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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The 2016 Novice Canoe Building Challenge

Classic and Wooden Boat Festival, April 15-17 2016.

Classic and Wooden Boat Festival, April 15-17 2016.

The museum, in partnership with Drive Marine Services and The Institute of Industrial Arts Technology Education (IIATE), have joined together to host the inaugural Novice Canoe Building Challenge at the 2016 Classic & Wooden Boat Festival. The challenge requires teams of four high school students to construct a Bellinger Double Chine Canoe over three days at Festival. Brian Jones, Dave Giddings and the team from Drive Marine Services will be guiding the students through the construction process.

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Being a hero is all about timing: Oskar Speck’s kayak voyage

Oskar passport.  ANMM collection

Oskar Speck’s passport. ANMM collection

As I was examining the letters, journals, photographs and reports of Oskar Speck, as though they were parts of a giant jigsaw puzzle, I started piecing together the life and the incredible voyage of this intrepid German, who spent seven years and four months paddling a collapsible kayak from his native town of Altona in Hamburg all the way to Thursday Island in the Torres Strait.

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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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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

A week away, working in the UK

Over the last week of February I travelled to the UK as part of my work at the museum, where my first appointment was to attend the meeting of the International Congress of Maritime Museums’ (ICMM) International Historic and Traditional Ships panel. I have been a member of this panel since it was brought together in 2011, and the broad aim is to be an advocate on behalf of historic and traditional ships in relation to their various survey and regulation issues, including both operational and static craft.  We met in Greenwich, hosted by Martyn Heighton from National Historic Ships UK, which manages a register similar to our Australian Register of Historic Vessels (ARHV)  and works from the National Maritime Museum (NMM). In practical terms we were there to coordinate progress from the two working parties, and as Convener of Working Party Two I had a detailed report to present, with discussion and further actions to move forward with. 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

Australia’s first watercraft – Tales from ‘100 Stories’

Dugout canoe with sail

Annie Karrakayn, Ida Ninganga, Isaac Walayungkuma, Yanyuwa and Garrawa, Rra-alwanyimara, dugout canoe, 1988 Paperbark tree, 496 x 60am (length x bredth)

Yolngu country, eastern Arnhem Land, and the wet season is slowly seeping into the land. Three men haul a dampened sheet of stringy bark from a smouldering fire that carries the scent of the bush. Carefully, they push one end of the heated bark through a narrow gap between two sturdy branches driven almost parallel into the ground. Like wet, pliable leather, the warm and supple end folds upwards, and the sides come together dripping moisture at the base. The men then bind the top of the branches together tightly and, using a sharp blade, make a long angled cut, forward and down to the bottom tip of the folded end of the bark. Holes are pierced along the raw edge and fingers deftly thread fine, damp bark strips to sew the sides together. The prominent bow of a derrka has been created, and a canoe unique to Australia has begun to form, built with knowledge and skills that are thousands of years old. Continue reading

Fish… finishing this weekend

Has the Australian National Maritime Museum fetishised fish? and is fetishised even a word?

This weekend is your last chance to find out, and to view what I think is one of our most inventive readings of Australian art from a maritime perspective.

Entering the ‘Fish in Australian art’ exhibition guided by Deborah Halpern’s ‘Fish’, neon lighting and perspex, 2010

Fish in Australian art  is an exhibition of watercolours, prints, publications, drawings, paintings, multimedia, artefacts, and artifice… all of which feature Australian stories of fish or fishing. Through artist’s eyes you see the wonders of fish,  fish as characters in dreaming or creation stories, as objects of European curiosity, science, charm, fantasy, nature, and the sublime. You see fish as decorative or design elements, and you see fishing as a way to while away the hours, for musing, sport or industry, and above all for cooking, eating, or serving at the table.

The exhibition includes works from important Indigenous artists like Yvonne Koolmatrie, Arthur Koo’ekka Pambegan, Micky of Ulladulla and Roy Wiggan, and many household names of European Australian art like Arthur Boyd, William Buelow Gould, Conrad Martens, John Olsen,  Margaret Preston and Anne Zahalka, in an exhibition which is both thematic and broadly chronological. I especially like the luminous drawings from the natural history painters who worked with pencil and brush to document all they saw around them – here, the fish and the fishing techniques of Indigenous Australians, and their watercraft.

Richard Browne watercolours

There are a number of works by the Port Jackson painter, Ferdinand Bauer and Thomas Watling on loan from the British Museum of Natural History which are truely sensational and here in Australia just for this exhibition.

