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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An Australian Stonehenge?

Eel trap

A traditional Aboriginal woven eel trap made by Yvonne Koolmatrie in 1991. The trap is made from a bundle of sedge reed stems coiled with a loop stitch. Yvonne Koolmatrie is from the Ngarrindjeri community in South Australia. Traps such as these were used in conjunction with complex stone arrangements. Reproduced courtesy of Yvonne Koolmatrie ANMM Collection 00015871


Traditional owners will find out next month if their push for a 6,000-year-old network of eel traps in south-west Victoria is to be supported for inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The eel-farms were built by the Gunditjmara people in south west Victoria to manage eels in Lake Condah and nearby Darlot Creek. They are among the earliest surviving examples of aquaculture in the world.

The eel farms cover more than 75 square kilometres and include artificial channels and ponds for separating eels, as well as smoking trees for preserving the eels for export to other parts of Australia. Just to be clear, this industry and the complex of stone arrangements including houses began around 6,000 years ago – before Stonehenge and the Pyramids.

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