By W. E. Roth, M.R.C.S., Local Correspondent of the
Royal Anthropological Institute.
With Plate L.
Canoes are of two classes, according as they are made from
bark or dug out from a tree-trunk.
On Plate L, Figs. 1 and 2, are shown two such bark canoes,
the one from the Gulf Coast (Fig. 1), the other from the
East Coast (Fig. 2).
The former is made of a single bark sheet, folded in its
length, and sewn with cane at the extremities; the sides are
kept apart by a very primitive form of stretcher, too much
stretching being limited by intermediate ties.
A large conch shell, &c. is used as a bailer when the
water splashes in, an event which is of very frequent
occurrence, considering that these frail craft may be
observed skimming along in practically all weathers.
Should the canoe turn turtle, the savages are so expert in
their use that they can scramble in again after bailing,
notwithstanding that a rough wind may be blowing.
The paddle used is a mangrove stock, the naturally flattened
butt of which does duty for a blade.
On the East Coast the bark canoes are on the whole smaller,
and can be built of one, rarely of two, sometimes of three,
separate sheets carefully sewn and caulked ; this latter is
effected by means of the "paper-tree" bark, which markedly
swells when wetted. In the neighbourhood of the Tully River
the paddles are small square pieces of wood, or bark,
materials which are said to have replaced the two large
pearl-shells which were employed before the days of European
The author has watched the whole process of manufacture of
these craft, which requires a couple of days for completion.
"Dug-out" canoes are found on the extreme north of Cape York
Peninsula and thence down the eastern coast-line to about
the neighbourhood of Hinchinbrooke Island, one of the many
beauty-spots of Northern Queensland.
There is little doubt that these "dug-outs" are of Papuan
origin, a development of the wonderful vessels described in
New Guinea. Indeed, certainly up to four years ago, the
hulls were traded along three different routes from the
Commonwealth's most northerly possession to various islands
of the Torres Strait, whence some of them came into
In the author's experience, the original trade price to the
island middle-man was six pounds of tobacco and a tomahawk.
This does not, however, imply that the Queensland savages
cannot make "dug-outs" for themselves, but a long time and
considerable patience is required for burning and chipping
The prow is usually more or less flattened to enable the
flsherman to stand here and throw his harpoon at the turtle
or fish that
he may be after.
In the more northern latitudes each "dug-out" is provided
with two out-riggers or floats (Plate L, Fig. 3) - the New
Guinea pattern - but further south there is only one (Plate
L, Fig. 4).
With fine weather and strong paddles, these craft, though
heavy and cumbersome, can travel 15 to 20 miles a day in the
The kind of raft found on the Wellesley Group of islands in
the Gulf of Carpentaria is shown in Plate L, Fig. 5.
It is formed of numerous logs of "white mangrove" tied
together at the butts as well as at the extremities, with
the result that it is
much narrower forward than at the stern.
On top is placed some sea-weed, a sort of cushion for the
voyager to sit upon.
With such frail craft the savages will not only visit island
and island, but even cross over to the mainland, usually on
the one course, making for a spot somewhere in the vicinity
of Point Parker.
As might be expected, a raft like this, in spite of the
paddle that directs it, will occasionally be carried out to
sea by a sudden gale, when the traveller may be picked up by
passing steamers ; but these are few and far between up
The author knows of three such cases where the venturesome
native has been rescued, but, unable to render himself
intelligible as to
which of the many isIands, or group of islands, was his
home, has had to bow to the inevitable and become a landsman
without kith or kin.
In one of these three cases it was reported that a would-be
extra-intelligent policeman, being determined upon
discovering whence the survivor had originally come, showed
the savage an atlas-map of the Gulf of Carpentaria, and
could not understand why the latter was unable to point to
his place of origin.
Log-rafts are also met along the eastern coast-line, on the
Mulgrave, Russell, Barron, Tully, and other rivers, and are
usually punted along with a pole.
They are made of from three to five or six odd lengths of
light timbers tied together near their ends with native
Three trunk-stems of the wild banana will support any
According to whether the structure is intended for temporary
or permanent use, so it is the less or more carefully
trimmed and strung together ; in the latter case a fire may
be often observed carried on a layer of clay.
Such a raft is used for comparatively short distances, and
is very different from the variety found in the Gulf of
The illustration (Plate L, Fig. 6) was taken on the Tully
River ; the "white ?" on the individuals head and
face is really the remnants of the white cockatoo
feather-down stuck on for the sake of ornament at certain of
the native ceremonies, one of which he had just come from
W. E. ROTH.