Putting the ‘classic’ into classic wooden boats: the Halvorsen dynasty

A collection of Halvorsen vessels at the 2012 Classic and Wooden Boat Festival. Image: ANMM.

A collection of Halvorsen vessels at the 2012 Classic and Wooden Boat Festival. Image: ANMM.

Over four generations, Halvorsen boats have become revered collectors’ items. A Halvorsen craft is an example of master boatbuilding, and several of them will be in attendance at the Classic & Wooden Boat Festival 2016.

Continue reading

The End of a Watermark: Changes to our Permanent Gallery

Watermarks exhibition gallery, when it opened. Image: ANMM.

Watermarks exhibition gallery, when it opened. Image: ANMM.

The museum is undergoing an exciting change to its permanent galleries. After more than 15 years, on 29 February the Watermarks Gallery set its sails for the last time (pardon the pun). The gallery first opened in 2001 and told the story of how water and the ocean plays a vital role in the lives of all Australians and how the coast has inspired our recreational lives.

Our new permanent gallery exhibition, ULTIMATE DEPTH: James Cameron’s Deepsea Challenge, will open in late 2016. Continue reading

Mark your calendars for the Classic and Wooden Boat Festival 2016

The Ena, a fine example of Edwardian elegance. Photo by Andrew Frolows/ANMM.

The Ena, a fine example of Edwardian elegance. Image: Andrew Frolows/ANMM.

The Classic and Wooden Boat Festival, April 15 to 17 2016.

The answer to the question ‘what is a classic boat?’ will be on display over the weekend on 15th to 17th April at the Australian National Maritime Museum, where The Classic and Wooden Boat Festival will have over 100 craft that show the diversity that fits this title.

One of the most easily identified classic vessels will be the steam yacht Ena. It features high class Edwardian elegance throughout and the sight of this fine craft steaming along, cutter bow carving through the water, a gently curving sheer, raked lines to the superstructure and a long overhang aft are all hallmarks of what most would consider classic without question.

Continue reading

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

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

Day One: Nawi – Exploring Australia’s Indigenous watercraft

Shoalhaven canoe project

Shoalhaven canoe project presentation with Steve Russell, Noel Lonesborough and Jim Wallis

At the close of a fantastic first day of the Nawi conference here at the Australian National Maritime Museum, we thought we would share some impressions and snippets from the event.

While there are a wide variety of people, ways of teaching, storytelling and of sharing information here at this event, there are some vital common threads emerging through the presentations of our speakers.

Alison Page, Executive Officer of the Saltwater Freshwater Arts Alliance, opened today’s proceedings with a heartfelt speech about the importance of a revival of traditional cultural practices. She articulated that the passing on of knowledge and traditions to the next generation is what provides them with identity, strength, confidence and a sense of their place in the world.

During morning tea John Moriarty gave an inspiring talk, as photographs of his childhood were projected onto the wall behind him. John spoke of how he was taken from his family and his home as a child, but that he treasures the early years of his life spent in the bush, learning traditional practices such as canoe building that gave him a sense of identity as an Aboriginal person. He too reiterated the importance of passing this knowledge through the generations before it is lost.

Aboriginal artist, Jonathan Jones, discussed the centrality of traditional watercraft within his artwork and how it translates beyond two-dimensional works, and into the realm of sculpture. He plans to travel down the Murrumbidgee River to learn more about watercraft and the surrounding culture and lands.

Daryl Wesley’s presentation brought an archaeological perspective to the conference with his examination of maritime images in the rock art of Arnhem Land. He also provided some information on the different chronological frameworks used to assist in dating such as changes of style in the art and – of all things – beeswax!

As an example of intergenerational knowledge sharing in action, Cameron Cope and Steaphan Paton presented on their arts collaboration ‘Boorun’s Canoe’. This project followed Steaphan and his family as his grandfather taught them the traditional art of building a canoe. Steaphan stressed the importance of the canoe as transport, as a way of life and as an icon in the origin story of the Gunaikurnai people. The passing of this heritage from one generation to the next continues the past into the future, so that the story never ends. Revitalising, reawakening and renewing.

