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Gamedi Indigenous Bark Canoe

Vessel Number: HV000272
Date: 1980s
Previous Owner:
Dimensions:
Vessel Dimensions: 4.14 m x 0.87 m (13.58 ft x 2.85 ft)
Classification:Vessels and fittings
Significance
The Gamedi Bark Canoe is an Indigenous canoe made in the 1980s by Johnny Bulun Bulun of the Ganalbingu language group and the Gurrumba Garumba clan, from central Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory. It is typical of the type of craft used by Indigenous communities to hunt magpie geese and collect their eggs in the Arafura Swamp in eastern Arnhem Land.
DescriptionJohnny Bulun Bulun, a prominent artist and representative of the Ganalbingu people, made this Indigenous canoe, called a 'derrka', while he was living on an outstation at Gamedi.

The canoe is made from stringy bark (eucalyptus tetradonta) a common eucalypt across northern Australia. It has a tall and relatively straight trunk from which the bark is cut in one cylindrical piece.

The canoe is about 10mm thick. The bark piece has been soaked with water and steamed over a fire to heat it and make it easier to shape. The ends are sewn together with fibre and sealed with mud, fibres and bark to make them watertight. The bow is carefully shaped to a fine cut back prow and sewn together along the top edge. This shape allows the canoe to part tall grass in the swamp while being poled from a standing position.

The canoe is just over 4 metres long and almost 900 mm wide. To form a shallow cross-sectional shape the canoe features at least two branches placed horizontally to hold the sides apart. It also has two fibre strand ties to ensure the sides remain pulled in against these branch beams. Throughout the main body of the canoe the sides are almost parallel and each side is supported on the outside with a branch acting like a gunwale timber. This branch is sewn to the bark.

Canoes like these were recorded by anthropologist Donald Thomson when he visited the Arafura Swamp in 1937. He noted how they were made and used, and that the Djinba clan called them 'nardan'. The craft he observed had about four branches as cross beams holding the sides apart, with fibre ties at each beam. He did not observe any of their craft having branches to support the sides. One important detail he noted was that the craft were made as the geese began to nest. This was also the right time to peel the bark from the trees when it was more pliable and could be formed to the required shape.

This type of canoe was developed with its characteristic sharp bow and shallow draft so that it could be poled through grass and pass over snags and obstacles in the shallow water of the flood plain created following the rainy season. When the canoe reached the open water of the river system, they were paddled by hand, seated.

Thomson also took part in two expeditions on the swamp and his images became the inspiration for the 2007 Rolf de Heer film 'Ten Canoes' which was based around an expedition to collect magpie geese and their eggs.

This example of these distinctive craft was acquired by the ANMM in 1992 from Johnny Bulun Bulun and Maningrida Arts and Culture, and is now part of the National Maritime Collection.




Vessel Details
Current status:non-operational
Current status:not on display
Hand propulsion/steering mechanism:pole
Hull material and construction:indigenous materialsnative materials
Current status:museum vessel

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