Bark canoe-cutting practices will be revived again this year at Wilcannia, NSW, following the success of the Art Gallery of NSW’s 2020 Barkandji Canoe Project.

Story Sue Wallace

Last year Wilcannia Central School students, guided by local Barkandji artists William ‘Badger’ Bates and David Doyle, and Ngiyampaa artist Anthony Hayward, spent several months learning how to make a small river red gum canoe. It was a poignant moment when it was launched at Steamer’s Point on the Barka (Darling River) on December 3, especially for Badger and his older cousin Cyril Hunter, who are the last two in the community who remember their grandparents making canoes along the river. 

The revival of canoe-cutting practices is part of the Art Gallery of NSW’s Djamu Regional Program, which was launched in 2017 and works closely with Indigenous students in regional communities across the state to deliver innovative education programs.

The gallery’s program producer for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art, Wesley Shaw, describes the canoe project as a great learning process for everyone involved.

“The students were eager to participate in the project, which had a focus on the sharing of cultural information, processes and protocols,” Wesley says. “It is a great way of connecting the kids with their country and learning cultural practices.”

Wesley says they visited a series of scarred canoe trees cut along the banks of the Barka with Badger before selecting their own tree. 

This story excerpt is from Issue #137

Outback Magazine: June/July 2021