Some of the bark canoes used on the harbour on Wednesday night

Some of the bark canoes used on the harbour on Wednesday night

Canoe making presentations dominated the third session and the day closed off with a canoe making demonstration and a dinner on the rooftop terrace of Pyrmont Bridge Hotel.

For more information on these talks, and the many other fantastic speakers who attended the first day please see our website.

Nicole Cama and Penny Hyde

Curatorial assistants

Boorun’s Canoe

Who was Boorun?

Boorun was a pelican, the first of the Gunnai/Kurnai people who came to Gippsland. When Boorun first travelled to the area, he carried with him a bark canoe. As he walked, Boorun heard a tapping sound coming from his canoe. At the deep water inlets, Boorun stopped and turning over his canoe he discovered, much to his surprise, that there was a woman in it. She was Tuk, the musk duck and she became his wife and mother of the Gunnai/Kurnai people.

Indigenous artist Steaphan Paton

Indigenous artist Steaphan Paton

Boorun’s Canoe is the title of an indigenous cultural arts collaboration by artist Steaphan Paton, his grandfather Uncle Albert Mullet and photographic artist Cameron Cope.

The project tells the story of Gunai/Kurnai elder Uncle Albert Mullet as he teaches his grandson Steaphan Paton and other young men in his family how to build a traditional bark canoe. The project captures the canoe’s creation through to its successful floating by Steaphan and his family, and in doing so highlights the importance of transferring intergenerational knowledge and the preservation of cultural traditions and pride.

Boorun the Pelican, our Gunai ancestor, came to Gippsland carrying a bark canoe on his head. Canoes are part of our story of who we are and where we come from. I want to respect my ancestors by continuing the tradition of canoe-making and safeguard it for future generations.  Aboriginal Artist Steaphan Paton.

Steaphan Paton, Uncle Albert Mullet and Cameron Cope will be among the speakers presenting at the conference Nawi : Exploring Australia’s Indigenous Watercraft which begins at the Australian National Maritime Museum during Reconciliation Week and runs from 30 May to 1 June. The conference will look at First Australians’ long and continued connections with watercraft. Some highlights will be artist talks and hands-on canoe making workshops.

The conference commences on Wednesday evening when a number of bark canoes from around the country, lit by traditional fires, will make their way from the museum’s wharves into Darling Harbour. You can still register to come along and participate in this conference, and hear the full story of Boorun’s Canoe.

Penny Hyde

Curatorial assistant

Canoe building in Sydney

Last Wednesday’s fine weather had everyone out enjoying it if they could. For me and 10 others, it was perfect for nawi construction. We were building more tied-bark canoes, probably the first ones to be built on the shores of Sydney Harbour in well over a century.

I was down at Blackwattle Bay, working with an all Indigenous group made up of  members from Tribal Warrior Association’s Youth Mentor Group, their CEO Shane Phillips, and from National Parks and Wildlife Service NSW, Dean Kelly, Aboriginal Cultural Liaison Officer, three of his team and Elder Uncle Keith from La Perouse.

This was another step in the museum’s commitment to working with and supporting Indigenous communities. For me, it was an opportunity to learn from the group and to share the knowledge of building nawis that I’ve built up over the past 12 months. There is still a lot that is not known about the craft and has to be discovered by practical experience.

The bark was already there – my previous blog about my Bateman’s Bay adventure tells that story – so we started with an introduction, just talking about the bark. The most important thing is to understand the life and spirit captured in the bark; it’s a living part of the tree. The capillaries that carry the nutrients, created by leaves, form the fibres and strength of the bark we were going to use. It has life that we can put into our nawi.

Photo of

A fire is lit to heat up the bark

We then got into the practical side. We cleaned off the loose bark, stripped the ends down to make them thinner for folding, pulled long strips off for ties, set up a fire, shaped some wooden pegs… there was something for everyone to work on.

We laid the first end of the bark over the fire within 40 minutes of starting, and 20 minutes later the heat was doing its job. So the folding team took their sides as the sheet was removed.

Hands on each side we grabbed the edges and folded it in and then back on itself. Another person at the front kept things aligned and got the middle ready to take its final crease, while the ‘lasso man’ tightened the rope to secure it all in place. On with the rope, then back off as we realigned the folds, then a final heave and we had an end in place, rising up as it should!

