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The History of Canoeing in Australia

The history of canoeing in Australia began with the Aboriginal people, who paddled a small canoe made of shallow and lightweight material. Originally, these canoes were designed for use on calm water in estuaries and rivers, but could also be used in choppy water outside of these bodies of freshwater. The canoes ranged in length from two to six meters. Throughout Australia, Aboriginal people continued to paddle their traditional canoes.

Speck paddled more than 30,000 miles

In seven years, Oskar Speck paddled more than 30,000 kilometers in a series of 15-foot kayaks, traveling from the Danube River in Europe to the tropical shores of far northern Australia. Initially, he set out to paddle to Cyprus for work, not knowing that his journey would take him to the other side of the world. But when he reached the midpoint of the voyage, he realized what he had been missing.

When Speck reached Papua New Guinea in 1939, he had become world famous. However, his associations with a Nazi official in Indonesia led many to suspect him of spying for the German government. To avoid such a scandal, Speck paddled ashore in Papua New Guinea, where he was greeted by natives and the Australian police.

In order to reach his goal, Speck needed to cross the dangerous waters of the Banda Sea. He needed to cross the dangerous open sea to get to the islands. Fortunately, Speck’s route took him through the remote islands of the Banda Sea. Next, he planned to paddle another 85 miles south, skirting the wild southern coast of Dutch New Guinea. From there, he toured nearby islands, watched strange native dances, and played the centerpiece of sultan parties. But he soon discovered that he was crossing a swamp that was a breeding ground for thousands of salamanders.

Speck had a dream and a plan. He decided to paddle from Europe to the Middle East in just 48 hours. But he was denied permission to travel through the Suez Canal, so he had to rely on buses through northern Syria until he reached the Euphrates River, which was the gateway to the Persian Gulf and the rest of the world. The resulting adventure turned out to be one of the most dangerous expeditions in history and has left him a man whose survival was questionable.

Outrigger technology introduced by the Macassans

The Macassans, who arrived in northern Australia sometime between 1750 and 1850, may have been the first Europeans to introduce outrigger technology. They traded with the Aboriginal people of the region and introduced the technology of fishing on long sloops. These traders, who were known as Baijini, also brought with them dogs, pigs, and coconut trees. Eventually, the Macassans brought outriggers to northern Australia and became the primary mode of transport. In fact, the outrigger technology is more important in Australia than it was in South East Asia, where the wheel is still the main mode of transport.

Although there are many other types of canoes, the outrigger canoe is particularly interesting for its cultural significance. It provides evidence of the migration of Austronesian and Aboriginal people from South East Asia and the Indian & Pacific regions, and provided a conduit for the exchange of material and culture between the islands and mainland Asia. These vessels are also believed to have been used to migrate to mainland Asia and to cross the Pacific.

The Macassan people of northern Australia introduced outrigger technology to the Indigenous Yolngu in the mid-1700s. Macknight’s work on this technology has helped break down the Eurocentric view of Australia’s history. There are only a few surviving discoveries from early European visits to the region. Nevertheless, there is rock art and an oral tradition rich in small archaeological finds that can tell us more about what was going on in the past.

Despite the widespread use of outrigger technology in Australia, the Macassans still maintained the tradition of commercial fishing. The Macassans commercially fished for the sea cucumber trepang, or sea cucumber, which is a treasured food in China. In fact, this ancient trade is Australia’s oldest documented export industry. The Macassans even exported trepang to China, which was a delicacy in China and was also considered aphrodisiac.

Gumung derrka

The Gumung derrka is a traditional Aboriginal canoe made of natural material. Its shallow design makes it easy to paddle through the choppy waters of estuaries and rivers. The length of the canoe varies between two and six metres. Aboriginal people used this craft to transport their animals and gather food. They also made fires on the boat’s bed of wet clay for warmth in winter.

Aboriginal people of the Australian mainland built canoes in which up to six men could ride. They often had a fire place at one end of the canoe, and were used for hunting seals. Indigenous people made models of their canoes, and a few of these are preserved in museum collections. The earliest gumung derrka was built by the Gumung in the Bass Strait, but it was not until the early twentieth century that the Europeans began to build the modern-day canoe.


The canoe, which is a na-likajarrayindamara, is a seagoing, sewn-bark vessel that was built by the Yanyuwa people. In 1988, the museum commissioned the community to build the canoe. John Bradley documented the canoe-building process. The name is derived from Likajarrayinda, a remote place east of Borroloola, and it is a tradition to name canoes in this way.

The nawi was paddled by hand using short bark paddles made from tree bases and poles made from the Gippsland Lakes region. The paddles were heated in a clay hearth. Museum workshops have helped the community learn how to make a nawi, and knowledge of the technique has been passed down through generations. In addition to being on display in the museum, the nawi has been used by local Aboriginal people in community events.

Na-riyarrku seagoing canoe

Historically, a na-riyarrku seagoing canoer is a traditional boat used in the Gulf of Carpentaria. It is a traditional craft used by Aboriginal Australians for fishing in the pristine waters of the Gulf. The seated passengers would search for fish using spears. In this video, you will learn about the history and use of a na-riyarrku.

Early 1800s craft were noted at the Sir Edward Pellew Islands, located offshore from Borroloola. These vessels had wooden struts, obliquely arranged mangrove pole gunwales and ties to keep the spread of bark. The hearth was a flat piece of sandstone. The canoes were used by the Aboriginal people for fishing, hunting, and visiting offshore islands.

The nawi was paddled by using the hands. It was poled by the bases of cabbage tree palms. The nawi was then heated using a clay hearth. The museum has produced some modern-day nawi with community consultations and museum workshops. The knowledge behind these traditional canoes is handed down by the community. In this way, they will continue to preserve their cultural heritage.

The Na-riyarrku seagoing canae was used for hunting, fishing, and trading. In the 1930s, non-Native people continued to make these vessels, including cedar dugout canoes. A few years after the canoes reached the Museum of Anthropology, a local missionary was given one of these seagoing canoes as a wedding present.

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