On the River to Gundagai – Yarri, Jacky and the Great Flood of 1852

Statue of Yarri at Gundagai in southern New South Wales.  Photo: Stephen Gapps.

Statue of Yarri at Gundagai in southern New South Wales.  Photo: Stephen Gapps.

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.

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Canoe Cultures – Nawi 2017 Travelling Our Waters

Nawi (Sydney tied-bark canoe) with fire at Nawi 2012. Photograph Andrew Frolows

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.

Uncle Moogy in his yuki at Nawi 2012. Photograph Andrew Frolows

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.

Detail from Mudhaw Warul (Sheltered Turtles Behind the Reef) © Billy Missi

January 26: One day, many meanings

Worimi man Steve Brereton paddles a nawi in Darling Harbour in 2012.

Worimi man Steve Brereton paddles a nawi in Darling Harbour in 2012. Image: Andrew Frolows/ANMM.

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.

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Redfern to Hobart: Tribal Warrior crew to make history

The Tribal Warrior crew practicing for the Sydney to Hobart Race. Photo courtesy Daniel Daley.

Some of the Tribal Warrior crew practising for the Sydney to Hobart Race. Photo courtesy Daniel Daley.

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.

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Raising the flag for National Reconciliation Week 2016: ‘Our History, Our Story, Our Future’

Sea rights flag.

The Blue Mud Bay sea rights flag flying in Yirrkala at the Buku-Larrngay Mulka Centre

Each year National Reconciliation Week celebrates and builds on the respectful relationships shared by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other Australians.

The dates that bookend the week are significant milestones in the Reconciliation journey:

  • May 27—Marks the anniversary of Australia’s most successful referendum and a defining event in our nation’s history. The 1967 referendum saw over 90 per cent of Australians vote to give the Commonwealth the power to make laws for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and recognise them in the national census.
  • 3 June—Commemorates the High Court of Australia’s landmark Mabo decision in 1992, which legally recognised that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have a special relationship to the land—a relationship that existed prior to colonalisation and still exists today. This recognition paved the way for land rights or Native Title.

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Corroboree Sydney at the museum

The Corroboree Sydney festival kicked off yesterday and is running until 30 November. The festival celebrates Australia’s rich Indigenous culture, featuring leading artists, writers, dancers and musicians showcasing their creativity and sharing stories in over 100 free and ticketed events around Sydney’s iconic foreshore. For the first time, the museum will take part in the festival, with programs highlighting that for thousands of years prior to European settlement, coastal Aboriginal people fished and hunted in the waters and hinterlands, living a rich and spiritual life harmoniously with the land and environment. The museum will present four days of inspirational events including tours of our Indigenous Gallery, unique vessel tours from an Indigenous perspective and traditional canoe building demonstrations.

making Nawi canoes at the australian national maritime museum

Making bark canoes at the museum. Curator David Payne and Indigenous Programs Manager Donna Carstens constructing a nawi with the help of a student from Lawrence Hargrave School, July 2014.

The museum will showcase our ongoing NAWI project by presenting a fascinating demonstration of the construction of a full-size traditional NSW Aboriginal bark canoe. Traditional community canoe builders from around the country will join museum staff to build a NAWI using traditional methods from Saturday 29 to Sunday 30 November. The demonstration is free and all are welcome to watch.

The Australian National Maritime museum’s Eora and Saltwater gallery.

The museum’s Eora and Saltwater gallery.

Indigenous people have a deep spiritual connection to land and water. Take part in our discussion as canoe communities share their stories of past and current projects about Indigenous watercraft and connections in Canoe Conversations. This free, casual session of discussions and presentations is on the afternoon of the Saturday 29 November and is open to all.

Families inspired by the NAWI canoe building demonstrations can also try their hands at building their own mini versions to take home in free children’s paper canoe workshops for 5–12 year olds and their parents, also running from Saturday 29 to Sunday 30 November.

HMB Endeavour at the museum.

The HMB Endeavour replica at the museum.

We will also be providing special Indigenous interpretation of some of our permanent attractions during the festival. Jump on board the museum’s Endeavour replica and get a glimpse of what it was like for the traditional Aboriginal people living along the foreshores of the harbour. We’ll also host guided tours reflecting on our Indigenous history and encouraging visitors to look at the vessel through different eyes, taking on a dual perspective of the East Coast journey.

–Donna Carstens, Indigenous Programs Manager

Find out more about the museum’s Corroboree Sydney events.

