ningher canoe

The story behind building a traditional Tasmanian Aboriginal canoe – Dark Mofo 2014

The Flow of Culture

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image courtesy of Monissa Whiteley

Where does it begin? Culture I mean. Somewhere in the past? Does it come from history? Is it made in the past and somehow handed on to us? We live in a world that is supposed to be passing us by – every minute – every second. Makes you feel a little desperate doesn’t it.

But what if this was all nonsense? What if the past and the present, and the future for that matter, all exist together. In a world like that, culture comes from a place called now. It is made of what we do – how we live our lives, what we believe and what has meaning for us. This is the place that ningher comes from. We call it Aboriginal Tasmania. It’s a place where the past is not dead and gone, but lives inside our hearts and minds – in our very DNA. When you walk on country with someone like Master Canoe-maker Brendon (Buck) Brown, or Community Artist Jamie Everett, you’re not looking for culture – you’re already in it.

Ask either one of them where their ability to master the complicated process of crafting a ningher (paperbark), or tuylini (stringybark) canoe according to the ancient traditions of their ancestors , and they are likely to stare deep into your eyes and bring their fist to their chest with the words “…from in here mate.” This is the Tasmanian Aboriginal culture of today.


Image courtesy of Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery.

Commencing on 20 June, 2014, the ningher voyage will be the first on Hobart’s famous River Derwent by Aboriginal canoe for over 180 years. Share the journey as Buck and Jamie commence the making of ningher – a paperbark canoe that brings the maritime technology and history of Tasmanian Aboriginal culture to the 2014 Dark Mofo Festival. From the gathering of raw materials from across the island, to the painstaking tie-ing together of bundles of bark and reed with hand made string, and finally the historic journey along the river from MONA to Waterman’s Dock in Sullivan’s Cove, you can be a part of this celebration of Tasmanian Aboriginal culture and story-telling. Keep an eye on this blog and our facebook page as the story unfolds.


Author: tawatja

cultural history and heritage researcher, Tasmania

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