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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Goodwill to all

Henry Bowers' handmade Christmas tree, Cape Evans 1911.  Courtesy of the Scott Polar Research Institute.

Henry Bowers’ handmade Christmas tree, Cape Evans 1911.  Courtesy of the Scott Polar Research Institute.

As the year crawls to its inevitable end and we turn our thoughts to Christmas, it is important to keep things in perspective as the trials of the season also begin to appear. Usually, these occur doing the early stages of Christmas travel. The trips we so eagerly planned mid-year start becoming a reality as we hit the waterways, roads and airways for the ‘break’ we have been anticipating. Somehow in our planning, we conveniently forget the crowded Pacific Highway or the moorings that are hard to secure in our favourite ‘secret’ bay. The airport queues seem longer this year and we are again surprised that so many other people seem to have had the same idea as us. No matter what tales of Christmas travel woe you’ve endured this season, rest assured, someone has had it worse than you. In fact in 1911 a journey was undertaken that became known as ‘The Worst Journey in the World’.

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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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The Maritime Museum tour : ‘Celebes Sailors, Ships and Spice’

You haven’t seen Indonesia until you have been to South Sulawesi.

Our group of 14 intrepid ANMM members set off on 2nd June with our leader Jeffrey Mellefont, five Indonesian guides and a driver for a two week adventure tracking the history of the Makassan/Bugi forays to Northern Australia in search of the Trepang, the building of the pinisi wooden boats and the magic culture of South Sulawesi.

Photo courtesy of fellow traveller Robert Osmond

Photo courtesy of fellow traveller Robert Osmond

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Walking in Hall’s footsteps

Two men and a dog on the Hawkesbury c 1900, Photographer: William Hall
ANMM Collection

Ever since the museum joined Flickr Commons in 2008, we have gleaned a wealth of invaluable information related to photographic items from the collection. Flickr users have scanned images noticing the tiniest details, such as barely discernible ship names and locations. With their generous help we have been able to attach names to faces, found their stories and retold them with the aid of stunning photography particularly from the Samuel J Hood and William J Hall collections. One such example of the power of the Flickr Commons community was in the investigation of the Hall photographs of the lower Hawkesbury River region taken around 1900. A simple comment left by a Flickr user lead to correspondence with a historical society in an effort to learn more about the photographs. This was followed by a personal quest to explore Hall’s Hawkesbury and imagine what travelling the area may have been like for the man with the glass plate camera. Continue reading

Meet Inger Sheil, our in-house Titanic expert

Inger SheilMeet Inger Sheil, the personal assistant to the museum’s director and  Titanic researcher. Over the next week, Inger will recall an epic journey of discovery and research that’s occupied much of her life… We hope you enjoy.

Spending a childhood on Sydney’s northern beaches, the sea was a part of daily life. My grandmother shared my taste for documentaries, and together we’d watch Jacques Cousteau explore the world’s oceans. The first shipwreck I encountered on screen, however, was not the one that can lay claim to being the most infamous of all, but the more recent Andrea Dorea. As it lay in depths accessible to scuba divers, I watched in fascination as they explored the submerged wreck, and listened to the dramatic stories of survivors who described the terrible collision that sank her in 1956 off Nantucket, Massachusetts.

It was this human element that was to draw me to the Titanic some years later when I was introduced to the story of that great tragedy of the Belle Époque. A second-grade school friend showed me a book, and the outline of the famous story began to solidify for me – the lack of sufficient lifeboats, the ‘unsinkable’ reputation, the wealthy who were able to take lifeboat places when the third-class passengers could not. It would be many years before I found that the truth was not quite so simple, but the broad brushstrokes were there. Tucked into my childhood ephemera is a sketch I made in the journal I kept as a seven year old. Stick figures play out the story on a ship pitched at a dramatic 75 degrees to the sea’s surface, with terrified passengers and crew handing small children down to mothers in lifeboats. A sequel illustration of the scene ashore shows dripping survivors demanding their money back from ticket agents. Growing up, I picked up books on the subject where I could. I had just moved to Singapore when the Titanic was rediscovered in 1985. The challenges of a new school in a new country couldn’t compete with the fascination of the Time magazine cover painting of the lost ship on the ocean floor. With my interest reignited, I was able to locate such classics as Walter Lord’s vividly narrated A Night to Remember. But access to information was limited to some books and the occasional television program. No one in my immediate circle shared the fascination.

