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Bianca Beetson

Advance Australia Fair


Kabi Kabi artist Bianca Beetson dresses herself as James Cook and refers to the children’s folklore song Captain Cook chased a chook, to suggest the Australian larrikin nature and need to parody people in positions of power. She also employs Aboriginal Black/Blak humour which is often used to discuss difficult issues. Her work deals with the cultural and personal impact of Cook’s voyage and what it means to be Australian. The mocking incorporation of Advance Australia Fair is a reference to contentious expressions of nationalism such as the ‘White Australia’ policy and the more recent Cronulla riots. Beetson includes a bunya pine to affirm the Kabi Kabi people’s long term cultural connections to country through the significant bunya gatherings. Beetson’s ‘obsession’ with dressing up is also a homage to her larrikin grandmother who was sent to work as a domestic. When left alone to babysit the station owners’ children she would dress them in her employers’ wives’ clothes and teach them Aboriginal language which she was forbidden to speak.


As an assimilated fair skinned black woman, the work also makes a statement about living in my skin and comfort and discomfort, not black enough to live in a black world but too black to live in a white world – so creating new characters and identities for ourselves.  Dreaming Big and believing we can be anything we want to be. I have become the physicality of reconciliation in Australia.


Bianca Beetson

Bianca Beetson

Advance Australia Fair 2014

Digital Media | 40 x 24 cm

Michael Cook

Undiscovered #4,


Michael Cook’s Undiscovered series unsettles the notion of ‘discovering’ Australia – an idea which is central to historical narratives surrounding James Cook’s Australian voyage. The artist re-envisages the encounter by presenting an Aboriginal man as an imaginary explorer who confidently surveys the land before him.  By reversing expected roles, Michael Cook asks us to consider how the encounter may have been different had Cook and others had been able to see through the eyes of Aboriginal people and to understand Indigenous culture and law. What position would Indigenous people have been in if the land was not perceived as ‘undiscovered’?















Michael Cook

Undiscovered #7,


The uniformed Aboriginal man from Undiscovered #4 has shed the trappings of ‘civilisation’ that he bore so proudly, although he still carries the British flag which trails behind him, perhaps suggesting the impact of this other culture. Accompanied by a crocodile, he is immersed in his environment, walking it and allowing it to replenish as he heads into an open future.  Through his imaginative, often ambiguous images, Michael Cook shifts perspectives on James Cook’s encounters with Aboriginal people to question how these events might be perceived in other ways and with alternative outcomes.
















Michael Cook

Broken Dreams #3


What does it mean to take on another culture? Michael Cook evokes the experiences of a young Aboriginal woman who imagines herself within the faraway world she has encountered as a consequence of colonisation. She is not fearful of the colonisers and wants to try on what she has seen. Although she immerses herself in their culture, the vivid presence of a hovering rainbow lorikeet is a reminder of her connection to country and her true culture. The artist also suggests that while the look of someone – their clothing, hairstyles and accessories – might seem to signify sophistication and civilisation – there are many forms of deep knowledge that do not require such outer signs to express their inner value.

Michael Cook

Undiscovered #7 2010

Inkjet print on Hahnemuhle paper, ed. 3/8 | 124 x 100 cm

Courtesy of Andrew Baker Art Dealer & Dianne Tanzer Gallery + Projects

Michael Cook

Broken Dreams #3 2010

Inkjet print on Hahnemuhle paper, ed. 3/8 | 124 x 100 cm

Courtesy of Andrew Baker Art Dealer & Dianne Tanzer Gallery + Projects

Michael Cook

Undiscovered #4 2010

Inkjet print on Hahnemuhle paper, ed. 3/8 | 124 x 100 cm

Courtesy of Andrew Baker Art Dealer & Dianne Tanzer Gallery + Projects

Neil Healey

Sower of Nails


Neil Healey looks at the idea of exchange as the language of encounter. He presents Cook as a mythical figure who casts nails on the empty shoreline in a gesture reminiscent of Millet’s 19th century painting Sower. Gifts were used as a form of communication by Cook and his crew and a means of accessing the land and its people. However, the Europeans’ trinkets were of little interest to Aboriginal people. Cook casts his offerings with a grand gesture yet he does not look directly into the land or towards the people with whom he wishes to engage.  In this way Healey suggests the idea of miscommunication.


