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An early publication image of the Port Denison canoe

Port Denison Indigenous Bark Canoe

Vessel Number: HV000665
Dimensions:
Vessel Dimensions: 2.81 m × 0.7 m (9.22 ft × 2.3 ft)
Classification:Vessels and fittings
Significance
The Port Denison Aboriginal bark canoe comes from the Bowen and Whitsunday region in Queensland. It was acquired by the Ethnological Museum, then known as the Berlin Museum, in the early 1900s, so it was possibly built around that period. It is one of less than a handful of known examples of this three-part sewn canoe that is very specific to this region. The construction shows the typical features for the hull.
DescriptionThe canoe is 2.81 metres long, around 700mm wide and relatively deep. The three bark panels are sewn together and have thin branches at the seams and at the top, gunwale edges. The bark has not been identified, but the binding used appears to be lawyer cane vine, a typical material used for sewing Aboriginal canoes and used extensively in the north of the mainland. The stitching is relatively close, less the 25 to 30mm average spacing, and tightly drawn up at each stich. At one end one of the gunwale branches appears to be split and creased, and has had additional stitching added to secure it.

A feature seen on one other existing craft of this type is a single frame and cross-tie secured toward the middle of the canoe. This is not apparent on this example. A shaped, wooden paddle about one and a half metres long was also acquired with the craft, and the blade is about 500mm long. The craft was crewed by two people, a paddler and a hunter.

This three panel type has been recorded in a relatively restricted region around the Whitsunday group of Islands on the Queensland coast line. This example is noted as coming from Port Denison, which is part of Bowen, and this is at the northern end of the range where these craft have been recorded.

It is also connected to Professor Von Luschan, who was an assistant director and then director of the Africa and Oceania Department at the Königliches Museum für Völkerkunde in Berlin, now known as the Ethnological Museum. He was at the museum from 1886 to 1909 and is understood to have acquired a significant collection of material during this period. This craft must have been one of the items he collected. Professor Von Luschan described this and other canoes and watercraft in Australia in a short paper titled ‘Uber Boote aus Baumrinde’ Aus der Natur, Zeitschrift für alle Naturfreunde – ‘Boats made of tree bark’, and published in 1907/08.

Vessel Details
Deck layout:open
Hull material and construction:indigenous materialsnative materials
Hull shape:chines
Hull shape:monohull

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