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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Governor Phillip’s ‘Portsmouth Gig’

This watercolour 'Ban nel long [Bennelong] meeting the Governor by appointment after he was wounded by Willemaring in September 1790' by The Port Jackson Painter shows Governor Arthur Phillip being rowed out to meet Bennelong to attempt a reconciliation after the Governor had been gravely wounded by a spear at Manly. Bennelong has his nawi (bark canoe) paddle raised. Watling Collection, Natural History Museum, UK.

This watercolour ‘Ban nel long [Bennelong] meeting the Governor by appointment after he was wounded by Willemaring in September 1790’ by The Port Jackson Painter shows Governor Arthur Phillip being rowed out to meet Bennelong to attempt a reconciliation after the governor had been gravely wounded by a spear at Manly. Bennelong has his nawi (bark canoe) paddle raised. Watling Collection, Natural History Museum, UK.

In January 1788, life for people in Sydney was transformed dramatically and forever. The first inkling of change was the appearance of two ship’s boats in the harbour. This was the advance party of the 11 ships anchored at Botany Bay, exploring what Captain Cook had called Port Jackson in 1770 as a better site for the establishment of a British colony. Little did the people of Sydney know what was to follow in the wake of these ship’s boats. Within 12 months a small bridgehead of British colonisation had taken hold around Warran, or Sydney Cove, and at least half the Indigenous population had died from disease, their bodies littering the foreshores of the harbour in May 1789.

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The many meanings of Australia Day – celebration, commemoration and contestation

The Founding of Australia by Captn Phillip R N 26th January 1788. Algernon Talmadge, 1937. Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

The Founding of Australia by Captn Phillip R N 26th January 1788. Algernon Talmadge, 1937. Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

The 26th of January – Australia Day – has long been associated with boats on Sydney Harbour. In 1838, to mark 50 years after the arrival of the First Fleet, a regatta was held, watched from the foreshores by ‘crowds of gaily attired people … bearing the supplies for the day’s refreshments…’ and from the crowded decks of steamers ‘decked out in their gayest colours’.

In the early 1800s, in the colony of New South Wales, 26 January was referred to as First Landing Day or Foundation Day. In a very short time, however, the day had shifted from official toasts to the king at the governor’s table to a people’s celebration.

But the history of Australia Day has taken many more twists and turns along the way. In 1938 it wasn’t thought proper to include convicts in a parade of history through the streets of Sydney. And this same parade was met with a silent group of protesters who called Australia Day a National Day of Mourning.

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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.

Voyaging vakas

This week I was privileged to be on board one of the vakas visiting the museum as they sailed into Sydney Harbour at the end of a 2 month, 6,000 kilometre voyage across the Pacific Ocean.

Vakas sailing into Sydney Harbour

Vakas sailing into Sydney Harbour

What an experience. These majestic double hulled sailing canoes are amazing craft, able to hoot along at 23 knots and plough through a six-metre swell.

Below the Cook Islands flag is a bank of solar panels. The museum's patrol boat HMAS Advance sits off Athol Bight in Sydney Harbour.

Below the Cook Islands flag is a bank of solar panels. The museum’s patrol boat HMAS Advance sits off Watsons Bay in Sydney Harbour, ready for escort duty.

At sunrise on Wednesday, a flotilla of museum vessels including the pearling lugger John Louis, HMAS Advance and MB 172 transported dignitaries and media out to the vakas that had overnighted at Watsons Bay. I was on board the lead vessel—Marumaru Atua from the Cook Islands. Unfortunately a grey, overcast and decidedly chilly day saw a slight westerly head wind which made travelling only under sail a little difficult. No mind; the vakas have a bank of solar panels on a platform off the stern that runs a quite noiseless electric motor.

The platform that stretches across the two hulls makes an open and easy-to-work deck. As the vessels are reconstructions of traditional vakas, the hulls are made of modern materials and each has surprisingly roomy quarters for the 16 crew Marumaru Atua can accommodate. The cabin on deck is the control centre—not what would be very cramped living quarters (as one bystander thought)!

Samoan vaka Gaualofa passes under Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Samoan vaka Gaualofa passes under Sydney Harbour Bridge.

As the sun tried to poke through the clouds around 8 am, the vakas passed under the Harbour Bridge and rounded Barangaroo headland towards Darling Harbour. As we approached the museum it seemed there was a sea of green decoration around the basin. When we drew closer we saw it was in fact a huge crowd of hundreds of welcomers. The echo of drums and singing cut the stillness of the harbour as we glided in to a wonderful Pacific Island welcome—and were also met by Indigenous Sydney man Dean Kelly in his nawi—a Sydney style bark canoe.

Dean Kelly in his nawi welcoming Cook Islands vaka Marumaru Atua.

Dean Kelly in his nawi welcoming Cook Islands vaka Marumaru Atua.

The vakas bring a message from the people of the Pacific Islands that urgent and significant commitment is needed to manage our oceans and take action worldwide on climate change to the 6th World Parks Congress, a major international event held once in every decade and managed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

Welcoming ceremony for the voyaging vakas.

Welcoming ceremony for the voyaging vakas.

On Saturday 15 November there is a day of Pacific Island celebration at the museum. I thoroughly recommend coming along to Oceania Day and checking out the food, entertainment and in particular the amazing voyaging vakas.

Stephen Gapps, Curator

Vakas at the welcoming ceremony at the Australian National Maritime Museum.

Vakas at the welcoming ceremony at the Australian National Maritime Museum.













