Source Documents
d.s. davidson : australian watercraft, 1935 

D. S. Davidson : Chronology of Australian Watercraft, 1935.

Davidson, Daniel Sutherland:
The Chronology of Australian Watercraft.
 Journal of the Polynesian Society
Volume 44 (extracts)
Thomas Avery &​ Sons,
New Plymouth, New Zealand, 1935.

D.S. Davidson's Chronology of Australian Watercraft is a remarkably detailed and perceptive work, and is apparently the only comprehensive overview of the subject since publication in the Journal of Polynesian Society in 1935.(1)
Davidson does, however, base much of his work on
N.W. Thomas'  excellent  Australian Canoes and Rafts.
The  Journal  of the Anthropological Institute  of G.B and  Ireland, Volume 35, January - June 1905,  pages  56-79.

apart from a brief reference, Thomas does not include the watercraft of Tasmania in his paper.

The First Navigators

While Davidson notes that the craft used by the Australian Aboriginals to initially voyage from Asia "may not be represented in any of the existing forms of watercraft," it is extremely difficult to even suggest any feasible alternatives.
With a further careful application of conditionals,
he concludes:

The ordinary raft, the single log, or both, may have been the craft used by some early invading groups.

He argues that the inclusion of the log, however unreasonable, is a possibility, but that the raft is a far more likely candidate, satisfying all the requirements of antiquity, simplicity, and serviceability.
Davidson does not consider the possibility that th
ese first navigators embarked as a fleet, consisting of rafts and logs.

Triangular-shaped rafts
Davidson regards the triangular-shaped raft of northern Australia
, in the single and double forms, as a "most peculiar indigenous development" on the northern coast, thereby eliminating it from his potential candidates for a first crossing.
While it is clear that the double triangular raft is a direct outgrowth of the single triangular raft, his suggestion that these were indigenous developments is possibly questionable.

The triangular-shaped raft is probably the most primitive raft, with construction possible from stripped branches, thicker adjacent to the trunk and thinning towards the tip, rather than the considerable labour required in felling entire trees.
Binding the thin tips presents a pointed bow, with the wider stern providing maximum buoyancy for the rider.
The design is commonly used world-wide by juveniles and ancient variations were in evidence in
Chile, Fiji, and Torres Strait, and a probable influence can be seen in the jangada of Brazil and the catamaran of east India.(2)
Jangadajanga of Brazil and the catamaran of India (1)
It may be that the triangular rafts of the northern coast were ancient remnants, pre-dating the voyages of occupation, and only surviving where they had not been supplanted by more "modern" craft.

The double triangular raft or kaloa.
The considerable over-engineering of the kaloa, effectively a doubling the volume,
invites speculation that this was an optimal design for a substantial water crossing.

Swimming logs
Importantly, Davidson complied significant documentation on swimming logs, pages 48-52, and wondered
  "just how important this simple log may have been in the history of watercraft in Australia."

In 1946, James Hornell, in his definitive Water Transport - Origins and Early Evolution, established the evolutionary importance of the "simple log."
It w
as the first, or the original, watercraft that ventured upon open seas, and its antiquity must considerably pre-date the occupation of Australia.
Furthermore, Hornell noted that these craft were instrumental in the development of swimming and that they were the precedent of the raft:

A couple of logs lashed roughly together probably formed the first advance in the evolution of certain

types of wooden boats from the wooden block used as a swimming float, page 61.

Daniel Sutherland Davidson
Davidson took his doctorate in anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania in 1928 and travelled to Australia in 1930
on fieldwork and museum visits, with a second visit in 1938-1940.
He published many articles on
Australian ethnology, his collection of about 4200 words of vocabulary of nineteen West Australian languages has remained unpublished with little attention from researchers.
The research on watercraft made under a fellowship grant by the Social Science Research Council of New York, and the Chronology was originally published in four parts.

Journal of the Polynesian Society Volume 44
No. 173. March, 1935, pages 1-16.

No. 174. June, 1935, pages 69-84.
No. 175. September, 1935, pages 137-152.
No. 176. December, 1935, pages  193-207.

Unfortunately, this transcription was prepared from photographs of the Extracts edition and then processed with imaging and OCR programs, before I located the JPS online editions.

An earlier ''valuable and well-documented paper'' by N. W. Thomas, noted by Davidson, is yet to be located:
Thomas, N. W.: Australian Canoes and Rafts.
Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute,
, XXXV, pages 56-57.

Picture 145: Raft made by children of bundles of sedges. Ueckermunde on the Oderhakk.
Picture 2: Inflated skin rafy made of sealskin, from the Changos on the north coast of Chile.
Rudolph: Boats, Rafts and Ships (1974) pages 14 and 197.

Figure 2: Fijian bamboo raft.
Doran: Wangka (1974) page 24.

Torres Strait islanders on a bamboo raft, 1906.
Auckland War Memorial Museum Tamaki Paenga Hira

Jangada, Wikipedia

Gold : Catamaran Surfing, Madras (1800)

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Department of Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania,
Philadelphia, Pa., U.S.A.
AUSTRALIAN watercraft  is a subject which has received only scanty attention.
Except for a valuable and well-documented paper in 1905 by N. W. Thomas, [1] who was the first to consider this question from a continental point of view by summarizing the descriptive material available at that time, our knowledge of this important aspect of Australian ethnology has been limited to the scattered references and brief descriptions by the early explorers and colonists, and to the work of Brough Smyth, [2] which deals primarily with Victoria.

Since 1905, however, our information has been considerably expanded, thanks to the detailed reports of Roth (3) and Tindale (4) and to the shorter but nevertheless important descriptions by Basedow, [5] Love, [6] and others, all of whom have confined their attention to the craft found in the local areas they investigated but who have not attempted to correlate their data with those of other regions.
It would seem, therefore, that the time has come when it should be profitable to assemble this additional information with that already brought together, and, on the basis of the whole, to discuss the chronological aspects of the

1.Thomas, 1905, 1906.
2. Brough Smyth, 1878.
3. Roth, W. E., 1910, Bull. 14.
4. Tindale, 1926.
5. Basedow, 1913.
6. Love, 1917.

*This paper represents one of the studies in Australian ethnology made under a fellowship grant by the Social Science Research Council of New York.

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different types of watercraft used on the Australian continent.
This problem seems to have been generally ignored by the few individuals who have concerned themselves with watercraft in this part of the world.
Such a study has a dual importance.
It should increase our knowledge of the process involved in the diffusions of specialized types of culture traits, and also suggest what kind of marine equipment may have been used by the early occupiers of the Australian continent.

The question of the diffusion of watercraft in Australia is one which involves many unusual factors and conditions which are generally lacking in most other parts of the world, and which do not, as a rule, enter into problems concerned with the diffusion of other traits in Australia.
These are of prime importance to our problem. 
It seems hardly necessary to point out that watercraft are naturally limited in use to the sea-coast or to those areas in which waters, in the form of streams or lakes, are of sufficient depth to allow the clearance of craft and of sufficient breadth or danger to make their use desirable.  
It does not follow that all the regions which have these requirements necessarily have watercraft in use, but, on the other hand, it is obvious that watercraft cannot be utilized in places which do not fulfill these conditions.  
Because of these natural limitations to the extension of the idea of watercraft, it is important to note that at least one-half of and possibly two-thirds of the interior of Australia can be eliminated immediately from our consideration.
A glance at any map of Australia is all that is needed to convince one of the validity of this statement, for, as is well known, Australia is almost entirely lacking in natural inland waterways in the sense used for the other great land-masses.
There are no large permanent lakes at the present time worthy of the name, and the only great river is the Murray-Darling system in the south-eastern portion of the continent.
Even this great stream periodically suffers from droughts which, in certain parts of its long course, lower the river-level into a series of almost if not entirely disconnected reaches and pools.
The rest of inland Australia is, generally speaking, practically worthless from the point of view of navigation.  
By necessity, therefore, watercraft are restricted in use to the coasts and the coastal plains.

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of these are well supplied with small rivers and creeks which seldom extend inland more than three hundred miles and which, in most cases, do not reach half so far.
The practice of navigation, however, seems to have been more restricted than even these limiting conditions would indicate, for, as a general rule, I believe it is true that most of the rivers are not navigated many miles inland from their mouths.
There is little positive information to indicate that they have been so used and, furthermore, the upper reaches and tributaries of most of Australia's streams are hardly conducive to intensive navigation, if any at all, except perhaps during the wet season in the northern part of the continent or during the freshet season in the south.

