prows, Roskilde, Denmark

Viking boat prows, Roskilde Vikingeskibsmuseet, Denmark

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.

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