Photo of

We begin to tie the second end of the canoe.

Next, a blueberry ash peg was hammered through, holding the folds in place as strips of bark were lashed around to complete the process. We then turned the bark, heated it over the fire and did it all again, this time for the cameras. SBS and ABC had each sent a crew to capture the action.

Watching over the process was Redfern’s Police liaison officer, he had come down to see what the boys were up to, and staff from the museum had come across as well to see what these projects I have been doing actually involve.

Photo of

Tying the ends of the bark canoe

The final step was to fit a support structure, to push the sides out and give it a bit more shape and strength. Afterwards the TV crew interviewed us, keen to hear what everyone thought of the process.

We formed the ends on the second bark and called it a day. We were happy to have got this far, and in good shape to finish the second canoe in the coming days.  A big tidy up followed, nawi building seems to develop a lot of loose material – dead bark, strips off the inside of the bark, leaves and twigs off branches, firewood. All signs of productive activity and the restoration of a significant cultural activity – nawi building on Sydney Harbour.

David Payne
Curator, Australian Register of Historic Vessels

The Nawi conference is only a few weeks away! Over two days 31 May – 1 June, people from all over Australia will gather to explore Australia’s indigenous watercraft though a series of talks, demonstrations and performance. You can register on our website.

Photo of

Complete bark canoe on top of car

Hidden gems rediscovered – Wharf 7 comes to life with stories of Australia’s maritime past

Concealed in the storage rooms of the Australian National Maritime Museum’s Wharf 7 Maritime Heritage Centre in Pyrmont, are thousands of objects within the collection waiting to be unearthed for exhibition. Only a privileged few gain access to these areas and much of the collection has remained undiscovered by visitors to the museum…until now.

Bales of wool being loaded on board Magdalene Vinnen March 1933
Samuel J Hood Studio
ANMM Collection

The museum has developed this project, in association with Sydney Heritage Fleet, to exhibit an array of objects not available for viewing in the museum. Photographs depicting commercial shipping, sailing races and seaside workers adorn the walls. One example is an image of the visit of the German steel barque Magdalene Vinnen, highlighting the vibrant maritime scene of Woolloomooloo wharf in 1933.

Watercraft from the Australian Register of Historic Vessels (ARHV) seem to float on air, carefully poised in the foyer area. Social and cultural icons of Sydney Harbour such as skiffs, dinghies and rowing shells are featured. The 18-foot skiff Yendys, which was restored to its former glory between 1977 and 1982, appears majestic with its discernible anchor ensign emblazoned on its sails. Also displayed is a scale model of the hull and keel of Ben Lexcen’s ‘secret weapon’, Australia’s famous 1983 America’s Cup winner, Australia II.

Pyrmont and the waters surrounding it also contain a fascinating Indigenous cultural heritage, steeped in the traditions of the Gadigal people. Drawings from the early 1800s illustrate Aboriginal people using rock shelters under cliffs and cooking fish caught in bark canoes or nawi.

All these stories add to Australia’s diverse social and cultural history. They also allow more of the museum’s precious gems to be unveiled in a way that both captures the essence of our maritime past and inspires our imagination.

On 30 May, the museum is hosting the first conference on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander watercraft, Nawi.

For more information on the museum’s development of the ARHV, in consultation with Sydney Heritage Fleet, click here.

Nicole Cama, curatorial assistant

Yendys, 1924
restored 1977-1982
Sydney Heritage Fleet
Photographer: Zoe McMahon ANMM

Tank-test model 5854B scale model of hull and keel of Australia II 1981
ANMM Collection
Photographer: Zoe McMahon ANMM

Wharf 7 redevelopment
Photographer: Zoe McMahon ANMM

Collecting bark for more canoes

Monday, 30 April and I am on a mission to collect bark for more Indigenous canoe projects, this time it will be working with Tribal Warrior Association’s Youth Mentor Group. Getting bark is not a simple ‘go to the shop’ process – it needs permission, planning, and manpower. Paul Carriage Cultural Liaison Officer from Forests NSW (FNSW) and a member of the Ulladulla Local Aboriginal land Council helped provide all three of these things. It needs timing too – its best with wet ground that keeps the trees moist so the bark will lift, this came courtesy of El Nino and the rain we have had over the past months. And it needs a day on the road and in the bush. Meeting Paul mid-morning I followed him into the Boyne State Forest about 10 minutes north of Batemans Bay, cruising along the dirt road and pulling off to let the logging trucks through.