It is thus apparent that the use of watercraft in Australia has been limited by natural conditions to the 11,000 miles of ocean coasts with their bays and sounds, to the lower portions of the innumerable short streams which flow across the coastal plains, and to the great inland basin drained by the Murray and Darling rivers.
Beyond these areas watercraft cannot be used.
It is important to note, however, that not all of the waters made available for navigation by nature have been utilized.
The explanation of the absence in these regions, therefore, must be sought on cultural grounds.
Since the explanations may vary in accordance with the different conditions in different localities it is necessary to consider each area by itself.

The one great region in Australia in which navigation might be practised but in which it is completely lacking is the sea-coast between the Murray river in South Australia and Shark bay on the western coast of the continent.
Along this 1,600 mile stretch no watercraft of any description are to be found.
Indeed, the rivers which flow across this coastal country are also devoid of water-craft with the exception of the Albany-Esperance region of south-western Australia, in which Mrs. Hassell [7] reports the use of a log as an aid in crossing streams.
This is similar to that used at the mouth of the Gascoyne river, which lows into Shark bay in Western Australia, where

7. Hassell, MS.

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Austin in 1851 found a crude " one-log " sort of raft.
In the words of Thomas
"It was a light log, 11 feet (3.3m.) long and 10 inches (25cm.) in diameter.
At one end it was curved to an angle of 160 degrees, and pegs were driven in on each side of this end, on which were two layers of small twigs bound up with bark, forming a basket like a dish, about half the length of the raft.
A portion of a similar one, 6 feet (1.8m.) long, was found by Phillips on Babbage Island at the mouth of the Gascoyne in 1855." [8]

From the point of view of a European it may seem strange that watercraft were not used along the southwestern coasts of Australia.
Off the west coast of South Australia between cape Catastrophe and the head of the Great Australian bight there are numerous islands and bays where navigation in all probability would be profitable.
The same conclusion would seem to hold for the Recherche Archipelago between Israelite bay and Esperance bay in southern Western Australia and for the many groups of islands, and the bays and sounds, on the western coast of the continent.
None of these islands seem to ever have been reached by the natives.
According to Mr. Glauert of the Western Australia Museum [9] there are no archaeological evidences of any aboriginal occupation of Rottnest island, yet it can be seen distinctly from Fremantle.
This conclusion is also indicated by the famous French explorer, Peron, who visited the island before 1809.  
He says:
"This island is uninhabited, and it did not appear that any of the natives of the continent had ever found their way thither." [10]
Jukes [11] indicates the same condition at the time of his visit (about 1846) although he refers possibly to Garden island.
But, on second thought, is it so strange that these coasts were not utilized for navigation as we ourselves would do ?
Is it any more strange that the natives of this particular part of the world should not have watercraft at the time of their discovery than that we did not have aircraft a century ago?
In our case we have evidence of the historical process which has resulted in our use of

8. Austin, cited by Thomas, 1905, p. 70.
9. Glauert, L., verbal information.
10. Peron, 1809.
11. Jukes, Athenaeum, 1862, no. 1793, March 8th.

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advanced forms of transportation and we realize that without a well-developed technical background to which all the industrial nations of the world have contributed, our present facilities would have been impossible to attain.
The case of the natives of south-western Australia is possibly quite similar.
Living in a region to which the influences of watercraft-users have not penetrated, it is not surprising that they have not felt the urge to take to the sea but have been content to linger, in so far as watercraft are concerned, in that state of mental lethargy which has characterized every people of the earth at various times.

The possibility that diffusion has not yet brought ideas of watercraft into this huge coastal area, therefore, must be regarded as an explanation which may have a very important bearing on the case.
The proof of this contention may be sought in the distributions of the various types of craft employed in the other parts of Australia.
If we will find that watercraft gradually become more primitive as the area of negative appearance is approached it should be obvious that the lack of watercraft on the south-western coasts of the continent is due, in all probability, to the lack of diffusion of watercraft and the ideas associated with them.
If, on the other hand, we find that the types used in other regions stop abruptly at the border of the negative area it will be more likely that resisting forces have been at play to deter these influences from crossing the border.

Another factor which we must take into consideration is the type of watercraft which may bound the area of negative appearance.
It is quite possible that the types used in the neighbouring localities may be not suited to the conditions of the south-western and western coasts.
This would be a very good reason why diffusion may not have carried watercraft into the negative area.
However, since natural conditions of this region differ completely in the, various localities from temperate to tropical climate, from wind-swept, surf-beaten coasts to calm, snug harbours and bays, it would seem strange that no influence had been able to penetrate past the borders into the many receptive areas, if the forces of diffusion had been intently pressing for any considerable period of time.
Although it is easy to see why the crude craft, unsuited for ocean use, did

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not spread to the south-western and western coasts, this does not explain why these primitive types are not found on the rivers of this region, if it can be shown that it has been possible for diffusion to have introduced them.
Here again, the distributions of the positive traits should indicate an answer to this problem.

The areas in which watercraft are partially lacking include various stretches of coast eastward from the Murray river to the coast of Queensland. Generally speaking, crude watercraft are known to most if not all of the tribes in this coastal belt, but their use is necessarily limited, as the result of their unseaworthiness, to the sheltered harbours and bays, and to the rivers.  
This is the condition which we would expect to find along the coast of Western Australia if diffusion had introduced a primitive type of craft.
Along the coasts of northern Queensland the natives are actually able to venture into the sea but this is due partly to their more seaworthy craft and partly to the protection of the Great Barrier reef and the periodical tranquility of the ocean.

Now the appearance of the same type of watercraft in Victoria, south-eastern South Australia, and the Murray-Darling basin, would seem to represent an excellent example of how a water-trait has diffused overland (see figs. 8 and 9).  
Such a diffusion undoubtedly has resulted from the frequent intercourse of the natives of local neighbouring areas for ceremonial or other purposes.
Certainly the crude type of bark-canoe of this region did not reach its present distribution by way of the sea, for it would be impossible to navigate this type of craft in any but the most placid waters.  

It is probable, however, that itsdiffusion has followed the coastal plain in general, the concept of this type of craft having been taken overland from river-valley to river-valley.
This would be particularly plausible in so far as Victoria or South Australia individually are concerned.
The major occurrences in these two regions, however, separated as they are by the relatively arid country of western Victoria and the extreme eastern corner of South Australia, may have result of a diffusion by way of the Murray river far as the likewise primitive but less crude type of crar (fig. 9) found along the coast of New South Wales is

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concerned, it is again obvious that diffusion must have been overland in a great many instances.
This craft was also too frail to put to sea in rough waters, hence its spread could have taken place only by the avoidance of the rough and rugged portions of the coast and by its idea being carried overland from river to river and from bay to bay.

In a broad general sense, however, we may speak of diffusion as having taken place along the coastal belt, keeping in mind, of course, the necessary qualifications needed for the natural features of the land and sea and for the limitations in navigation for any particular type of craft.  
In fact, since watercraft are completely lacking throughout the greater part of the interior of the continent, with the exception of the Murray-Darling basin, and are found only along the south-eastern, eastern, northern and north-western coasts and the rivers which flow across them, it is obvious that diffusion must have been confined to the coastal routes and the Murray-Darling river system.
It is, therefore, apparent that we have a most unusual condition with which to contend, for instead of having the possibility of diffusion from a point of origin or introduction taking place outward to all points of the compass, as is theoretically possible for the ordinary culture-trait when not restricted by geographical or cultural factors, we find the diffusion of any type of watercraft in Australia specifically limited to but two directions, up and down the coast.  
Such a condition is more or less unique in cultural history, for, although numerous traits in the world are found only in limited coastal distributions, in most cases there have been no insuperable barriers to their diffusion into adjoining inland areas. The case of the Eskimo kayak is a good example of this point.  
It is limited entirely in distribution to the Arctic littoral, although, in so far as natural conditions go, there is no reason why it could not be used throughout the area occupied by the birchbark canoe.
Now the limiting of watercraft to the coasts of Australia should simplify our problem considerably, for we do not have to take into consideration the possibility that a trait may have reached a given area by other than the coastal route.
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As far as the chronological aspects in any region are concerned, they will be indicated by geographical distribution of types.
This does not necessarily mean that the distribution of types as found on all the coasts of Australia are indicative of a chronological relationship among all the varieties of watercraft, for local development must be allowed for when the facts show evidence that such has taken place.
However, it seems apparent that when two non-contiguous appearances of one trait are separated by the contiguous appearance of another, the age of the latter may be inferred as the lesser of the two in that particular region.

