Sunday, 22 January

The day started with bright sunshine, another fire, renewed energy and good ideas. One idea included thinning down the middle of the third bark sheet, as this was the area that was hardest to fold. Another idea was to dismantle canoe number one, reduce its width, cut off the daggy end and start it again.  While we waited for the fire to heat up and then settle down, Tom went down the road to cut some blueberry ash branches for the beams we would need later on.

Heating up the bark with potatoes in fire

Sheet number three went on the fire and started to heat up, while Paul started lunch preparations by popping foil wrapped potatoes underneath the sheet of bark! The folds went well this time as we reheated and folded the ends of the first sheet again. We were now getting the results we wanted – tight vertical sets of folds, neatly pegged and bound, with longer strips of bark making the binding easier. The process was working.

The physical nature of the work builds a healthy appetite and plenty of potatoes were cooked, and then consumed as the morning went into lunch.

Left: folding corners Right: completed canoe 

The last thing to do was to secure and strengthen the middle of the canoes with cross branches and bark ties, pulling it all together.  The re-formed canoe number one looked a bit thin on the sides, so we decided to add branches that would form gunwales, a feature not widely reported on this type of canoe. Most records suggest they had some cross beams or frames only, but at least one or two reports observed canoes where the sides had been strengthened in this way.

We cut down the blueberry ash branches that had been de-barked by Tom, and tied them into place with smaller bark strips. We tried different ways of sewing the bark through the bark sides and tying the various parts into place. Two hulls were completed over the afternoon before it was time to tidy up, take a group photo and call it a day. 

Group photo of canoe builders 

The desired outcomes were achieved. First and foremost we had learnt and improved with every step we took. We had also gained invaluable experience with the material. We began to recognise its qualities and how to take advantage of them.  There was great satisfaction all round by being part of this process, and realising how much had been learnt and could be passed on.

Finally we had three boats, one for each of the three groups who participated. Three boats that we hope will encourage more and help re-establish a vital piece of Indigenous culture that has been missing for a number of generations. 

David Payne
Curator, Historic Vessel Register

Read: Bark canoe workshop, Ulladulla – Part 2

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David Payne

David Payne is Curator of Historic Vessels at Australian National Maritime Museum, and through the Australian Register of Historic Vessels he works closely with heritage boat owners throughout Australia researching and advising on their craft and their social connections. David has also been a yacht designer and documented many of the museum’s vessels with extensive drawings. He has had a wide sailing experience, from Lasers and 12-foot skiffs through to long ocean passages.