Felling a tree

Dave Mills from FNSW was there with his truck, ready to fell and haul out the logs we would need, and Paul’s organisation had rounded up a team of helpers from MogoLALC, including Elder Uncle Tom Butler. For me it was chance to catch up with Paul, Dave, Uncle Tom, James and Cameron who had been there for the Ulladulla workshop, but there was not much time to socialise after Dave felled the first yellow stringy bark and brought out a four metre long trunk to a clearing down the track.

Stripping bark from tree

Safety first as Paul noted the rules, and then cut a slit down the bark on the trunk. Next Paul showed us how to pound the bark with the back of an axe. This made the bark spring off the hard, woody interior, and if the timing is right and the tree is moist, it comes off with relatively ease. For us we were in luck, each big hit saw a patch lift, you could feel and see it bounce up, and tapping it gave a hollow sound, so we knew where it needed an extra hit. We took turns pounding the bark, easing it off then rolling the log to get to the underside and pound away again. A long pinch bar helped prise it back gently, and helped roll the heavy log.

Stripping bark from tree

After 10 minutes of heavy axe work and two people working together, we rolled the log out of the bark. This was going much better than anticipated as some of Paul’s previous experience had been measured in hours. Dave felled three more trees, and we had the barks off almost as quickly. The Mogo team laid their barks out and went straight into peeling off the loose exterior bark that would not be needed on the canoe hull. Meanwhile I rolled up the two I had helped pound off and we strapped them to a frame I had tied to the roof racks. I also collected saplings for branches needed to support the sides, tied them on, and then taped a red shopping bag onto the overhanging limbs.

Loading bark onto back of truck

By 2 pm we had cleared out and I was on the Princess Highway heading north, sore but satisfied and looking forward to a coffee in Berry!  Soon there should be canoes….. Keep watching this space.

Bark rolls on top of car

David Payne
Curator, Australian Register of Historic Vessels

Workshop on model watercraft

Flinders University, 29/30 March 2012

I am recently back from coastal Port Noarlunga on the Onkaparinga River south of Adelaide, where I held a two day workshop building models of Australian Indigenous watercraft.

Sponsored by Flinders University and coordinated by lecturer Jennifer McKinnon, I worked with 10 archaeology and maritime archaeology students, exploring the construction of different types of watercraft at scale and using this to discuss the background of the craft, plus the many aspects of indigenous  culture that are expressed through their diverse variety of canoes and rafts.

Participants of model building workshop in backyard

This was a workshop with a few differences; it was outside the classroom in a backyard, it was hands-on, it had fire, there were scones and Arnott’s assorted biscuits,  and there were no handouts or notes to take home.

One the key concepts of  Indigenous  watercraft construction was that the knowledge of their design and construction was handed on by word of mouth and demonstration, so I kept to that process, and the students took home the information in their heads and in their models.

We started sitting in a circle and talking about the background to the craft, the loss of the ‘canoe culture’ that once existed on many waterways, the diversity of craft around the country, and how I had got involved in all of this. Then we went to work using the samples of bark that Keryn Walshe, from South Australian Museum, had been able to source some days beforehand. Each model type began with me demonstrating the construction method then everyone had a go themselves.

Two workshop participants building model bark canoe

The process worked – watching, listening and questioning. The students took in the ideas and quickly produced models, sometimes taking them apart and improving them at a second go.   Throughout the two days we learnt about using materials in sympathy with what they could do, and we learnt about using and adapting what was around us too, seeking plants and parts of them from our backyard and kerbside surroundings to make ties, ropes, caulking and support structure.   We put them over a fire to dry them out and singe off the loose fibres,  used the spikes off Phoenix palm fronds as needles, saved twigs and branches form the fire wood pile to build rafts, all the time  sharing ideas and results.