There is another possible arrangement of distribution which should indicate relative age.
In the cases where it is found that the upper reaches of various rivers have a type of craft which is different from that extensively distributed along the coast and on the lower courses of the rivers, it seems logical to believe that the former type is of greater antiquity and that it has been displaced along the lower regions by the diffusion of the latter.
Possible explanations of such cases suggest themselves in the easier avenue of intercourse along the coast, the unfriendly relations which may exist between interior and coastal tribes, or in the greater conservativeness of the interior natives, who, in not being so dependent upon watercraft for their economic activity, are less apt to change rapidly from one type to another.

With these cultural peculiarities of watercraft and the geographical limitations of Australia in mind, we may turn to the consideration of the types of watercraft used in Australia and Tasmania.
Generally speaking, we may classify the types into four main groups:
1.    Those having a hollowed-out log (dugout) as a base.
2.    Those made from one or more pieces of bark (bark canoe).
3.    Those consisting of two or more logs or rolls bark or bundles of reeds, etc. (raft).
4.    Those consisting of a single log, or roll or bark or bundle of reeds, etc.

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This group may be subdivided, as far as we are concerned, into three classes:

    A. The plain dugout canoe.
    B. The dugout canoe with a single-outrigger.
    C. The dugout canoe with a double-outrigger.

Considering the history of watercraft in general, it seems quite obvious that outriggers, either single or double, are historically more recent than the ordinary dugout on which they are dependent. Although the ordinary dugout and those with outriggers are found in Australia, their genetic relationship is not a problem for us to consider, for the ordinary dugout seems to have been introduced by one people in one area and the dugout with an outrigger or outriggers seems to have been brought into another region by a different group. In so far as Australia is concerned, therefore, the two constitute separate historical movements. There is also the possibility that there has been in addition an independent development of a dugout in Australia.


The use of the outrigger in association with a dugout canoe is one of the most widely spread of aboriginal culture-traits. In either a single or double form it is found from Easter Island on the east to Madagascar and the neighbouring east coast of Africa on the west, a distribution extending half way round the world. Although there are places where it seems to be lacking, its use may be said to be contiguous if we allow, of course, for the great expanses of ocean which necessarily separate the positive appearances. The only notable negative areas that especially concern us in this paper, are the continent of Australia, excepting the Cape York peninsula of Queensland, and the western part of the southern coast of New Guinea.

The question as to the relative age of the single-and double-outrigger is one of the most knotty problems concerning the development and diffusion of culture traits which ethnologists have attempted to solve. The trouble does not lie in a lack of data as in so many problems of this kind, for there is an abundance of information of a

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reliable nature collected in the field during the past century, as well as numerous accounts of the writings of the early explorers which date back to the beginning of the seventeenth century.
In spite of seemingly adequate material, however, we seem to be no nearer to a satisfactory conclusion than we were when this problem was first considered, for the data indicate conflicting conclusions in so far as methods are concerned.
The distributions of the uses of the single-and the double-outrigger are in no way consistent nor are minor traits, such as the various methods of attaching the booms to the floats.

The first intensive study of outriggers was made by Haddon, [12] who limited his investigation primarily to Indonesia.
The conclusions he reached are not in accord with those of Wissler, [13] who subsequently used his data, nor with those of Dixon [14] who more recently treated the subject more extensively.
The problem is still open, therefore, and since it is improbable that all the evidence needed for a satisfactory conclusion can ever be retrieved from the pre-historic horizon, this perplexing puzzle may never be answered.

The Australian appearances of the outrigger, as already mentioned, are confined to the coast of the Cape York peninsula from the Batavia river on the gulf of Carpentaria to approximately cape Grafton on the east coast, a distance of well over a thousand miles without allowing for the many indentations in the coast line (fig. 1). 
The double-outrigger types (figs. 2 and 3) are now found from the Batavia river to Princess Charlotte bay, and the single-outrigger (fig. 4) southward from this region to cape Grafton.
We find, therefore, that the controversial problem as to the relative age of the two forms extends even into Australia where, from the continental point of view, the two types are decidedly foreign and of relatively minor significance.
The Australian appearances are also concerned in the controversy regarding the chronology of the methods of attaching the booms to the floats, for three

12. Haddon, 1913, 1920.
13. Wissler, 1928.
14. Dixon

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Figure 1.

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methods are found, two associated with the double-outrigger and one with the single-outrigger.

There can be no doubt but that the Australian uses of the outrigger have been derived from New Guinea.
Cape York is only about one hundred miles from New Guinea, the two being separated by Torres strait which is studded with islands and which offers an open avenue for the diffusion of culture-influences.

The same type of double-outrigger is used in both areas and in the intervening areas as well.  
Furthermore, according to Roth, [15] as late as 1904 hulls were traded over three routes to Torres strait and cape York.

The antiquity of the outrigger in Australia cannot be accurately indicated but, since it is likely that it was introduced at a time subsequent to the Melanesian invasion of the south-eastern coast of New Guinea, it is probably relatively recent.

The earliest record of the double-outrigger in the cape York peninsula, apparently, is that of Jukes [16] (1837) who described the type found at cape Direction.  
An earlier report by King [17] (1819) is not specific. 
Thomas [19] regards the " canoes " mentioned by King for the Bird Isles as double-outriggers, which they quite possibly may have been, although King himself says that they were similar to the type he saw at Endeavour river, [19] which in being like those described for the Blomfield rivulet, [20] must have been single-outriggers.  
Other explorers who mention the double-outrigger for the eastern coast in the cape York region include Macgillivray [22] (1852) and Jardine [22] (1867).

We have no means of determining the limits of distribution of the double-outriggers at any time during the nineteenth century.
In spite of the unsatisfactory evidence, however, it seems likely that they were not used

15. Roth, W. E., 1908, no. 88.
16. Jukes, 1, p. 106.
17. King, 1, p. 237.
18. Thomas, 1905, p. 67.
19. King, 1, p. 220.
20. King, 1, p. 209.
21. Macgillivray, 2, p. 16.
22. Jardine, p. 83.

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as far south on the east coast as they are at the present time.

According in information contributed by Roth [23] in 1910, the double-outrigger was used as far south as the Claremont islands, just south of cape Tribulation, and in 1928 Hale and Tindale [24] found them in common use still further south at port Stewart in Princess Charlotte bay, so there are evidences to show that a southward diffusion has been taking place during the past quarter century, if not for a longer period.

On the gulf of Carpentaria coast we have no information to indicate what has taken place.
All we know is that the double-outrigger was found as far south as the Batavia river in 1910. [25]
There have been no reports for this region since then.

The single-outrigger  (fig.  4)  is now found from Flinders island in Princess Charlotte bay to the neighbourhood of cape Grafton.  
This southern limit was set by Roth [26] in 1910 and no records are available to indicate whether a change has occurred since then.  
In fact we cannot be definitely sure that cape Grafton was the limit in 1910, for in 1908 Roth [27] gave Hinchinbrook island as the southern boundary, and as early as 1852 Macgillivray [28] saw the outrigger as far south as the Palm isles.
Incidentally he speaks of " outriggers," but there can be no doubt, as Thomas suggests, [29] that he was referring to the single type.
It is quite possible that the inconsistencies in the reports for the southernmost appearances may be due to a lack of sufficient records for the area in question in so far as Roth's statements are concerned.
 On the other hand, cape Grafton may be the last point where the outrigger is consistently used.  
If so the more southern appearances may be ascribed to either the temporary visits of the cape Grafton natives or to the possibility that diffusion has not yet done more than introduce them to the area south of

23. Roth, W. E., 1910, pp. 12-13.
24. Hale and Tindale, oral information.
25. Roth, 1910, pp. 11-12.
26. Roth, 1910, p. 13.
27. Roth, 1908, no. 88.
28. Macgillivray, 1, p. 98.
29. Thomas, 1905, p. 67.

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cape Grafton  where  their  use  is still  superficial and spasmodic.  
There is a possibility, of course, that their distribution has retracted since the time of Macgillivray, but I can see no reason why this should happen unless European influences are responsible, for the outrigger is certainly more efficient than the bark-canoes used in this area.
Furthermore, unless the natives of this region are retiring from their off-shore activities, it would be surprising to find them giving up one type of watercraft unless they were adopting another in its place.  
There is no information to show that any other type of craft has been entering this area, and since it is unreasonable to suppose that these people would revert to the inefficient bark-canoes which characterized their region in the time of King [30] (1819), the only safe answer seems to be that the outriggers seen so far south were those of visiting natives, or that the present distribution extends further south than the reports would seem to indicate.  
Regardless of what the truth of the matter may be, it does seem true that there has not been much of a southward trend, if any at all, in this marginal locality since 1852.  
There do not seem to be any natural conditions which might hinder a diffusion down this coast, and if there are cultural forces which are deterring or actually barring such a diffusion they are not at all apparent.