Standing in his own blue reflection, one arm behind his back and poker-faced he casts an offering of nails to the white sand – bright, shiny objects to be used as a first step in building and joining. And because there is no forthcoming offer of a hammer to drive them, they become little more than ornaments. So he casts them to the sands and waits for them to take root. But every individual trinket was ignored - viewed with suspicion – and left untouched. Mingling incongruously with whatever the waves may bring over time.


Neil Healey



Neil Healey

First Light

Neil Healey

Sower of Nails 2014

Acrylic, ink, pencil & collage on board | 100 x 75 cm

Adam Hill

We've boundless pains to share


Adam Hill’s series of photographs, Pulling the Wool Over One’s Eyes, is a response to the site of the ‘first landing’ at Kamay/Botany Bay. Hill considers the impact of Cook’s landing by focusing on the present. His photos contain signs of industrial civilisation yet they are revealing through absence as each image shows no indication that there ever were Aboriginal people here. The artist comments on cultural exclusion in this photo. He says: When viewed through eyes that we've become accustomed to, we note a foreign scenario. Ordinarily we associate fishing as a revered Aussie past-time. However for aeons this place had provided successive groups of clanspersons fresh food aplenty. Hill is questioning what it means to be foreign and assumptions about connections with place.




Adam Hill

One Eyed Viewpoint


Hill’s images include markers and monuments to Cook’s arrival and achievements, however the title of this work suggests that history has privileged those who have come to this place rather than those who have long been here.
















Adam Hill

Barbiquaria


Hill presents an ironic reclamation of Kamay in Barbiquaria. We are presented with a quintessentially Australian image – a picnic area with mown lawns, sheltered barbeque and distant seascape. However the title refers to the 1986 satirical film BabaKiueria (Barbeque Area) which upturns expected historical narratives. The film tells of the land of BabaKiueria which is peopled by white Australians who engage in stereotypical activities. It reveals the consequences for local people when their land is invaded by uniformed Aboriginal people. By linking to this incisive film, Hill disrupts fixed ideas of ‘Australianness’ and ‘foreignness’ and comments on the impact of colonisation.

Adam Hill

We’ve boundless pains to share 2013

Photographic prints on Hahnemühle Photo Rag Ultra Smooth | 48 x 61 cm

Adam Hill

Barbiquaria 2013

Photographic prints on Hahnemühle Photo Rag Ultra Smooth | 48 x 61 cm

Adam Hill

One Eyed Viewpoint 2013

Photographic print on Hahnemühle Photo Rag Ultra Smooth | 48 x 61 cm

Peter Hudson

Meeting at Cooktown, 1770


While the Endeavour underwent repairs at Cooktown, a young crew member became terrified when he came across a flying fox for the first time. He reported to Cook and Banks that he had seen the devil. Peter Hudson imagines that for local clans the Endeavour’s arrival must have been as mystifying and frightening as the flying fox was to the young sailor. Hudson’s painting evokes a meeting of two distinctive world views. He juxtaposes the indigenous flying fox with a cube, encasing the tropical waters of Cooktown, which represents the pale skin strangers with their strange ways, their technology and science.
































Peter Hudson

Grassy Hill, Cooktown


A sense of two views is captured in this painting and Neil Murray’s accompanying poem. It depicts a place where Cook stood several times to observe the weather, to look for shoals and gaps in the reef and to gaze outwards judging his chances of a safe departure. Murray’s verse speaks of local Aboriginal people also standing on this point and witnessing the Endeavour limping into view.