These works show Indigenous people fishing from their nawi and cooking their catch.  They are beautifully drawn. There are so many nuanced details, like the moon rays floating to the water in the ink and watercolour sketch A N. South Wales native strikg fish by moonlight while his wife paddles him along with a fire in the Canoe ready to broil the fish as caught attributed to the Port Jackson Painter, 1788-97. These details remind you that these painters were not just about picturing science and are worth a really good look.

Artists of Port Jackson works in ‘Fish in Australian art’

The exhibition blends media and artefacts, and in this early colonial section you see a canoe of bark with tied ends, made by Albert Woodlands from the west Kempsey region, built before 1938, and on loan from the Australian Museum. This Indigenous canoe is used to interpret the fishing drawings and to add texture and meaning – together they become a delicious viewing experience for those interested in Aboriginal watercraft. The canoe – similar in style to the nawi used by Sydney Aboriginal people – forms such a refined shape that it is almost sculptural.

There is much to see in this exhibition and I can only suggest you make it to the museum this weekend to catch it before it goes…

Canoe and watercolours from Fish in Australian Art

Canoes and reflections in Melbourne

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Canoe on display at ACMI

During a recent Melbourne visit I encountered a pleasant surprise among the intriguing cacophony that is Australia’s film and television history at Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) near Federation Square – one of the ten canoes from Rolf de Heer and Peter Djigger’s 2006 film of the same name.Nestled in a cove of green space is one of the canoes, a ngarrdin, made in 2006 by Yolngu men Philip Gudthaykudthay, Peter Djogirr, Bobby Bunungurr, Michael Dawu, Billy Black, Steven Wilanydjanu Malibirr and Roy Burnyila.

Ten Canoes was born of a dialogue between de Heer, co-director Peter Djigger and the Yolngu community in north-eastern Arnhem Land. It was inspired by a photograph taken by anthropologist Donald Thomson during a visit to their lands  Arafura Swamp in 1930s.

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Canoe and still images from Ten Canoes film at ACMI

The ngarrdin on display is made from a single piece of stringy bark with folded and sewn ends, with knowledge from Elders Peter Minygululu and Philip Gudthaykudthay, and reference notes and photographs from the visual treasure trove that is the Donald Thomson collection in Museum Victoria (Museum Victoria holds two other canoes made for the film).

At ACMI, Thomson’s black and white photographs are displayed with the canoe alongside colour stills of similar scenes from the film – a split vision of continuity and change.

The story of making the film is an important assertion of Indigenous voices in filmmaking as told at ACMI, while the recontextualised beauty of the canoe itself entices you in to its space, but also breaking out of the historical timeline presented in the exhibitions on the ground floor entitled Screen worlds.

LED light artwork

Jonathan Jones, untitled (muyan) 2011.
Glass, aluminium, light emitting diodes, electrical cable; designed by Marc Raszewski and Andrew Hayes; dimensions variable; installation view National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; commissioned by National Gallery of Victoria for The Barak Commissions, Felton Bequest; collection of National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Just across the ACMI foyer and courtyard in the Ian Potter Centre – NGV Australia I spotted the work of a speaker from our Nawi conference – Kamilaroi/Wiradjuri artist Jonathan Jones. During the Nawi conference Jonathan spoke to us about light, reflection, water and the passage of the canoe through the water as inspiration.

Jonathan’s fabulous work is nestled in the cathedral-like foyer at the Ian Potter Centre. It is made of LEDs in light boxes which references Victorian Wurundjeri leader, quiet activist, mediator and artist William Barak (1824-1903). In particular Jonathan was inspired by two of Barak’s paintings featuring fires at ceremonies. These paintings excited Jonathan’s imagining of light, reflection, its cultural resonance, and Barak’s role in history at a time of massive change.

The work is installed near the main stairway of the centre, in dialogue with another artwork by Brook Andrew entitled Marks and witness: a lined crossing in tribute to William Barak (2011) which scales the heights of the foyer and stairway.

In his artist statement Jonathan offers: ‘In early 1903 Barak predicted his own death, stating that he would die when muyan (wattle) bloomed.’

The work turns from white to yellow (muyan) in August to remind people of Barak’s importance. Wish I’d seen it in yellow!  If you visit this month, you’ll catch it as the wattle blooms.

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.

Photo of video screens set up at exhibition

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