There are evidences to show that the southern boundary has moved southward during the period between 1819, the time of King's visit, and 1852.
King saw only bark-canoes in use at Goold island, near Hinchinbrook island, and first encountered the single-outrigger at Blomfield rivulet on Weary bay. [32] 
He specifically states that this craft in
"being hollowed out of a tree was of very different construction to any we had before seen."

The outrigger is described as being described as being about two foot from the side of the dugout which measured 21 ft by 15 inches at its greatest beam.

He found "similar" craft at Endeavour river, cape Flinders, and the Bird isles.

30. King, 1, p. 200.
32. King, 1, pp. 200, 209

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the latter instance which Thomas regards as a double-outrigger.

It is apparent, therefore, that the single-outrigger was dill using southward at least between 1819 and 1852.
During this period of diffusion along the southern boundary, indeed, up until the present day, alterations wore also taking place on the northern limit, for there are evidences to show that the latter has been pushed southward for a considerable distance by the southward diffusion of the double-outrigger.
If we accept King's statement in regard to the use of a single-outrigger at the Bird isles (11° 50') it follows that the double-outrigger has displaced the single type along the entire coast between there and port Stewart.
However, if the craft seen at the Bird isles by King was really a double-outrigger we still have the information from Roth and Hale and Tindale which shows that the double type has moved southward from the Clarmont isles to port Stewart during the past twenty-five years and, presumably, this movement has been at the expense of the single form.

In so far as the west coast of Queensland is concerned, only the double-outrigger has ever been observed.
It is important to note, however, that the children at the Batavia river, the southern border of the double-outrigger in 1910, make toy sailing boats "with a single outrigger, always on the weather side, which can be shifted from port to starboard and vice versa as the occasion requires."[32]

This practice is interesting and important for it may indicate that the single-outrigger was once used on the northernmost gulf of Carpentaria coast as well as on the eastern coast.
Until detailed inquiry on this point has been made, however, there is the alternative possibility, as Roth suggests, that this peculiar appearance may be "due to civilizing influences under missionary auspices."

A change from the double- to the single-outrigger took place temporarily in 1888 at the island of Mabuiag in Torres strait as the result of the presence of a native from the New Hebrides.
Ten years later, however, Haddon found the double-outrigger still in popular use. [33]

32. Roth, W. E., 1910, p. 16.
33. Reports of the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to Torres straits, vol. 4, p. 210.

Page 16

Throughout the inter-oceanic distribution of outriggers, a variety of methods of attaching the booms to the float or floats are used.
These have been described in detail by Haddon and by Dixon.[34]
In Australia, three different methods are found:

1. Stick-type.[34]  
By this method the float is secured to the boom by one or more straight sticks which are lashed at the upper end to the boom and a the lower end either inserted into the float like a peg or lashed to it (fig. 2).

2. Direct-lashed-type.[35]
This method, as its name implies, consists of lashing the ends of the booms, of which there are generally only two, directly to the float (fig. 3).

34. For description, distribution and discussion see Dixon 92-94;  Haddon, 1920, p. 126.   
35. Dixon, pp. 91-92; Haddon, 1920, p. 124.

Figure 2. Double-outrigger Canoe
with "Stick"-method of Attachment.

After Roth. 
Northern Cape York peninsula, Queensland.

Figure 3. Double-outrigger Canoe
with "Direct-lash"-method of Attachment

After Roth.
Central eastern coast of Cape York
peninsula, Queensland.
(To be continued.)

Page 17

3. Undercrossed-type.[36]
In this method, straight sticks in pairs are crossed and the end of the boom is placed on the fork made by the crossing (fig. 4).

Figure 4.
Single-outrigger Canoe with " Unclercrossed "-method of Attachment. After Roth.
Central coast of Queensland.


This type is found, apparently, from the Batavia river on the Carpentaria coast to the region of cape Direction on the east coast of the Cape York peninsula.  

It is extensively used throughout the contiguous islands of Torres strait and the neighbouring south-eastern coast of New Guinea, thence on to the eastern and northern coasts and to Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia.
This method is also employed in the Andaman islands, on the extreme north-western periphery of outrigger use.  
These appearances are all peripheral to the centralized distribution of the more complex Halmaheran method which seems to be confined to eastern Indonesia.   
In so far as we are concerned it is important to note that the Australian use of the stick-type is contiguous to its appearance in Torres strait and New Guinea, thus indicating that it is the most recent method to invade Australia, granted that cape York or the immediate vicinity was the point of entry for all three methods.


The direct-lashed-method is associated with the so-called Claremont type of double-outrigger which in 1910 was found between Night island and Claremont point and which is now distributed as far south as port Stewart, Princess Charlotte bay.

This type of attachment is common in Polynesia, Indonesia, and Ceylon, but apparently lacking

36. Dixon, pp. 94-96;  Haddon, 1920, p. 126.

Page 18

in New Guinea and the neighbouring Melanesian islands.
The nearest appearance to Australia seems to be Nissan in the northern Solomon islands.

The occurrence of this method in Australia is difficult to explain. 
It is reasonable to suppose that it has not been derived from any of the localities of the present users of this type, hence it is likely that it once was used in New Guinea and has been  displaced by the methods now found there.
This conclusion is consistent with the supposition that in being a marginal type it is relatively old and that its present distribution has been reached by diffusion from a centralized region.
Haddon also believes that it has been derived from New Guinea but considers it to be the most recent type in Australia, a conclusion which is difficult to accept. [37]


The undercrossed-method of attachment is found in Australia with the single-outrigger only from Flinders island southward.

It is employed in south-eastern, eastern, and northern New Guinea and in the far away Andaman islands. It seems quite obvious that it is an old method and there can be no doubt, as Haddon suggests, that the Australian appearance has been derived from New Guinea.


To summarize the material on the methods of attaching the booms to the float or floats: it seems quite certain that the geographical sequence along the coast of the Cape York peninsula from south to north represents the order
in which these methods were introduced into Australia.
There can be no doubt that the stick- and the undercrossed-methods came directly from New Guinea by way of cape York but, as we have seen, there is no evidence to indicate that the direct-lashed-type diffused over the same route, although such is probable, unless it is to be supposed that the appearance is the result of a local invention, which is decidedly unlikely, or the direct introduction from overseas to the cape Sidmouth region, a conclusion that seems hardly plausible.  
In view of the contiguous distribution of outriggers in Australia and New Guinea, the

37. Haddon, 1913, p. 631.

Page 19

marginal appearances in other regions of the methods of attachment used in Australia and the probability that Torres Strait has been the only avenue over which these influences have come, it seems reasonable to suppose that the geographical sequence in this case is indicative of the relative ages of the three types in Australia.
This conclusion is also supported by the little historical information available, which shows that diffusion has been southward along the coast of Queensland and away from cape York and Torres strait.
The Australian evidence also demonstrates that the single-outrigger diffused earlier than the double-type.
The finding of this chronology in this particular region, however, should be regarded as a purely local circumstance which has no relation to the possible chronological relations between the two traits in other parts of the world.
The historical movements, as accurately as we can judge from the documentary evidence, are indicated in fig. 5.
Figure 5.


The dugout (Fig. 6) from the point of view of the historical development of watercraft, is undoubtedly older than the use of outriggers, as already mentioned, for it

Figure 6.
Dugout Canoe, Drysdale river.
From a specimen in the Western Australian Museum, Perth, WA.

Page 20

is the basic trait to which the outrigger-feature has been attached.  
At the unknown point of origin of the outrigger therefore, the chronological relationship between the two is obvious.  
Once the outrigger became a permanent part of the craft, however, the older and younger traits could diffuse together as a unit and could invade new regions conjunctively.  
In the meantime it seems logical to suppose that the dugout, by itself, by virtue of its greater age, had already diffused into a more or less considerable area.
Theoretically then, if the rates of diffusion have been the same, we should expect to find the dugout at all times in areas marginal to the distribution of the use of the outrigger.
There are inherent qualities in the two, however, which preclude the possibility that the rates of diffusion would be the same or that the distributions in any particular region should stand in any definite relationship to each other.
In the first place the ordinary crude dugout is not a seagoing craft in the usual sense of the term, hence its distribution must be confined to regions which are not separated by great expanses of ocean.  
For this reason it could not have diffused rapidly except on inland streams or along sheltered coasts.    Only in exceptionally weather or by accident could it cross great distances of water.  
The outrigger-canoe on the other hand, because of its greater seaworthiness, is not hindered from diffusion over stretches of water which might prohibit the use of a dugout and, therefore, it might easily reach many regions which the dugout could not invade.  
It is not surprising, as a consequence, to find that the distributions of the twt types are not arranged in any consistent order. By very nature of the two, we should expect to find theii distributions irregular and inconsistent.