This picture was the last painting I made before leaving Cooktown. On that overcast windy day it was a real battle from start to finish. To avoid being blown off the side of the hill, I had to tie my easel and gear down to rocks and trees. A few times I felt like giving in to the relentless gusting wind. This painting was made in June, 2011. It has always been a personal favourite. I feel there is spirit and memory in the paint. Of course I didn't realise then, but I was painting at the exact time of year that Cook stood on this very same hill 241 years ago. There in the painting is the golden wattle that bloomed at this time and the wind howling over grassy hill and whipping up the sea just as Cook recorded in his journal.

Peter Hudson



Peter Hudson

Round Hill Head, Bustard Bay, 1770


Hudson’s painting captures the windy conditions which Banks recorded in his journal when the explorers landed at Bustard Bay and took on fresh water. Much to Hudson’s amazement just as he was completing this work, the Endeavour replica sailed around the headland on a voyage which mirrored Cook’s original journey and timing.







































Peter Hudson

COOK & BANKS


Hudson’s work is a homage to the friendship and successful partnership of James Cook and Joseph Banks – their skills, intellect and enormous contribution to navigation and science. The work references Nathaniel Dance’s iconic portrait of Cook and provides a counterpoint to Reg Mombassa’s Jim Cook Mugshot. The accompanying text shows how Cook shifted in his understanding of Aboriginal people and how fortunate the Europeans were in bringing the Endeavour into neutral territory. Hudson wishes he had learned more about the Cooktown encounter when he was at school and so has painted the text in bright colours specifically for school children.





Peter Hudson

Indian Head


These images were made on site at Indian Head, K'gari (Fraser Island). The work is made up of two images because this place has more than one powerful and important story. Cook gave this place a new name, Indian Head, because of the many Badtjala people who were there on the high ground watching his strange vessel sail past.






















Peter Hudson

Noah's Beach near Cape Tribulation


The Endeavour struck the reef not far from this place where the wild tropical Daintree rainforest comes down to meet the sea.






















Peter Hudson

The Visitor


This work is based on a chance event recorded in Joseph Banks’ journal. Banks describes a flying fish which flew in through the open hatch of the cabin occupied by star gazing astronomer Charles Green. The fish was taken to the great cabin to be studied and drawn. Neil Murray’s accompanying poem reflects this surprising moment.



























Peter Hudson

The Spirit of the Young Quaker


This work was inspired by the beautiful botanical paintings and drawings made during cook’s voyage by artist Sydney Parkinson.  He died of dysentery at the age of 26, on the voyage home from Batavia and his body was buried at sea.


I often think of his short, but important life. Did his spirit travel home to his family in England or did it remain in the ocean? I wonder what he thought and what he dreamed. Being a Quaker, he probably had a disciplined work ethic which would have helped him get his job done. From his tiny cabin/studio on the Endeavour Parkinson produced almost 1000 paintings and drawings.


Peter Hudson

Peter Hudson

Grassy Hill, Cooktown 2011

Oil on board | 45.7 x 53.2 cm

Peter Hudson

Meeting at Cooktown 2011

Mixed Media on board | 154 x 80 cm

Peter Hudson

Round Hill Head, Bustard Bay 1770 2011

Oil on board | 45.7 x 53.2 cm

Peter Hudson

COOK & BANKS 2014

Mixed media on board | Text panels: 98 x 91.5 cm (total). Portrait panels: 112 x 117 cm (total)

Peter Hudson

Indian Head 2013

Watercolour on paper | Diptych. Top 12.8 x 41cm Below 33.5 x 44.5cm

Peter Hudson

Noah's Beach near Cape Tribulation 2011

Oil on board| 45.7 cm. x 53.2 cm

Peter Hudson

The Visitor 2013

Mixed media on paper| 67cm. x 54cm

Peter Hudson

The Spirt of the Young Quaker 2013

Water colour and wax on paper| 45 cm. x 43 cm

Neil Healey

First Light 2014

Acrylic, gouache & ink on board | 51 x 51 cm

Garth Lena

Arrival


Here, we see a group of Aboriginal people who have returned to camp laden with fish to share, gathered around to exchange stories. Lena suggests a lively communal culture sustained by the environment and the community’s custodianship of it. Considered in the context of Cook’s 1770 voyage, the title Arrival suggests the incursion of something new and foreign into this contained world.  We do not see the Endeavour but sense its presence and the impact of what will follow. Lena conveys the idea of watercraft as carrying culture and change, as the group members quietly consider what this arrival might mean for their people.
