Seven model bark canoes

As the workshop drew to a close we had five different types represented;   nawi or tied-bark canoes from south-east Australian coast, derrkas from Arnhem Land made famous by 10 Canoes, a walba raft from Mornington island, a rolled bark canoe from Tasmania, and a ‘shopping trolley’ type of towed raft based on an example I had seen in the National Museum of Australia’s collection.  We also had ideas forming for the next time- more model types, maybe larger ones too, and additional materials that could be useful.

Workshop participants with model bark canoes

To wrap up the two days I did a lecture in the city on Friday evening about the Australian Register of Historic Vessels ending with its focus on Indigenous watercraft and the forthcoming Nawi conference. Hope to see you all there!

David Payne
Curator, Australian Register of Historic Vessels

Nawi news: Display of historic images

From Wednesday 4 April the full exhibition of Nawi – Exploring Australia’s Indigenous Watercraft will be opened for viewing in the lead up to the conference on indigenous watercraft in late May. The exhibition features Saltwater Freshwater bark paintings, technical drawings of a raft and a dugout canoe, and historic images from a 1929 mining company visit to Cockatoo and Koolan islands of the Buccaneer Archipelago off the Kimberley coast in WA.

The images on display are sourced from a photo album acquired by the museum several years ago at an auction in the United Sates. Considered important for the images of Aboriginal people it held, the album was compiled by an Australian mining company during a series of mining survey expeditions to the Kimberley in 1929 and 1930. The company photographed potential iron ore deposits – for which the Kimberley have since become renowned – and carefully placed the photographs into an album, with handwritten labels.

But the photographers lens quickly turned from the rocky outcrops of ore to the local people who were guiding them. Most of the album is taken up with shots of Dambimangari and Mayala people. Like many European Australians in Australia’s north and west in the early 20th century, the photographer was obviously fascinated with the traditional lifestyles of Aboriginal people.

Two kalwas loaded for a sea journey

The album is full of images of people hunting, fishing, and catching turtle and dugong. Importantly for the Nawi conference, there are several photographs of people in canoes and rafts. With the permission of the Traditional Owners of Cockatoo and Koolan islands, these images of watercraft will be on public display for the first time.

Nawi conference registrations now open

We are thrilled to announce that delegate registrations for the conference Nawi – Exploring Australia’s Indigenous watercraft are now open. If you register before 31 March, you will receive the early bird rate.

This first major conference exploring the watercraft of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples will bring together people from all over Australia to share their knowledge, skills and stories. Over two days, we will explore Australia’s Indigenous watercraft through talks, demonstrations, performances and workshops.

We’ve added a few of the conference highlights on our website, so head on over and check it out. More information will be added as the program is finalised – it’s sure to be a fantastic few days!

Group photo of canoe builders

Recent canoe building workshop in Ulladulla, NSW

Conference dates

Wednesday 30 May
Evening welcome function

Thursday 31 May – Friday 1 June
Conference program

Conference location

Australian National Maritime Museum, Sydney

Delegate fees

Early bird (before 31 March) $220
Concession rate $165
Full rate $275

You can register for the conference online now.

We look forward to seeing you there!

Bark canoe takes a ride

David Payne (our resident bark canoe expert) received a few strange looks driving into work today with this bark canoe strapped to the top of his car!

Bark canoe atop a car

The canoe was made by James Dodd for an exhibition at the State Library of NSW some time ago and was given to David by James. The bark was sourced from Batemans Bay, so it’s only fitting that the canoe is returned to its place of origin, this being the reason it has been brought to the museum today.

Through David’s work on the Nawi indigenous watercraft conference, he has been talking with people all around Australia, including contacts in Batemans Bay, who are more than happy to take this particular craft off his hands for the Batemans Bay community to enjoy. The canoe is due to be picked up this afternoon and transported down the NSW south coast… so keep an eye out if you happen to be travelling that way!

Registrations for the conference Nawi  – Exploring Australia’s indigenous watercraft will be open soon. We’ll keep you in the loop via this blog or you can sign up to the Nawi enewsletter for alerts about registrations and conference developments.