Bark Canoe building at Bents Basin –a NPWS Sydney Aboriginal Community Cultural Gathering

At the invitation of Dean Kelly, National Parks and Wildlife Service Aboriginal Community Liaison Officer I was invited to attend their Sydney Aboriginal Community Cultural Gathering at Bents Basin near Bringelly, NSW, 16-19 May. I was there to facilitate a canoe building activity as part of the Saturday cultural activities. Last year I went out for an afternoon with senior curator Daina Fletcher where we made a large model nawi, but this year Dean and I set out sights higher, and achieved the goal, but not without significant help in the lead-up.

Bark canoe, ANMM image by David Payne

Bark canoe, ANMM image by David Payne


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Queensland Outreach

Four days over April in south-east Queensland on behalf of the museum and in a similar manner to my recent travel along the Murray River in Victoria, I have had discussions or inspections involving a diverse variety of craft over a short period. It began with a review of vessel and maritime scene watercolours in Brisbane, went on to an inspection of two historic vessels out of the water being restored, moved to one still in use, and finished with a lively exchange of experiences with Indigenous bark canoe construction.

The watercolours are still under consideration so I am unable to reveal too much detail, but they come from an Australian who travelled widely in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and recorded his observations by hand as illustrations. The family is considering the long term location for this material so I took the opportunity to review it and note how it could be registered, conserved and eventually made available to the public if the collection came to us. These delightful maritime related images capture significant detail of vessels, people and scenes.

Krawarree at Pimpana near Southport. David Payne

Krawarree at Pimpana near Southport. David Payne

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National Science Week grant: Endeavouring Science

NSW 2013

2013 National Science Week on HMB Endeavour replica
Photo: A Frolows, ANMM

The museum is pleased to be a recipient of a 2014 National Science Week grant from the Federal Government’s Inspiring Australia program. Our program, Endeavouring Science, looks at how science has both evolved and remained the same from the 18th century to the 21st century, featuring a range of activities located aboard the iconic HMB Endeavour replica as well as activations across the whole museum site. It will cover themes of weather and navigation, biology and botany, signals and communication and the scientific principles that underlie these.

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A place, a philosophy and a practical experience – a passage by water in Dharawal country

Model making in the foreground while passing through Dharawal country

Model making in the foreground while passing through Dharawal country.
Photo: David Payne, ANMM

On Saturday 15th March, an eco-tour organized by Mary Jacobs from Sutherland Shire Reconciliation on the waters inshore of of Djeebahn (Jibbon, the headland at Port Hacking) was the background for a rare opportunity to learn much more than just Indigenous names, locations and history. It was a journey into another people’s country and their connections to the land, to the sea and a way of life. Continue reading

Nawi canoe building workshop

Wednesday 26 February found the Australian National Maritime Museum’s Nawi canoe builders sharing their skills and knowledge with a group of young Koori boys at the Lawrence Hargrave School in Warwick Farm.

Curator David Payne with students Photograph, Donna Carstens, ANMM

Curator David Payne with students
Photograph, Donna Carstens, ANMM

The workshop was held outside on the outskirts of the school oval which was the perfect setting as we were surrounded by Australian Stringy barks and other eucalypts as well, the exact materials we were working with to make our smaller Nawi canoe model. The bush setting created a great starting point for conversation regarding the differences in the barks, the process of selecting the right bark, best times of year to collect bark, how the bark is removed from the tree and preparation of the bark so it is ready to work with. Continue reading

My Special Place – School students meet Saltwater Visions

One of the education programs for primary and junior high school students at the Australian National Maritime Museum is called ‘My Special Place’. This Visual Arts program focuses on the artist’s use of cultural and personal symbols to communicate a sense of place.

Students with teacher guide in gallery with Indigenous barks and artworks

Students in the museum’s Eora gallery during the My special place schools program

While the Saltwater Visions NAIDOC week display of ten bark paintings from the museum’s Saltwater Collection is on display in the Tasman Light Gallery, the museum’s teacher guides take groups of students and begin their session by sitting them down in front of the barks. Continue reading

Canoes and culture at Saltwater Freshwater for Australia Day

On Friday 25 January David Payne and I made our way north to Taree from Sydney. With one of David’s derivative plywood nardan (or derrka) strapped to the roof, and sheets of stringy bark in the boot of the car, we were on our way to the Saltwater Freshwater Festival on the banks of the Manning River on the mid north coast of New South Wales.

The festival is held every year along a river or on the coast at a centre within the 10 local Aboriginal Land Council areas grouped in the Saltwater Freshwater Arts Alliance. This festival, the fourth, was held in Taree after the 2012 event was washed out by the floods.