Garth Lena

Man and Woman in a Boat


Garth Lena’s work focuses on the role of fish and watercraft in the daily life of coastal Aboriginal peoples.  Fish and watercraft also feature in the encounter story. When Cook and his crew reached Botany Bay they observed Aborginal people fishing from canoes but were surprised when the local inhabitants continued their activities, ignoring the strange visitors. In Cooktown it took time before Bama approached the Endeavour in their canoes and when the Europeans offered gifts, it was only fish which attracted their interest. Fish then became a currency of exchange and communication, because the locals returned the next day with a reciprocal gift of fish for the Europeans. 

Garth Lena

Arrival 2011

Steel and wood | 51 x 35 x 35 cm

Garth Lena

Man and Woman in Canoe 2011

Steel and wood | 24 x 34 x 35 cm

Euan Macleod

Possession Island


Euan Macleod’s painting is a response to a trip to Bedanug/Possession Island – the site where Cook ‘took possession’ of the east coast of Australia on behalf of the British monarchy. The island is presented from different perspectives in time and space, with scenes and forms that do not fit neatly together so that we try to find resolution from the multiple points of view. Downcast figures travel to the island laden with literal and metaphorical baggage. Their ‘possession’ of the land is implied by the Union Jack painting which is subtly mirrored by diagonal lines radiating out from the work’s centre. Macleod interweaves his own experience as an immigrant from New Zealand with reflections on Cook’s voyage to consider how we bring with us our own baggage, and the difficulties of adjusting to a different environment. Macleod shows us that this is a story that needs to be understood from multiple perspectives. 





Euan Macleod

Suitcases






































Euan Macleod

Arone - Possession Island






















Euan Macleod

Owner - Possession Island

Euan Macleod

Possession Island 2013

Oil on canvas | 100 x 504 cm (six panels 100 x 84 cm each)

Euan Macleod

Suitcases 2013

Oil on canvas | 100 x 84 cm

Euan Macleod

Arone - Possession Island 2013

Acrylic on paper | 38 x 58cm

Euan Macleod

Owner - Possession Island 2013

Acrylic on paper | 38 x 58cm

Gail Mabo

Constellation


Gail Mabo’s work speaks of an enduring connection to culture and country despite significant change precipitated by colonisation.


This work expresses what will always be and what always was, no matter what changes come to us. European occupation did not change the spiritual foundation of country. To narrate this truth, I have incorporated three main elements: the swirling star constellation, the ancestral spirit figures before the coming of the boats, and the boats which represent the occupation. The ghost ships were guided to Australia by the constellations in the night sky. My ancestors navigated and lived life with a deep understanding and respect for these same constellations. The swirling stars in the night sky will continue to guide my ancestors and my people for eternity.


Gail Mabo

Gail Mabo

Constellation 2014

Monoprint on paper | 59.5 x 89.5 cm

Courtesy of Monsoon Press for Umbrella Studio

Arone Meeks

First Voyage to Possession Islan*


Meeks created this work following a trip to Possession Island. He sees this site as both a physical marker of first contact and symbolic divider between our post and pre-settlement histories. He was struck by the beauty of the whole area as a living entity and connected this with his personal knowledge of the island and its many traditional uses. He produced this work as a symbolic reclamation of Possession Island. The luminous canoe represents a vehicle for travelling back to the Dreamtime.