All this changed in 1996 when I first gained access to the internet. It enabled me to track down and order books and magazines on the subject from around the world, and to contact other enthusiasts. My bookshelf was soon creaking with the works of over 80 years of writing on the subject, and I became absorbed in online discussions about every aspect of the ship, from the minutiae of the lives of those connected with it to the placement of its rivets.

In fact it was the social history that most interested me. It was not so much the passengers – that cross-section of Edwardian British and American society along with immigrants from around the globe – but rather her crew that drew me in. These were the men and women for whom Titanic wasn’t a means of flitting from one continent to the other or a vehicle to a new life in a foreign land, but a career and a way of life on the sea.

– Inger Sheil

Antarctic voyage winner…

During last year’s exhibition Scott’s Last Expedition, we ran a competition to win a trip for two to Antarctica with Orion Expeditions. We received over 6,000 entries over four months!

Out of those entries we have a winner! Congratulations Nicole!

Antarctic Voyage winner

Nicole came to see Scott’s Last Expedition with her boyfriend and his parents, who were visiting Sydney. Nicole and her boyfriend are frequent visitors to the museum, so were thrilled to find out she’d won.

Nicole is 25 years old and works locally in Pyrmont. She likes to travel and recently came home from a holiday in South-East Asia, so is really excited that she now has another holiday coming up to plan for.

The prize she won is a Junior Suite for two people on the ‘Scott and Shackleton’s Antarctica – Ross Sea’ expedition from Orion Expeditions, departing 25 January 2013 (valued at just under $60,000).  This voyage covers some of the polar regions famously charted during the first race to the South Pole by pioneering explorers Scott and Shackleton 100 years ago. Nicole will voyage across the Ross Sea coast which extends from the ice shelf northwards until it reaches the very tip of Victoria Land and Cape Adare. The trip will also take in the sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island with its large colonies of penguins and elephant seals and Campbell Island. Having seen the recreation of the hut in the museum’s exhibition Scott’s Last Expedition, Nicole will have the opportunity to visit the real hut at Cape Evans as well as Shackleton’s hut at Cape Royds.

 Nicole’s first question when she found out was what she needed to pack!

 Of course the next question is: Who will you take with you Nicole? I know of a certain ‘someone’ who would love to go to Antarctica…*wink* *wink*

Scott’s Last Expedition is now open at the Natural History Museum, London until 2 September 2012. It will then travel to the Canterbury Museum, NZ. It was developed through a collaboration between Natural History Museum, Canterbury Museum and Antarctic Heritage Trust NZ.


Where’s Drifty? HMB Endeavour news from the road


Craig on the open road

Craig on the open road

Hello, my name is Craig and am part of the HMB Endeavour Circumnavigation team. As HMB Endeavour makes her way around Australia, my role is to transport the gear we need for port visits. For the last four months I’ve called the HMB Endeavour truck home, and have followed the journey from Sydney, up the east coast of Australia, and am now headed for Darwin.

I had the truck serviced in Cairns, (it’s first – 5000km) before heading back to Townsville to begin the long trek west. After three full days driving from the east coast I am now at Barkley’s Roadhouse – a little oasis about six hours west of Mount Isa and about three hours east of Tennant Creek. I expect another two full day’s drive to reach Darwin, but it may be three days.

HMB Endeavour Truck

HMB Endeavour Truck

All is going well – the truck is performing magnificently, the weather has been excellent and the worst of the roads is now behind me, and folks, some stretches of highway have been absolutely horrendous (it’s not the potholes you have to look out for; it’s the road trains that are parked in them).

I will keep in touch, but in the meantime have included a few snaps of my voyage.

Craig, HMB Endeavour Shipkeeper (aka Drifty)

Have you seen the HMB Endeavour truck on the open road?

HMB Endeavour on the open road

The open road