Exhibition space in the Navigators gallery at the Australian National Maritime Museum

Songlines, Sails and Steamers Tour

Find out more about these fascinating travellers

Ancient journeys, seafarers and new arrivals in an ancient land: hear the fascinating stories about the real people who lived before us and made the Great South Land into the 21st Century Australia we know today.

This tour is a lively overview of the highlights of the Navigators, Eora and Passengers galleries.

Songlines: ancient journeys with an unexpected ending
For 60,000 years before European navigators arrived, Aboriginal nations, the oldest continual cultures in the world, lived successfully in our arid land. Songlines or Dreaming Tracks are in European terms what we would describe as their library, map, law, bible and practical manual, the ‘footprints of the ancestors’. They describe ancient journeys of Creator Beings over the earth, sea and sky which sustained our First People with practical and spiritual information needed for their survival.

But their ancient journeys had an unexpected ending. Two separate worlds collided: sails and songlines. Ghost Nets and a 17th century globe tell the story.

Sails: seafarers and the big global competition
400 years ago, sails began to appear on ancient Pacific horizons. Dutch, French and British navigators wanted profit and adventure. The Dutch East India Company monopolised the lucrative spice trade. But ‘New Holland’ was of no commercial interest to them... and the European world was changing.

A race for territory was fed by the Industrial Revolution. France was an active player, but the French Revolution intervened. After losing the American colonies, Britain moved fast and in secrecy to secure a settlement in Cook’s ‘New South Wales’. What was at stake? Strategic, naval and trade dominance. Flinders’ map and a Pacific Encounters painting are a dynamic narrative which continues today.

Steamers: new arrivals in an ancient land
For 230 years, our ancient land has seen new arrivals. By sails and steamers, 19th century journeys ‘beyond the seas’ brought unwilling convict migrants and willing free settlers. It was the longest voyage of people’s lives. Their arrival on our shores came at a price for the first peoples of Australia, who were disposed of their country, culture and their right to be seen as human beings.

What changed? Reasons for coming, international events, communication and global policies. We became a multicultural nation as our immigration adapted to the 20th century. A convict chest and a Vietnamese refugee boat: stories of real people in the story of our nation.

Songlines, Sails and Steamers can be toured together for a 45 minute tour or take a mini tour for 25 minutes concentrating on just one. 

Check at the front desk what is on today or book a group tour today.