In Australian indigenous culture, the more you talk or paint about your story or country, the stronger this connection becomes.  Through this work, I realised visually all the most important aspects of who I am and the images of great significance to me. Contained at the left, within the canoe, is the ‘guiding light’. This figure represents my elders, teachers and people who have guided me. His head is illuminated and decorated with cockatoo feathers and a glowing light that leads the way. He also carries a sacred dillybag. The second figure in the canoe is my childhood. The dillybags are symbolic of the womb and used in ceremony for young boys to become men. The third figure is the personification of ‘singing up country’. The words he sings create rivers, mountains, landmarks, rainforests and life itself. Traditionally a work of art was not alive until it had been sung and danced into existence. Above the vessel a gumtree supports an egg, a symbol of life, which contains the rainforest. Beside this is a Frigate seabird. Towards the rear of the canoe is a red circle, representing Saltwater, with a Torres Strait Island pigeon. The figure below is my mother, who is having dialogue with a Quinkin style figure from my country, Laura. Contained within the larger canoe are many smaller boats, representing the life journeys within a life. In the saltwater below the boat are irukandji jellyfish. They are also markers of the wet season and the tropics and only appear after the big wet has washed them from the safety of the creeks onto the coastline. I use the boat image as a symbol of our times both past and present to represent those who have arrived by sea and made a mark on country, for the better or worse.


Arone Meeks

*Meeks uses local spelling for ‘Possession Islan’




Arone Meeks

Study for First Voyage to Possession Islan



















Arone Meeks

Impact II

Arone Meeks

First Voyage to Possession Islan 2012

Synthetic polymer paint on canvas | 110 x 205 cm

Courtesy of Australian Art Print Network, Cooee Gallery

Arone Meeks

Study for First Voyage to Possession Islan 2012

Synthetic polymer paint on canvas | 40 x 80 cm

Courtesy of Australian Art Print Network, Cooee Gallery

Arone Meeks

Impact II 2007

Screenprint | 58 x 38 cm

Courtesy of Australian Art Print Network, Cooee Gallery

Reg Mombassa

Close Encounters of the First Kind


Reg Mombassa provides an allegorical account of the Kamay/Botany Bay encounter. He compares the overwhelming strangeness of the Endeavour’s arrival to the appearance of a battered alien spacecraft hovering ominously over a group of startled Aboriginal warriors. The massive vessel – half machine and half human with its huge staring eye – comes burdened with the weight of ‘civilisation’.  With its scowling skulls, crowded houses and factories, tangled telegraph wires and architectural icons of Sydney we are presented with a vision of what will follow.










Reg Mombassa

Jim Cook Mugshot


James Cook has come to symbolise many ideas, both positive and negative. Instead of the familiar portraits of Cook as a thoughtful, assured naval man, Reg Mombassa depicts him as a tough law breaker.  The artist presents an alternative perspective to heroic narratives of Cook’s voyages and reflects on the impact of the encounters.


It was inevitable that an enormous sun bleached barrel of potential wealth that was sparsely inhabited would be grabbed by one or another criminal gang of well armed Europeans.  These criminal gangs are called Empires. Cook may have been a decent man, a brave explorer and a relatively progressive sea captain, but he was still a gang member who was ‘executed’ by one of his victims.


Reg Mombassa

Reg Mombassa

Close Encounters of the First Kind 2013

Charcoal and coloured pencil on paper | 30 x 53 cm

Courtesy of Watters Gallery

Reg Mombassa

Jim Cook Mugshot 2013

Charcoal and coloured pencil on paper | 47 x 32 cm

Courtesy of Watters Gallery

Gordon Syron

Where The Wildflowers Once Grew


This lyrical painting presents a pre-contact vision of a flourishing land in which Indigenous people tread lightly.


The painting shows how majestic the rainforest, wildflowers and trees must have been before the coming of the white man. The clearing of trees took all the elements and goodness out of the soil. Now the wildflowers don't grow in their natural state anymore. The Land itself is sacred to me. That is why I chose to paint about it.


Gordon Syron




Gordon Syron

The Black Bastards Are Coming


Gordon Syron’s raw, ironic painting re-imagines the arrival at Kamay/Botany Bay by shifting expected roles and power relationships. Syron, like Michael Cook, is asking us to look at this historical encounter from another perspective.   He uses his art as a way of reclaiming and retelling erased Indigenous histories.