Vakas visit the museum

Mua: Guided by Nature is a voyage undertaken by four vakas: 22-metre-long Pacific Islander double canoes. They have crossed the Pacific to Australia and are now making their way to Sydney. Marumaru Atua from the Cook Islands, Uto Ni Yalo from  Fiji, Haunui from New Zealand and Gaualofa from Samoa have been guided by their people’s traditional observations of the sun, moon, planets and stars, the behaviour of wildlife, the patterns, motions and changes in the sea and the clouds. There is a deep connection and understanding of the character and feeling of the ocean environment that is their island’s home. They look and listen to nature to show them the way, and their knowledge of how to use these signposts has been handed down over countless generations, and it now has powerful lessons for the future.

Vaka Uto Ni Yalo from Fiji

Uto Ni Yalo from Fiji. Courtesy Uto Ni Yalo Trust.

The four vakas, also known as drua (traditional canoes) have undertaken a 6,000-mile voyage to bring a message from the people of the Pacific Islands to the 6th World Parks Congress, a major international event held once in every decade and managed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. They are carrying the region’s statement that an urgent and significant commitment is needed to manage our oceans and take action worldwide on climate change. The Pacific Island leaders have pledged millions of square kilometres toward protected marine areas and all of the communities now work towards their own sustainable management practices to maintain their livelihood. They want everyone to recognise that the Earth is a planet with limited resources and be it islands in the ocean or a continent surrounded by sea, it is our only home.

Throughout the Pacific, the voyaging canoe represents the genealogy of its discovery and habitation. Pacific islanders trace their origins to specific canoes and their voyages to each new island or island group. The canoe connects people to their ancestors and their stories.

Gaualofa from Samoa. Courtesy Mua Voyage.

Haunui from New Zealand. Courtesy Mua Voyage.

These four craft are modern versions based on the traditional design. They have fibreglass hulls and solar-powered motors, but they retain their traditional shape and are sailed with the prevailing winds in the same way as the original canoes. Mua means ‘bow of the canoe’ and also ‘to travel or journey’. Just as the first voyages brought together harmony, teamwork, respect and adventure, crossing the sea to lands beyond the horizon, these craft bring the same elements to a new generation, and maintain the culture and skills.

Vakas on the Mua Voyage.

Vakas on the Mua Voyage.

The fleet of drua, their crew and respective heads of state, are coming to the museum on Wednesday 12 November where they will be met by another canoe with direct connections to its own land and culture—an Aboriginal nawi—made from bark and built here by museum staff during NAIDOC week. The symbolism of this mix of the traditional and the present, of Indigenous communities and those who have come to live here, this will all come together in a colourful and powerful performance as the First People welcome the voyagers to their country, and then let them respond in their traditional manner; there will be smoke, fire, dance and enduring friendship.

— David Payne, Curator of Historic Vessels

Mua voyage performers

Traditional performers. Courtesy Mua Voyage.

See the vakas up close at the Oceania Festival at the museum, Saturday 15 November from 9 am to 5.30 pm. This will be a fun-filled day for the whole family with Pacific food, performances, merchandise and all-day entertainment. You’ll also get the chance to board the canoes and meet the crew. Check the website for details.

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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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

NAIDOC Week harbour tour

Clarke island view

On Sunday July 7 – while surfers braving the winter waters at Bondi were surprised by a southern right whale just metres from the shore – a group of Australian National Maritime Museum members were taking a cruise on Sydney Harbour aboard the Mari Nawi. It was one of those glorious sunny winter days when Sydney Harbour literally sparkles in its magnificence.

The members tour was organised as part of the museum’s NAIDOC week activities. We first met at the Tasman Light gallery in the museum and had a look at the Saltwater Barks on display. Then we were met by the crew of the Mari Nawi at the museum wharves and set off towards Clarke Island.

The Mari Nawi at Clarke Island

The Mari Nawi at Clarke Island. Photograph Kym Smith

Mari Nawi means ‘big canoe’ in the Sydney Aboriginal language. It was a term given by the Sydney locals to the vessels of the first Fleet when they arrived in Sydney in 1788. This modern day Mari Nawi is run by the Tribal Warrior Association, who conduct Indigenous focused educational tours of Sydney Harbour, as well as run training and mentoring programs for Indigenous youth.

The guys from Tribal Warrior were prominent in the museum’s Nawi conference in May 2012. One of their bark canoes – nawi – that was a stunning sight being paddled across Darling Harbour with a fire lit aboard at night, sits proudly atop the Mari Nawi.

Glen Doyle performs a welcome dance on Clarke Island

Glen Doyle performs a welcome dance on Clarke Island. Photograph Kym Smith

On the way to Clarke Island Glen Doyle gave the members a wonderful talk about Sydney Harbour’s Indigenous history. He pointed out Bennelong’s famous headland and told us the Gadigal name for Circular Quay – Warrang. He talked about the skills of Aboriginal women fishing from their nawi in the harbour and many other stories of of the traditional owners of Sydney.

We disembarked at Clarke Island – part of the Sydney Habour National Park – and Glen took us on a tour around the island pointing out some native plants and trees and their uses. He then performed several dances and we returned to Darling Harbour. The members I spoke with were all raving about what an enjoyable trip and a great learning experience it was and asking when we could organise another one!

Photograph by Kym Smith

Saltwater Visions

Every small bit of sea has a name
– Djambawa Marawili

During National Reconciliation Week (27 May to 3 June), after extensive negotiations between Traditional Owners and the Federal and Northern Territory governments, it was announced that about 4000 square kilometres of ocean was added to the Dhimurru Indigenous Protected Area in North East Arnhem Land.

The Dhimurru Indigenous Protected Area was originally declared in November 2000. It covered an area of coastline and hinterland country on the western edge of the Gulf of Carpentaria –  part of the traditional lands of the Yolŋu people. Importantly, a large area of sea country is now included. 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.