Alison Stillwell is a volunteer and Secretary of the Kingston SE Branch, National Trust SA. She has recently coordinated a project, partially funded by Maritime Museums of Australia Project Support Scheme (MMAPSS), called the ‘Margaret Brock Room Development’ within the Cape Jaffa Lighthouse. She shares with us her experience of managing the project and the significant events that their organisation celebrated last November.
‘No tribute could be too high or too glowing for this great lover and promoter of art and photography in Australia.’— Max Dupain writing about Harold Cazneaux’s legacy in 19781.
If you weave your way through the imagery and beautiful photographs in Through a different lens – Cazneaux by the water, you’ll notice that 1937 was a big year for Australian photographer Harold Cazneaux: the culmination of a forty-year career that corresponded with the dawning of the Australian nation, and an emerging national consciousness.
Yesterday I visited a sculpture being made at a fine art casting foundry on Sydney’s North Head at Manly. The work is being crafted using the lost wax technique, a traditional, ages-old method that will result in a timeless bronze. Each visit and each stage of the moulding and casting process brings surprises, most recently forms and colours that evoke the strangeness of a cast of characters from B-grade 1960s schlock-horror monster films such as Godzilla and even, in spirit, the hyper-real gigantic 50-foot woman.
In Australia’s past, there were many unsung heroes whose quiet achievements deserve to be remembered, and it is often only by chance that they are brought to light. I recently came across a simple sketch of a remote and windswept piece of coastline in South Australia, and would have continued reading if I had not noticed the handwritten note on the top, “Spot where Captain Barker was murdered”. Although the area, particularly nearby Kangaroo Island, had been sporadically used by sealers since the mid 1700s, there was no settlement there in 1831 when Captain Barker visited. It seemed an unusual place for a murder to happen. As it turned out, not only was it a most unlikely location but Captain Barker was a most unlikely victim. Continue reading
Flinders University, 29/30 March 2012
I am recently back from coastal Port Noarlunga on the Onkaparinga River south of Adelaide, where I held a two day workshop building models of Australian Indigenous watercraft.
Sponsored by Flinders University and coordinated by lecturer Jennifer McKinnon, I worked with 10 archaeology and maritime archaeology students, exploring the construction of different types of watercraft at scale and using this to discuss the background of the craft, plus the many aspects of indigenous culture that are expressed through their diverse variety of canoes and rafts.
This was a workshop with a few differences; it was outside the classroom in a backyard, it was hands-on, it had fire, there were scones and Arnott’s assorted biscuits, and there were no handouts or notes to take home.
One the key concepts of Indigenous watercraft construction was that the knowledge of their design and construction was handed on by word of mouth and demonstration, so I kept to that process, and the students took home the information in their heads and in their models.
We started sitting in a circle and talking about the background to the craft, the loss of the ‘canoe culture’ that once existed on many waterways, the diversity of craft around the country, and how I had got involved in all of this. Then we went to work using the samples of bark that Keryn Walshe, from South Australian Museum, had been able to source some days beforehand. Each model type began with me demonstrating the construction method then everyone had a go themselves.
The process worked – watching, listening and questioning. The students took in the ideas and quickly produced models, sometimes taking them apart and improving them at a second go. Throughout the two days we learnt about using materials in sympathy with what they could do, and we learnt about using and adapting what was around us too, seeking plants and parts of them from our backyard and kerbside surroundings to make ties, ropes, caulking and support structure. We put them over a fire to dry them out and singe off the loose fibres, used the spikes off Phoenix palm fronds as needles, saved twigs and branches form the fire wood pile to build rafts, all the time sharing ideas and results.
As the workshop drew to a close we had five different types represented; nawi or tied-bark canoes from south-east Australian coast, derrkas from Arnhem Land made famous by 10 Canoes, a walba raft from Mornington island, a rolled bark canoe from Tasmania, and a ‘shopping trolley’ type of towed raft based on an example I had seen in the National Museum of Australia’s collection. We also had ideas forming for the next time- more model types, maybe larger ones too, and additional materials that could be useful.
To wrap up the two days I did a lecture in the city on Friday evening about the Australian Register of Historic Vessels ending with its focus on Indigenous watercraft and the forthcoming Nawi conference. Hope to see you all there!
Curator, Australian Register of Historic Vessels