This painting highlights the need for Australia to recognise the pre-existing history/rights of Aboriginal land ownership. We must always remember our elders who fought gallantly and bravely in the Aboriginal wars to keep our land. If we don't remember and paint these stories, and teach our children this history, then who will?


Gordon Syron
















Gordon Syron

Botany Bay 1770


This peaceful scene shows Aboriginal people observing the Endeavour as it floats silently on the moonlit waters of Botany Bay. The painting documents a moment in time which changed history.

Gordon Syron

Where The Wildflowers Once Grew 2005

Oil on Belgian linen | 150 x 267 cm

Gordon Syron

The Black Bastards Are Coming 2013

Oil on canvas | 103 x 74 cm

Gordon Syron

The Black Bastards Are Coming 2013

Oil on canvas | 103 x 74 cm

Ann Thomson

Sea Passage


Ann Thomson’s canoe form with its flowing organic hull and robust metal bolts and chains presents an imagined juxtaposition of elements from Indigenous canoes and colonial ships. Beneath the hull is the speckled form of a turtle. As we look up at the work from below it is like viewing the passing of sea craft from beneath the water, just as a turtle might.  At Cooktown turtles provided nourishment for the Europeans but were at the centre of tensions when they were taken indiscriminately without permission and not shared with the local people.  It was not until a clan elder engaged in reconciliation with Cook and his crew that the situation was resolved.




Ann Thomson

Botany Bay I


This series suggests strange presences in the landscape. Ann Thomson’s semi-abstract works do not provide a literal story. Instead, they invite us to immerse ourselves in the tangle of lines, colours and textures and to allow our own imaginations to find forms such as animals, humans and birds. Fragments of crisp, precise uniforms – flashes of buttons and braids – emerge from this rugged environment like glimpses of something alien that has arrived without warning. In this way Thomson suggests the jolt of encounter experienced by Aboriginal people when Cook and his crew first set ashore at Kamay/Botany Bay.





















Ann Thomson

Botany Bay IV

Ann Thomson

Botany Bay I 2013

Collage and oil stick on paper | 30 x 21 cm

Courtesy of Olsen Irwin Gallery

Ann Thomson

Botany Bay IV 2013

Collage and oil stick on paper | 30 x 21 cm

Courtesy of Olsen Irwin Gallery

Ann Thomson

Sea Passage 2013

Palm husk, metal, turtle shell, marine twine| 115 x 190 x 46cm

Courtesy of Olsen Irwin Gallery

Judy Watson

tibberwuccum


This series of works represents the Glass House Mountains from dual perspectives – reflecting two world views. For local Indigenous people the jagged peaks represent ancestral beings and are embedded in story and ceremony. When the Endeavour sailed past in May 1770, Cook named them because of their resemblance to the Yorkshire glass furnaces or glasshouses of his homeland. The contour lines suggest topographical maps and a scientific record of place, reflecting ways that explorers such as Cook used mapping to gain an understanding of the land. Seen from another perspective, the warm ochre washes and radiating concentric lines evoke an earthy, living landscape, red with lifeblood or bloodstains. Pulsing like a heartbeat, this energised environment is interconnected with the culture, life and law of Indigenous people.









Judy Watson

beerburrum


I recall the shadowy significance of the Glass House Mountains throughout my childhood, driving past their dramatic presence, looming above us as we travelled to visit my father's family at Burrum Heads – guardian forms that observed and remained, ancestors commanding respect.


I was interested in how when Cook first saw them on the horizon they seemed significant and made an impact upon him, provoking something in his memory of the place from which he'd come. I have deliberately combined two perspectives within the work, the device of Eurocentric cartography and Aboriginal colours of ochre that echo the stain of the volcanic earth, spiralling out from the centre to the edges. I was thinking of the geological history of these weathered forms, volcanic plug remnants of a fiery past.


