Making of the Canoe

A full-scale model of a Sydney bark canoe is the centrepiece in the Library's new landmark exhibition Mari Nawi: Aboriginal Odysseys 1790-1850.

Sydney's Eora people spent thousands of years perfecting the art of bark canoe-making. The vessel was central to their culture and livelihood. No authentic Sydney Aboriginal stringybark canoes exist today and the traditional skills have been lost. However, a high school teacher from Sydney, James Dodd, has spent the past three years researching and honing his canoe-making skills, guided by paintings, drawings, written records and early photographs found in the Mitchell Library and other cultural collections.

James created a high-quality replica, Gadigal Nawi, from Land Council trees in the Bateman's Bay area. He began construction in early July by harvesting bark from a white stringybark tree. (Paul Carriage, an Aboriginal Cultural Officer with Forests NSW, sanctioned the bark removal.) The hull was then shaped over a bed of hot coals. The canoe was carefully bound using handmade rope from the bark of the same tree, and cracks and holes were filled with the resin of the Xanthorrhoea or grass tree.

The finishing touches to the canoe were completed in Sydney, including an extensive oxygen starvation process undertaken by Library conservators to eradicate any pests and prepare it for exhibition. 

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