As the museum’s conference, Nawi – exploring Australia’s indigenous watercraft nears, we will be turning your attention to the fascinating array of speakers who will be presenting on the 31 May and 1 June. Previously, I wrote about the story of Gnung-a Gnung-a, the first Aboriginal to sail across the seas to America. I enjoyed delving into part of the history of first contact and early European settlement, and Dr Keith Vincent Smith’s talk in the first session will be a welcome addition to what is shaping up to be a diverse program of events.
Keith is an independent historian and curator, whose expertise includes ethnology and the history of the Eora, the Indigenous clans of the Sydney coastal area. His talk will feature the first illustrations produced of Aboriginal watercraft at Botany Bay and cover some of the earliest moments of contact between the British and Aboriginal peoples, who had greeted the foreigners on board their nawi or stringy bark canoes.
Keith curated the exhibition, Mari Nawi – Aboriginal Odysseys 1790-1850, at the Mitchell Library in Sydney in 2010. He described this exhibition as a ‘journey across time, place and cultures.’ Already, preparations for the conference have achieved exactly that, with nawi building being undertaken on the shores of Sydney Harbour. Next week, on 30 May, past and present will come together and canoes will light up Darling Harbour marking the beginning of the conference, but more importantly, it will symbolise an Indigenous cultural tradition that began thousands of years ago.