Author Archives: jmckinnon

10 Canoes! No not really. 5 canoes, but in 2 days!

Our canoe workshop. Top, L to R: Mark Polzer, Wendy van Duivenvoorde, Jason Raupp, Zidian James, Rachel Powell, David Payne, Jacob Jordan. Bottom, L to R: Jennifer McKinnon, John Naumann, Sheena Rodrigues, Roger Halliday, Jonathan Nicholls

We’ve completed our second and last day of the Indigenous canoe building workshop with David Payne of ANMM (more details in previous post). Many of us had our doubts that we’d be able to make working, floating watercraft out of the pile of stringbark and paperbark that lay before us on the first day. However we managed to make five different types of Indigenous watercraft by the end of the workshop! These include a sewn bark canoe, a tied bark canoe, a raft, a bundled paperbark canoe and a “shopping trolley” as David has called it. With a good amount of instruction from David and attention to detail we all managed to make a model that resembled and potentially could even perform as a watercraft. I think we all learnt that the skill and knowledge Indigenous watercraft builders need(ed) to make useable vessels for transport, movement and procurement of food is more than we expected.

Our second day of canoe building included a lot of excitement. We finally were able to light our fire in order to burn off the exterior of our bark canoes we built the previous day. We also had a visit from students in the Screen and Media program who filmed our activities and interviewed David. The most interesting aspect of the workshop to me was how we all needed to improvise. We had a certain set of materials and basic tools but from those and our surroundings we improvised to make our canoes work. For example, we needed sharp tools to sew our bow and stern of the bark canoe together, so one student found that a palm tree in our yard had very sharp spikes on it. She took one of the thorns, poked a hole in it and threaded her line through it to act as a needle and sewed her canoe together. Brilliant! Based on his own research, David related that the communities that built/build canoes take the same sort of approach. They work with what they have available. In the end we had a great time and hope that another workshop will eventuate. I could see this as being an annual event. Next time, though, we are going for the full scale model!

Thanks again David for a wonderful workshop and a stimulating public lecture. Also, thanks to SA Museum Keryn and her crew for procuring our raw materials. Stop by office next week if you want to see some of our models on display…

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Notes from the field: Canoe Building Worshop

Well today we took advantage of some of the last days of beautiful summery/autumny weather during out canoe building master class led by David Payne, a curator with the Australian National Maritime Museum. David is over with us from Sydney where he has been running canoe building workshops. He has an amazing self-taught knowledge of building bark canoes and is sharing it with us this week. We started off with a large pile of bark collected by Keryn Walshe, curator of the SA Museum earlier this week (thanks Keryn!). Although the pieces weren’t large enough to build a full scale canoe, we certainly made use of them to make several smaller scale models. David’s lecture about Indigenous canoes was intriguing and raised more questions than it gave us answers. Not to say he doesn’t know a whole heap about canoes in Australia, but as he points out, there is so much to be learnt. David showed us a  great map he’s been working on which demonstrates the distribution of types of canoes around Australia and pointed out places where students might contribute with thesis projects! He also discussed the materials and types of canoes that we’d be constructing in the master class. We were pretty excited to get our hands dirty and start constructing. So here are a few photos of our first day.

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Join us for our first public lecture of 2012!

Recording cannon in the rain

Well, here we are in the rain on Friday recording cannons. Today’s master class is all about understanding cannons – their history of use, construction and how to record them archaeologically. We started off with a lecture in the nice dry lab and then headed out to the field. Did you know that there are two cannons at the Old Gum Tree in Glenelg? The OGT is where Capt John Hindmarsh proclaimed the establishment of the South Australian colony in 1836.

We are first sketching the cannons and then taking specific measurements to draw them to scale. Unfortunately we had to bring Mylar to write on even though we aren’t working underwater. The rain is spoiling our parade but that hasn’t stopped some good work from happening.

Does anyone know where there are cannons around town? Post a comment because we want to practice our recording skills.


Futtocks, gunwales, catheads – OH MY!

It’s Friday and you know what that means – Master Classes! Today we ran a master class called “Ships as material culture.” This MC examined the “ship” as an artefact. From the wood it was constructed with to all of the fittings like winches, capstans, anchors and cannons, we explored their use, materials and positions on ships. A few fun exercises got the hearts racing. The first was to label the basic ship timbers in a frame-first constructed vessel. The second exercise was a bit more challenging and had a bountiful book prize. Participants were split into teams and given a ship model to label. Approximately fifty ship parts were on the list to be labelled with little stickers. Our winners were Lynda Bignell, Roger Halliday, Phyllis Coxhill and Maddy McCallister. Congratulations!

I think everyone walked away with a finer appreciation of ship construction. When you next see Lynda, Roger, Phyllis and Maddy ask them what a “cathead” is and I’m sure the will enlighten you.


Phyllis and Maddy hard at work labeling