Now in so far as Australia is concerned we have that the dugout with an outrigger entered the continent by way of Torres strait and the Cape York peninsula.
In view of the chain of islands between New Guinea, the East Indies and the Asiatic mainland this would seem the only logical route by which primitive man could have reached Australia.
It is over such a route, therefore, that we would expect the dugout to have diffused at a  previous time if it were a part of the equipment of the invading
Australians, or it had been introduced at a

Page  21

relatively later time in a manner similar to that of the outrigger.
The known use of the ordinary dugout in Australia is restricted to the northern coast west of the Sir Edward Pellew islands (fig. 7) and, as we shall see, is the result of Malay influence.
Apparently it is not found to the east of the region mentioned, at least no reports of its presence have come from the southern or eastern shores of the gulf of Carpentaria, the Cape York peninsula or the eastern coast of Queensland.
There is no evidence, therefore, to support the supposition that the modern appearances could possibly have been derived from New Guinea by way of Torres strait.
There are a few reports, however, which can be interpreted to imply the use of dugouts in eastern New South Wales and south-eastern Queensland and, if they are authentic, there is a possibility that these southern appearances may have been derived from New Guinea at an early time and that this type of craft subsequently became abandoned on the coast of Queensland as the more

Figure 7.

Page  22

advanced types of craft, such as the bark-canoes, or the outrigger-canoes, made their appearance.
The alternative conclusion would be that they represent an indigenous development in eastern Australia, for it does not appear possible to link these local appearances with the dugout now found on the northern coast of the continent.

The evidence for the supposition that dugouts may have been used in northern New South Wales and the neighbouring region of Queensland is based upon a very few reports which are general in scope, ambiguous in description, or based, in all probability, on hearsay.
Angas, for instance, in speaking of eastern New South Wales in general, remarks on the use of the bark-canoe in this region and adds:
"Towards the north the natives have canoes of a more substantial kind, formed out of the trunks of trees, and about twelve or fourteen feet long: they are hollowed-out by fire and shaped with the mogo, or stone hatchet." [38]

Now, since we know that bark-canoes are used as far north as the southern periphery of the outrigger, it is quite possible that this statement refers to the outrigger-canoe in northern Queensland.
The report does not indicate any specific locality and it would seem more reasonable to interpret it as referring to a known type north of the use of the bark-canoe than to an unknown appearance towards the north.

In the Bunya mountains near Brisbane, Leichardt [39] reports that "They make little canoes of the stringy-bark tree" but he does not specify whether a dugout or a bark-canoe is meant.
Apparently the conclusion rests upon the interpretation of the word "tree."
The stringy-bark tree, however, furnishes the bark for a large proportion of the bark-canoes made in this part of Australia, so it seems more likely that a bark-canoe is implied than a dugout.
A no more satisfactory inference of the use of a dugout in the Blue mountains, New South Wales, near Sydney, has been made by Bennett [40] whose work is not
38. Angas. 1847, 2, p. 230.
39. In Lang, p. 375,
40. Burnett, l, p. 115, cited by Thomas 1905, pp 66, 72.

Page  23

available to me.  
Thomas,[41] however, in referring to both Bennettt and Angas says that:
". . the absence of detail suggests that both authorities may be relying on hearsay evidence."

Thomas also states, on the authority of a Mr. Thomas Hardy that a dugout was used on the coast of New South Wales in the region of Richmond.
A dugout was recently dredged out of the mud near port Stephens but Enright believes it to have been patterned after the A.A. Company boats or made by Maori sailors who have resided there.

It is most unfortunate that we cannot reach a satisfactory conclusion on this matter.
 It is too late to secure additional evidence of an ethnological character, and therefore, unless archaeological investigation may unearth the remains of additional dugouts, the question as to the validity of the reports may never be settled.


The modern use of the dugout canoe in northern Australia is definitely known to be the result of Malay influence.

These people for at least a century and a half, and for probably an unknown but considerable period of time before that, have visited the coast of Arnhem Land, and undoubtedly other points of the Northern Territory coast, in search of trepang and other commodities for trading in the East Indies.
According to Warner [42] the Malays who came to Arnhem Land sailed in double-outriggers and even taught the art of manufacturing this type of craft to some of the Australians.
The latter, however, accustomed to the navigating of sewn bark-canoes, were apparently not impressed by the outrigger-attachments, for they have not adopted them.
They were interested in the dugout itself as a substitute for their bark-canoe, and the Malays were quick to realize that an opportunity for a profitable trade had been created.
Dugouts were subsequently imported for sale to the natives and this trade flourished for many decades until finally broken up by the Australian government.

41. Thomas, 1905, p. 72.
42. Warner, pp. 482-483; see also Stokes, 1, p. 394; Curr, 1, p. 273; Spencer and Gillen. 1904, p. 630; Basedow, 1907. p. 53; Spencer, 1928, 2, p. 569; Tindale, 1926, pp. 130-132.

Page  24

During the period of Malay contacts the natives of Arnhem Land seem to have relied almost entirely upon the invaders for their dugouts for, according to testimony secured by Warner from old natives who were alive at the time the trade was forcibly stopped, once the Malay had departed they were so ignorant of the art of manufacture that they were obliged to return to their bark-canoes.
Had it not been for the aborigines of the English Company islands, who possessed the knowledge of dugout construction, this form of craft would have become at least temporarily obsolete in this locality. 
We cannot assume that it would have become permanently obsolete, however, for it is possible if not probable that the natives further west were building their dugouts at that time and diffusion might well have reintroduced them into Arnhem Land.
In addition to the dugout the Malays were responsible for the introduction of the mast and the pandanus sail, traits which have become integral accessories of both the dugout and sewn bark-canoes in Arnhem Land.

At the present time the dugout is found contiguously distributed from the Pellew islands [43]  in the gulf of Carpentaria on the east to the northern shore of the Prince Regent river in the western Kimberley district of Western Australia [44] (see map, fig. 7).  
Tindale [45] has recorded the evidence of the Malay visits to Groote island and it is possible that they were directly responsible for the appearance of the dugout in the Sir Edward Pellew group.
On the other hand, diffusion from the mainland may be the cause of its presence there for Spencer implies the use of only the bark-canoe in this region at the beginning of the twentieth century. [46]  
At any rate the Pellew islands appear to be the most easterly place from which the dugout has been reported. 
It is interesting to note, therefore, that in this direction the dugout has not moved very far, although peripheryward, from its point of introduction, the westward, however, diffusion has been instrumental fit causing the spread of the dugout along many hundred miles

43. Tindale, verbal information.
44. 32-33. Love, pp 32-33.
45. Tindale, 1926, pp. 130-132; and verbal information.
46. Spencer, 1928, 1, pp 569-570.

Page  25

of coastal country.
According to Stokes, who made a detailed survey of the western and north-western coasts of Australia in the years 1837-1843:

" Upon all this extent of coast, we saw no single instance of the use, or even existence, of any proa, or canoe; and my opinion, strengthened by personal experience, and enforced by tho authority of the most recent navigators, is, that the canoe is not used upon the north-west coast.
The negative evidence, at least, is strongly in favour of this presumption, for, while we saw the canoe in use at Clarence Strait,—the western boundary of the northern coast,- we saw nothing but the raft to the south of that point."[47]

In less than a century, therefore, the dugout has diffused westward for a distance of over six hundred miles.
In 1917 its boundary was the Prince Regent river, according to Love, [48] and it seems that it has not passed that point at the present time, although I have been informed by Mr. Laves [49] that the natives of Sunday island, King sound, about 100 miles to the south, know of its use.
It will be interesting to learn whether this southern and western trend of diffusion will bring this type of craft into the King sound region within the next few years.

The change in watercraft types which has taken place on the northern coast in the last century is also indicated by other writers.  
In 1818 King [50] saw a bark-canoe at Knocker bay, port Essington, but by 1834 Campbell [51] found there only dugouts " ike those of the Malays."  
He was under the impression that they had been left by the latter or that they had been stolen from them by the Australians.
It must not be assumed that the dugout was introduced into Australia between 1818 and 1834, for, as already stated, it is quite certain that the Malays have visited these shores for centuries. 
 It may be that this new type of craft had been adopted at a much earlier date by the natives of eastern Arnhem Land, although Flinders makes no mention of its use by natives in 1803.  
The acceptance of the dugout in the Port Essington district how-ever was apparently assuming an intense form in the period

47. Stokes, 1, pp. 89-90.
48. Love, pp. 32-33.
49. Laves, correspondence.
50. King, 1, p. 90.
51. Campbell, p 170, quoted by Basedow, 1913, p. 305.