Judy Watson

Judy Watson

tibberwuccum 2005

Carbon and acrylic on canvas | 195 x 190 cm

Courtesy of Milani Gallery, Brisbane

Judy Watson

beerburrum 2005

Carbon and acrylic on canvas | 195 x 179 cm

Courtesy of Milani Gallery, Brisbane

Adric Watson

A Change in the Wind


Adric Watson’s film encourages us to immerse ourselves in another time and place and to reflect on this shared story.  Some of Watson’s footage was captured when he was invited by the Australian National Maritime Museum to join the Endeavour replica on one leg of its 2011 voyage around Australia.

Adric Watson

An Ocean Between 2014

Stills from DVD film

Shane Howard

Solid Rock, Sacred Ground / Possession Island, Queensland 1982 / 2013


There are a number of incidents in Cook’s journal where he conveniently edits the history or displays an inability to understand basic human courtesies. The example of the Aboriginal men coming on board the Endeavour in Cooktown and sighting the twelve turtles that Cook's men had caught, asking for two turtles and being refused by Cook's party, exemplifies Cook's misreading of human nature, an imperious disregard for generosity of spirit and a failure to respect the hints and recommendations of Lord Morton.


When Governor Arthur Phillip arrived with the First Fleet of European Settlers in 1788, he comments in his diary that he suspects Cook or his party must have killed one of the local inhabitants, so fearful were the Aboriginal people of the new arrivals.


There is no doubt that Cook was a great navigator and seaman and those achievements are extraordinary. But for all his great and many achievements, he failed to navigate the human heart and achieve a settlement with the local indigenous population of Australia. In fact, reading Lord Morton's hints, you realise that Cook ignored his written advice. Despite his knowledge to the contrary, he chose to claim the East Coast of Australia for Britain in the context of Terra Nullius. This single and simple lie set in motion an unfolding catastrophe for Aboriginal Australia.


Shane Howard,

Shane Howard

Solid Rock, Sacred Ground / Possession Island, Queensland 1982 / 2013

Pencil and watercolour on paper

Brent Miller, Lyndon Davis and Kerry Jones

Kom’bar (bark canoe), 2013

Swamp Mahogany bark, Lawyer Cane, Paper Bark, Cotton Tree rope, hessian rope, Spotted Gum and Hoop Pine resin,  bees’ wax and clay  I  18 x 47 x 274 cm

Photograph by John Waldron

Brent Miller, Lyndon Davis and Kerry Jones

Kom’bar (bark canoe), 2013


When Cook first sited Aboriginal people in canoes at Kamay/Botany Bay, his impression was one of surprise at the simple, organic nature of the watercraft. Gradually, as he moved along the east coast, his attitude changed to one of admiration for the dexterity with which Indigenous people handled their canoes, the effectiveness of these watercraft and the ingenuity and economy of their design. Bark canoes were used by Aboriginal people for general transport, fishing and collecting shell fish and birds’ eggs from reed beds. When fishing in such canoes, women sat and used hooks and lines, while men stood to throw spears.  A small fire was kept alight in the canoe on a bed of wet clay or seaweed. This kept people warm in winter and also allowed them to cook the fish they had caught.

Across Australia single sheet bark canoes were made from the bark of Swamp She-oak Bangalay or Stringybark. Uniquely for the Kabi Kabi people (Sunshine Coast) it would seem the Swamp Mahogany (Eucalyptus robusta) is the tree of choice. Traditionally, the single piece of bark was removed by using ground-edged hatchets and wooden mallets. An outline was cut in the tree and stone wedges were inserted around the edges and left there until the bark loosened. The bark was softened with water and fire, then folded and tied at both ends with plant-fibre rope. To repair damaged or leaking canoes, small holes were patched with resin from different species of Xanthorrhoea (Grass Trees). Large holes may have been patched with the leaves of the Cabbage Tree Palm (Livistona australis) or with Paperbark (Melaleuca). A patch was sewn on with string or animal sinew and molten resin was used to make it watertight. The light material and the shallowness of the canoe made its design appropriate for use in the calm water of rivers and estuaries. It could also have been used by an experienced person in choppy water outside estuaries.

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