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Indigenous kawlum raft

Vessel Number: HV000600
Date: 1936
Previous Owner: Rev JRB Love ,
Vessel Dimensions: 4 m x 1 m (13.12 ft x 3.28 ft)
Classification:Vessels and fittings
The British Museum’s Australian Indigenous double raft is generally known from the Indigenous Bardi term as a ‘kalwa’ type. They were distributed throughout the King Sound and adjacent coastal waters of the south west Kimberley region in Western Australia. This example has been collected from the Worora community and is called a ‘kawlum’ in their language, while the Djawi community gave these rafts the name’ biel biel’.
DescriptionThe double raft was collected in the 1930s, and an image from that period helps understand its form and use. The two fan-shaped parts are about 3 metres long each, and when overlapped for use it would likely be no longer than 5 metres overall. The aft section can be identified by the small basket formed with pegs driven into one of the large logs in the middle of the fan. There are eight logs in the aft section, and six forming the bow section. The location for the basket is visible through the many peg holes in the log. This example is very valuable as it shows a strong profile curvature to some of the logs not present on other extant kalwa that have been documented on the ARHV. These are the Bardi kalwa HV000039 and the Kimberley coastline craft HV000513.

The craft is most likely to have been made from mangrove wood Camptostemon schultzii, also known as kapok mangrove. This name reflects the relatively lighter density of the wood, a quality that helps make this simple craft work effectively with enough volume to support a paddler or two and some of their possessions.

The raft was acquired along with a paddle, and this is a relatively rare example of these cleverly shaped paddles that are also made from mangrove wood. It is 1.68m (5 ft 6 in long) and has two distinct flared blades that are shaped from the natural form of the mangrove wood roots that spread out at the base to support the limbs in the strong tidal waters they inhabit.

The shaped paddle and the rafts use of lightweight logs pegged together in two fan-shaped sections is a very strong example of design and construction reflecting available materials and intended use, derived from experience over many generations.

The canoe is registered as Oc1936, 1030.1. a-b and the paddle is 1030.2 They were donated in 1936 to the British Museum by Rev. JRB Love (1889-1947) who had acquired the craft from the Worora people. Their region included Collier Bay, Prince Regent River and Walcott Inlet along the coast, just north east of King Sound. This is a rugged part of the Kimberley coastline, with very strong tides. The sea faring clan Oowirri of the Worora occupied an area to the north of the Buccaneer group, and it is likely the raft has its origins with them.

James Robert Beattie Love is recorded in the Australian Dictionary of Biography. He was an Irish born clergyman and missionary, who was five months old when his family migrated to Australia settling in South Australia in 1890 where his father was a Presbyterian clergyman. In 1912 Love accepted an honorary commission from the board of missions of the Presbyterian Church of Australia to investigate and report on the condition of the Aborigines and possible locations for mission work. Two years later he took temporary charge of the Presbyterian Mission to the Aborigines at Port George IV (Kunmunya), Western Australia. He remained working at that mission until 1940, taking leave during World War I and briefly again at other times. The Mission had been established inland from Augustus Island and was abandoned in the early 1950s.

The purpose of the Kunmunya Mission, its methods, and the people of the Worora tribe are described in his book, ‘Stone-Age Bushmen of Today ‘(London, 1936). It became home for many of the Worora people and Love encouraged the preservation of many aspects of cultural life while seeking to balance customary law and the discipline needed for the mission's stability. It is expected that Love acquired the craft and paddle during this time at the mission, but it is not recorded how the craft was then donated to the British Museum.

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

: Oc1936,1030.1a-b

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