Page  26

mentioned, for King seems to have been the last one to have seen a bark-canoe in this locality, subsequent visitors such as Macgillivray [52] (1852) and Foelsche [53] (1881) finding only the dugout form.
The dugout seems to be becoming more and more popular on Melville island where possibly it may eventually displace the bark-canoe.
On Bathhurst island, however, the bark-canoe is still the prevalent form although the dugout is making inroads there also.[54]

East of port Essington, the dugout is almost the universal type of craft.
As early as 1818 King [55] saw it in use at Goulburn island.
It is found in the Wessel islands and among all the peoples and islands on the east coast of Arnhem Land as far south as the Sir Edward Pellew islands. S
Although several descriptions of the method of making the dugout-canocs are available, they are all more or less brief with the exception of Tindale's detailed report for Groote island.[56]

The history of the dugout in Australia may be considered a good example of how a foreign trait may be diffused once it has been introduced into a new area.
It is unfortunate that we do not have a greater number of records of the limits of the dugout taken at different time intervals at various places along the northern coast, for it would be interesting to know whether diffusion has been gradual and constant in certain areas, or during certain periods of time, and hasty in other places, or at different times.
The most important value of the early reports, however, is their information that other types of craft, which have now disappeared from use in many localities, were formerly common in the legions now monopolized by the dugout.
With such data we have a check on the conclusions which we may see fit to adopt from theoretical points of view.
Mention has been made in passing of the former presence of both the bark-canoe and raft on the northern coast at the time the dugout was becoming popular in the Clarence strait region.  
Unless the dugout canoe

52. MacKillivray. 1, pp. 146-147.
53. Foelsche, p. 12.
54. Basedow, 1913, pp 303-305;  Spencer, I914, pp. 397-400.
55. King, 1, p. 57.
56. Tindale. 1926, pp. 103-112.

Page 27

has been  instrumental  in  completely annihilating them within its present distribution, we should expect to find them scattered in non-contiguous regions within the distribution of the dugout, as well as, perhaps, in areas which are peripheral to the present use of the latter.
In other words, knowing the historical sequence of watercraft in this area, we have a means of testing the validity of the theory that the relative distributions should indicate the chronology of the traits involved.
For our first consideration let us turn to the bark-canoe.
Bark-canoes in Australia can be classified into three main types: (1) the simple bark-canoe, (2) the tied bark-canoe, and (3) the sewn bark-canoe.


The simple bark-canoe, without sewing or stitching of any kind, is illustrated in Fig. 8.

Figure 8.
Simple Bark-canoe.
Victoria and Murray river.

It is found only in western Victoria, south-eastern South Australia, and the Murray-Darling basin of New South Wales.

Indications of its use appear at Avoca, Darling river and Riverina region, Goolwa, Murray river, southern coast, interior of New South Wales, Encounter bay, lake Alexandria and Yass (see fig. 9).[57]
As can readily be seen it is most primitive, but nevertheless an ingenuous type of watercraft.
A large sheet of bark is stripped off a tree selected for its shape so that the natural curves determine the contours of the canoe.
The ends, when necessary, are filled with clay or mud, and the same material is usually used for a hearth in the bottom of the craft.
No sewing or stitching of any description is found in this type, nor are stretchers,

57. South Australia Museum, Victoria Museum, Brough Smyth, 1, pp. 408-410; Woods, pp. 41, 193; Angas, 1846, plate 2, no. 14; plate 9. no. 18; Newland, p. 5; Flanagan, p. 58; Mitchell, 1, p. 223; Thomas, 1905, p. 57, cites other sources.

Page  28

Figure 9.

ties, ribs, or reinforced gunwales, the natural shape of the bark selected being relied upon for the maintenance of the shape of the canoe. Even at the present time hundreds of trees which have furnished bark for these canoes are to be seen along the rivers of the region indicated.


The bark-canoe with purse-like, gathered ends, secured by wrapping and tying with bark-strands or cord, is another type of primitive craft found in the south-eastern part of Australia (Fig. 10).

It occupies a contiguous distribution from the northern coast of New South Wales to the

Figure 10.
Tied Bark-canoe.
East coast of south-east Australia.

Page 29

Gippsland lakes area of eastern Victoria (see fig. 9).
There is no information to indicate how much overlapping there is between this distribution and that of the ordinary bark canoe but it seems likely that the border people may have been acquainted with the use of both.

It seems obvious that this type of craft is a decided improvement over the simple bark-canoe.
As the result of the sides being forcibly held up by artificial means at the bow and stern, a much greater depth ran be attained which, in turn, contributes to an increased seaworthiness.
Other features in construction which are of an advanced nature include the use of stretchers to maintain the spread of the bark at a minimum beam, the application of ties to prevent any widening of the beam, the insertion of ribs to strengthen the hull, and the reinforcing of the gunwales by lacing a hand of rushes along the edge of the bark hull.
Not all of these features are to be found in all the canoes of this type, and  sufficient information is not available to indicate the relative use of each.
It is probable, however, that the reinforcing of the gunwales was not extensively practised in Victoria, if at all; indeed, many of the Victorian canoes of this type do not show the use of ties or ribs.
These features assume more and more importance as the northern coast of Australia is approached.
Whereas they are inconsistently used and but crudely fashioned to the primitive canoes in the south, in the northern areas they are quite institutionalised and appear in a greater degree of refinement in association with the most advanced types of bark-canoe.
Such a progression should not be unexpected, for probability favours the theory that these elements in construction have diffHied from north to south.

In spite of the advanced traits associated with the tied bark-canoe it is still a very primitive type of craft.
A good description of the manufacture of this type is given ny Howitt.[

58. Peron plate 23; Brough Smyth, pp. 408, 410, 416, 117; Howitt, p. 424; King, l, p. 176; Tench, p. 81; Thomas 1905, p. 57, cites other sources.
59. Howitt, A.W.; in Brough Smyth, 1, pp. 408-410.

Page 30
Figure 11.
Sewn Bark-canoe.
Melville island type. 
After Basedow.


The sewn bark-canoe (fig. 11) has been reported from many non-contiguous areas between the western coast of the Northern Territory and the southern coast of Queensland.

For convenience these appearances may be arranged into three groups: (1) the Northern Territory, (2) the gulf of Carpentaria coast of Queensland, and (3) the east coast of Queensland.


The earliest report of the sewn bark-canoe for this region comes from the celebrated explorer, Captain Matthew Flinders, who found this type of craft at the Sir Edwar
d Pellew islands at the time he  discovered them.[60]
He described  it  as being  clinker-built, with  gunwales of mangrove poles lashed to the bark hulls, obliquely arranged wooden struts and a series of ties to maintain the spread of the bark, and short wooden wedges placed in the bow and stern for the same purpose.
On the floor were flat pieces of sandstone which served as a hearth.
At Blue Mud bay on the east coast of Arnhem Land, Flinders saw
a similar canoe made of two pieces of bark which were sewn together lengthwise so the seam ran along one side of the canoe.
The ends were sewn and caulked with gum.  
Five ties of vine are mentioned as are also gunwales made of poles lashed to the bark.
This craft was capable of carrying six people.  

60. Flinders, 2, p 171.

Page 31

Most of the canoes of this region, however, have a hull made of one piece of bark to which small additions may he applied.
It has been mentioned before that King, in 1818, found a one-piece bark-canoe at Knocker bay, port Essington. [61]
Short pieces of bark were placed crosswise the bottom, probably to help maintain the spread of the craft, but possibly just as a floor-protection for the bottom of the canoe.
The gunwales were of poles as in the canoes already mentioned.
The craft was 18 feet long and could hold eight people.
A somewhat similar canoe from Darwin is in the Australian Museum, Sydney.
It has three ribs, bark fibre rope-ties, pole-gunwales but no crossbeams.
Examples in the South Australian Museum, Adelaide, include one with fifteen ribs and one without the pole-gunwales.
They are from the coast of the Northern Territory.

At about the beginning of the twentieth century Spencer [62] visited the Macarthur and Roper rivers on the east coast of Arnhem Land and reported the sewn bark-canoe as a characteristic trait of all the northern coast between the Sir Edward Pellew islands, where it was still in use, and Melville island.   Although Spencer himself did not visit the entire coastline, it is quite likely that his statement is true if accepted in a general sense.
The canoe which he saw at Borraloola was composed of three pieces of bark sewn together lengthwise for the hull, to which small pieces of bark were added at each end to raise the bow and stern.
Poles were lashed to the gunwales and a series of nine ties was employed to retain the shape of the craft.
Three sticks were arranged at each tie to help support the shape, one running from side to side just under the tie, the other two were braced against the upper stick, one against each end, and crossed to the floor of the canoe where they met and held in place pieces of bark which ormed a floor and served after the fashion of ribs.