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Saltwater Freshwater CEO Alison Page accepting a nawi model made in the workshop with David Payne (L) and Daina Fletcher (R).

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Two men in a boat – Opening of 2013 Sydney Festival

According to the media reports there were 60,000 people watching.  From my position, in the back of a canoe with Matt Doyle full blast on his didgeridoo in the front, I was too busy paddling and keeping it upright to notice just how many were watching us, taking pictures or filming.

Photo of giant inflated yellow rubber duck on water

Florentijn Hofman’s Rubber Duck enters Cockle Bay

So how does a curator end up here, in Cockle Bay, Darling Harbour, paddling his self-designed-and-built plywood version of an Arnhem Land derrka, sitting behind Matt Doyle who is painted up, wired up and playing didgeridoo? We are opening the 2013 Sydney Festival event on Darling Harbour, which is featuring Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman’s Rubber Duck installation. Continue reading

Cooktown: The museum heads north for a week

It’s hot. And humid. But what else can you expect for far north Queensland in December? And it could have been worse – however, the southest trades were blowing across the hills on the coast, providing a margin of comfort across the town.

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Cooktown from Grassy Hill, looking to the south west in the evening

Everyone drives a 4WD, but I was on foot, and in Cooktown to undertake a museum outreach project funded through a grant from the Maritime Museums of Australia Project Support Scheme (MMAPSS). My goal was to document and write a management plan for May-Belle, an iron flood boat and ferry from the gold-rush era of the late 1800s, and part of the James Cook Museum collection, expertly managed by Melanie Piddocke.

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May Belle being measured

The real heat was on the Tuesday – with six hours spent in the tin shed annexe where the boat was stored, often down on hands and knees, or lying under the vessel. It was dusty, dirty and over 30 degrees even with the shutter doors open. Plenty of fluids kept things under control and by early afternoon, after an 8 am start, I had enough data recorded to retire to an air-conditioned room and draw out the elements from the dimensions taken, then give it a check. All good at the end the day, and dinner that night with Melanie and former council administrator Darcy Gallop, who retrieved the vessel in 1973, brought out some stories about the social side of the craft, which is now on the Australian Register of Historic Vessels, along with its close sisters up in Coen, even further north.

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Cherry Tree Bay at 6 am

On Wednesday I began writing the report, putting together a comprehensive management plan about the vessel’s history, construction, current condition and how best to conserve, interpret and display the vessel. At lunch Melanie and I met Ian McRae from the regional council, who had overseen putting the Coen boat up for nomination. Ian is a keen supporter of heritage in the area and was about to let the Coen people know their craft had been recognised.

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An indigenous outrigger canoe made in 2010

For Thursday Melanie had kindly organised a meeting with the Indigenous community in Hope Vale, 45 minutes inland. This is the successor to Hope Valley, formerly on Cape Bedford, which had been forcibly abandoned during World War 2. This incident is not well recognised and is one of a series of sad events that have overrun the Guugu Yimithirr community since the goldrush of the 1870s ‒ the event that brought the flood boats into being.

At Hope Vale I discussed the museum’s work and the experience of the conference Nawi – exploring Australia’s Indigenous watercraft, plus my own particular involvement with building nawi, and heard from them what they knew of their own outriggers. These are hollowed-out logs with a hunting platform at one end, and a single outrigger. Willie Gordon, a well-respected community member and acclaimed leader of tours into his country, was particularly interested. Later in the day renowned local artist Roy McIvor and his wife, Thelma, came by the museum to meet us, hear about the ANMM work and talk about their story too. It was a wonderful exchange, and if the ANMM can host another conference in the future we look forward to inviting more representatives from the Cooktown and Hope Vale area.

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Endeavour river Cooktown, the site where Endeavour was beached for repairs.

As well as the work side there was time early in the mornings and late evenings to walk the coastline bush track, or take in the view from Grassy Hill, where James Cook had stood assessing his situation as Endeavour was being repaired on the shoreline below him in 1770. The James Cook Museum display talks about the community’s stories about this event, too; by 1770 they were accustomed to foreign ships, as Macassan traders been coming for trochus and beche-de-mer for probably 100 years or more before. The Macassans came and went, however, but this visitor in his big canoe did not just come and go in a short time, he stayed for a long time, but did manage to make contact. Both sides of the community, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, recognise the importance of this event. Two key artefacts reside in the museum, the anchor Endeavour lost and one of the cannon jettisoned to make the ship lighter. Through the dry season many tourists come to Cooktown to see these and learn more about the event that dramatically affected this community.

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Endeavour anchor and cannon on display at James Cook Museum