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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)!
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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!
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
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