At Bathurst island and MeviIle island, Basedow [63] found similar canoes in use, the only differences being

61. Flinders, 2, p. 198.
62. Spencer, l928, 2, pp 569-570.
63. Basedow, 1913, pp. 303-306.

Page 32

fishtail-like stem, a concave bow and the custom of sewing together the tops of the side walls for a slight distance from the bow and the stern (see fig. 11).


For the gulf of Carpentaria coast of Queensland, Roth [64] reports that the sewn bark-canoe prevailed about the beginning of this century in the region between the Batavia and Archer rivers.

Some of the canoes used here lacked pole-gunwales and ribs according to Roth's description, and a specimen in the Australian Museum, Sydney, but others apparently incorporated these features, as is shown in one of Roth's plates.
The former example is reminiscent of canoes of Gippsland, except that they are sewn at the extremities and not wrapped and tied.
Two stick-stretchers and two or three ties are usually employed.
The latter are held taut by the use of two forked sticks which cross and whose bases are braced against pieces of bark on the floor of the canoe.
This practice is somewhat similar to that noticed in some of the Northern Territory craft.
There are minor details of construction which distinguish the Gulf coast canoes from those on the east coast of Queensland and those of Arnhem Land.


On the east coast of Queensland, the single-piece type of sewn bark-canoe is reported by Roth [65] for the area from the Johnstone river to just south of Cardwell, where King found them as early as 181
8 [66] (fig. 12).
In general they are similar to those already described, but differ, of course, in details.
Gunwales are made of poles or withies

Figure 12.
Sewn-bark canoes propelled by small pieces of bark.
Gould island, 1819.
After King.

64. Roth, W.E., 1908, 1910, p.6.
65. Roth, W.E., 1908, plate 1, fig. 2, 1910, p.6.
66. King, 1, p. 198.
(To be continued.)

Page 33

and run from just behind the bow to the very extremity of the stern.
Ribs are used to hold extra pieces of bark in place on the floor, as well as to strengthen the sides of the craft, by being sprung into place against the gunwales.
Only one tie, in the middle of the canoe, seems to have been employed.  
These canoes are small, being made generally for only one person.

A similar canoe was probably made in former times by the Keppel islanders.[67]
Roth obtained a model of this type as the canoe which they formerly used.
Their nearest neighbours on the mainland live at the Fitzroy river where a different style of craft, the three-piece bark-canoe, was used at the time of Roth's visit.[68]
Another area where they formerly were used, if they are not found there at the present time, is port Denison.[69]
In all probability this type was once distributed along the greater part of the Queensland coast as far south as the northern limits of the tied bark type, wherever those limits may have been.

Local variants in the sewn bark-canoe are to be found at the Tully river [70] where two pieces of bark are used, and along the coast between Whitsunday island [71] and the Fitzroy river, where an unusual three-piece bark-canoe is constructed (fig. 13).
No description of the former is available but the later, we are told by Roth, is equiped with pole-gunwales, stretchers, and at least one tie.

67. Roth, W.E., 1910, p.6.
68. Roth, W.E., 1910, p.10.
69. Curr, 3, p  4.
70. Roth, W.E., 1910, p.10.
71. Roth, W.E., 1910, p.10.
Fig 13.
Three Piece Sewn Bark-canoe.
Whitsunday island and adjacent coast, Queensland.
After Roth.

Page 34

To summarize the data on the sewn bark-canoe:
We have seen that this type is widely but non-contiguously distributed between the west coast of the Northern Territory and the southern coast of eastern Queensland.
In view of the general similarities of these craft in general technique of construction and the more or less consistent use of such minor traits as pole-gunwales, stretchers, ribs, braces, and ties, it seems logical to believe that all the appearances are historically related and that the non-contiguous occurrences noticed at the present time are due, at least in part, to the use in the intervening regions of other craft, which may be the result of foreign influence or of local development.

In Queensland, it is important to note, the outrigger-canoe occupies the entire region between the two positive appearances of the sewn bark-type, so for this region we have good grounds for believing that the former is responsible for the absence of the latter, granting that the sewn bark-canoe in the two areas is of common origin.
It is most reasonable to believe that such is the case, for it seems quite likely that some kind of watercraft was used on the eastern coast of cape York before the outrigger came in from Torres strait and, if this craft was not the sewn bark-canoe, it must have been a type which has been completely annihilated, leaving no traces of its use or any indications of its size, shape, or character.
We have considered the evidence which demonstrates the southern diffusion of the outrigger and the only satisfactory conclusion is that it has displaced the bark-canoe in the area it now occupies.

On the eastern coast of southern Queensland it is probable that the local development of the three-piece bark-canoe in the Whitsunday island-Fitzroy river district is responsible for the disappearance of the single-piece bark-canoe in that area.
As Roth has indicated the latter was formerly used at the Keppel islands opposite which the former type now prevails.
Since the one-piece bark-canoe is of simpler construction than the three-piece variety it is more likely that the latter has been derived from it than vice versa, especially so since the more primitive types of bark-canoes in Australia are all of one piece.

Page 35

In respect of the southern shore of the gulf of Carpentaria we have no evidence which might explain the apparent absence of the bark-canoe between the Sir Edward Pellew islands and the Gulf coast of the Cape York peninsula.
This coast is very poorly known, so there is a possibility that investigation may produce information which may explain this gap.
The bark-canoe, however, floes not seem to be used in the Wellesley islands, where the triangular raft is the characteristic craft.
Diffusion may have passed these islands, following directly along the coast.
Whatever may have taken place it is only reasonable to believe that the Arnhem Land and Archer river bark-canoes are historically related.
Support for this contention is given by the appearance of the triangular raft in the Weflesley islands.
This will be discussed later.

We have reviewed the evidence which shows that the presence of the dugout in the Northern Territory is the result of Malay influence.
We have seen that this type of craft is now prevalent from the Sir Edward Pellew islands on the east to the Prince Regent river in the Kimberley district in the west.
It is quite obvious that the increase in use of the dugout has caused the decline of the bark-canoe.
At port Essmgton, for instance, King saw a bark-canoe in 1818, but since 1843 only dugouts have been reported by Campbell, Macgillivray (1852), and Foelsche (1881).
At the beginning of the twentieth century bark-canoes seem to have been quite prevalent on the eastern coast of Arnhem Land, if we may accept Spencer's statement in a general sense.
In 1921, however, Tindale found them restricted to sheltered bays and creeks for that part of the coast opposite Groote island. (72)
 In the Sir Edward Pellew islands the dugout seems to have assumed first place at the present time, and a similar result is true for Melville island.
On Bathurst island, on the other hand, the bark-canoe seems to be giving way much more slowly.(73)
Apparently the Malays did not exert as great an influence upon Bathurst island, or for that matter, Melville island, as they did further east.
Bathurst island, therefore, for some reason or other, has been able to withstand the

71. Tindale, 1926, p. 103.
72. Basedow, 1913, pp. 303-305.

Page 36

pressure of the diffusion of the dugout, a pressure which as far as the north-west coast is concerned, has been instrumental in changing completely the types of water-craft formerly used there.

The westward diffusion of the dugout-canoe seems to be a good example of how a recently introduced trait may spread out and overtake the limits of its predecessor.
We have seen that King, in 1818, found the bark-canoe at port Essington.
We do not know whether this locality was the western limit of distribution of this type at that time.
By 1843, however, Stokes
(73) found nothing but rafts and logs west of Clarence strait, the boundary of the dugout at the time of his visit.
Apparently then the dugout had already at that time superseded the sewn bark-canoe as the more important type in the Darwin region.
The sewn bark continued in use as the more recent specimens from the Darwin area indicate, but there is no indication that it diffused westward of this area, whereas the dugout since 1843 has moved from Clarence strait to the Prince Regent river.

Now since Clarence strait, as far as we know, has always constituted the western border of the distribution of the sewn bark-canoe, it is only logical to believe that its point of origin was eastward of this point and that it probably had not reached Clarence strait at a very great time before the dugout was brought in by the Malays.
Were it otherwise, we should expect to find a continued westward diffusion of the bark-canoe into the Cambridge gulf area, for there seem to be no forces which would bar such a type of craft but which would encourage the introduction of the dugout.
That the dugout is the more popular type in this general region is well demonstrated by its history on the entire northern coast, and the fact that it has been so readily accepted in this region would seem to explain why the normal tendency of the sewn bark-canoe to diffuse westward stopped immediately after the introduction of the dugout.

Another reason for believing that the bark-canoe reached Clarence strait from the east is the indication that it was not the original type of watercraft in Arnhem Land

73. Stokes, 1, pp. 89-90.

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but that it diffused into this region to displace another type of craft, the triangular raft which, in all probability, was formerly used there.
Flinders, in 1803, found that the raft was the only craft used at Melville island.
Thomas (76) regards this as improbable, apparently only because other craft were seen there at later times.
His surmise may be correct, but sight must not be lost of the possibility that the sewn bark-canoe may have been just reaching western Arnhem Land at that time.
Flinders' statement, however, is important in that it indicates that rafts were formerly more important at Melville island than at any subsequent time, a condition which adds to the probability that the sewn bark-canoe is not of great antiquity there.
It is unfortunate that Flinders did not describe the rafts which he saw for there are two types in Australia, (1) an unusual triangular raft, and (2) the ordinary raft.

FIG. 14.
Single Triangular Raft. Wellesley islands.
After Roth.

75. Flinders, 2, p. 154.   
76. Thomas. 1905, p. 69.

Page 38

Figure 15.
A Double-Triangular Raft.
Kimberly District, north-western Australia.
From a photograph from the Western Australia Tourist Bureau.

Page 39

One of the most peculiar of the world's watercraft is the triangular-shaped raft of northern Australia (Fig. 14).
Still more odd is the double-raft, composed of two of these with their smaller extremities overlapping in the middle of the craft (figs. 15 and 16)|
The single rafts are now found in two widely separated areas, the Wellesley islands in the gulf of Carpentaria and the north-west coast of Australia, northward from the northern end of Ninety-mile beach.
Just how far this type extends north-east of the latter cannot be indicated with certainty.
According to Brown it was found in 1916 almost as far as Darwin.(77)
The double-raft is limited to the coast between King sound and the Prince Regent river in the western Kimberley  region.

The distributions are shown in fig. 17.
Figure 16.
Model of a Double Triangular Raft.
Sunday island, King's sound.
Showing method of pegging logs together.
Note yard at end of craft for fish, tools, and other articles.
From a model in the Western Australia Museum.

77. Brown, no. 4.

 Page 40
Figure 17.
Colour adjusted, and not accurate.

Page 41

important to note however, that the lashing method of attaching the logs together at this early time is the same as that employed in the modern rafts at the Wellesley islands as well as in those seen by Flinders.
This method must have been

Figure 18.
Single Triangular Raft
Note lashing method of attachment.
Hanover Bay, 1821.
After King.

relinquished in the west within a few years after King's visit, for Stokes [81] (1837-1843) describes the raft he found at Sunday strait as being held together by pegs.
It was formed of nine small palm-tree poles, the largest of which was three inches in diameter.
It was light enough to be carried by one man.
A similar raft was also seen by Stokes at Raft point.
The South Australian museum has a raft of this type from King sound.
It consists of ten poles. The modern rafts of this region are all pegged.

An interesting feature of these rafts is the provision wade for a small yard, enclosed by a fence of pegs, in which tools, fire-sticks and tinder, and other belongings or fish may be placed.
This custom was noticed by Stokes [82] (1837-1843) at Bathurst island (Sunday strait).

The double-raft is apparently a recent development in Australian watercraft, for it is not mentioned by the early explorers.
Its distribution, as already mentioned, is localized and contiguous, conditions which generally indicate a lack of antiquity.
At the present time its use is found only in the 200-mile area between King sound and the mouth of the Prince Regent river, the western limit of the dugout canoe (see map, fig. 19).

81. Stokes, 1, p. 112.
82. Stokes, 1, p. 175,

Page 42
Figure 19.

It seems quite obvious that the double-raft is a direct outgrowth of the single type.
It is composed of two of the latter which are made individually and then placed together.
According to Love [83] the individual rafts are about six feet long and composed of logs about six inches in diameter at their larger ends.
The lower raft usually consists of nine logs, but the upper, in some cases, may have only seven.
The rafts are dragged into the water individually and then placed one over the other with the tapering ends overlapping in the centre.
The logs of each raft are securely nailed together with wooden pegs eight to nine inches long, but no attempt is made to fasten the two rafts together even for temporary use.

The weigh of the upper raft is relied upon to maintain it in its proper position.
When in the water, but not in use, the double-raft is anchored by thrusting a turtle spear down between the logs of the two rafts into the bottom of the sea.

83. Love, p. 33.

Page 43

A similar description of manufacture and use has been furnished me by Mr. Gerhardt Laves for the rafts of the Berda tribe of Sunday island, King sound.[84]

In respect to the historical development of the double-raft it would seem that its origin has been recent, as is indicated by its small and contiguous distribution, and apparently by the fact that it was not reported during the early days of exploration in this region.
It seems obvious that it is more recent than the single-raft as is shown by the method of its construction as well as by the relative distributions of the two types.
This relative antiquity, however, could be implied even if the single-raft were not found to the north-east; for, as we have seen, the north-eastern border of the double-raft is being directly threatened by the dugout which has diffused from the east, hence the progression in this direction, although apparently still present, might have been and eventually may be destroyed.
The double-raft was also diffusing in a westerly direction as is shown by the information secured by Mr. Laves to the effect that the Berda tribe had secured the idea from natives to the north.
The presence of the single-raft on the south-western periphery, therefore, is where we should logically expect to find it.
We have seen that the diffusions of both the dugout and the double-raft have been westward, and these movements indicate that the chronological order of watercraft in this region has been (1) Single-raft, (2) Double-raft, and (3) Dugout-canoe.

The single-raft also seems to have undergone a west­ward diffusion since Stokes visited this coast.
Stokes reports that he saw no watercraft except logs until he reached Sunday strait where he found the single-raft. [85]
By 1864, however, as is attested by Martin,[86] the single-raft had diffused as far south as Roebuck bay and before 1916 reached the northern end of Ninety-mile beach.
Martin also indicates that the single-raft, and not the double-raft, was used on the Glenelg river, for he describes the rafts



84. Laves, correspondence.
85. Stokes, 1. P- 175.
86. Martin, pp. 25, 86,

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as being made of "three or four mangrove sticks, about six or seven feet in length, pegged together with pine."

We have no information to show whether the double-raft was used north of the Prince Regent river, its present boundary where it meets the dugout.
It may be that it has already lost some ground due to the invasion of the dugout.
On the other hand, it may be that the dugout, which has but recently reached the Prince Regent river, has not yet invaded the home proper of the double-raft.
Because of the recent appearance of the double-raft in its present distribution it would seem likely that it has never occupied a much larger territory unless it originated further east in the area now occupied by the dugout-canoe which has pushed it westward as far as the Prince Regent river.
This is a possibility which cannot be ignored, although there is no evidence to show that such has happened.
It is probable, however, that the double-raft never extended a great distance eastward, for all indications suggest that it is a local development of the north-west coast region.

The single-raft, on the other hand, was undoubtedly invented further east, possibly somewhere in the Northern territory, for it is such a peculiar craft that it would certainly be unreasonable to believe that the present appearances in the Wellesley islands and the Kimberley district are the results of independent inventions.
The odd shape and the ancient method of lashing the poles together suggest that the type has been invented but once and that the present appearances are the results of an old diffusion.
This contention is supported by the history of watereraft in the intervening area, for we have seen that the dugout has superseded the sewn bark-canoe in the Northern terri­tory and that the sewn bark-canoe probably diffused into this region from the east.
At the time before the latter diffusion took place the Northern territory must have been either devoid of watereraft or there must have been present a cruder type of bark-canoe, rafts, or logs.
There is no evidence to show that a different type of bark-canoe was ever used in this region but there are appearances of rafts and logs, even in recent times.
The rafts which have been described, it is true, do not conform to the odd triangular shape, but, it should be pointed out, they have been reports

Page 45

from areas where the bark-canoe or dugout are also , hence there is the possibility that they were intended only for temporary use and, therefore, might be cruder than the triangular type.
On the other hand, some observers have not described the appearances of the "rafts" they saw, so there is a possibility that the triangular type may have been implied.
Taking all these possibilities into consideration, the evidences of a sequence of watercraft types in the Northern territory and the strangely similar characteristics of such an odd craft as the triangular raft, it would seem that the only logical conclusion is that the single triangular-raft was invented but once, that it diffused from an unknown point of origin eastward to the Wellesley islands and westward to Ninety-mile beach and that it has given way in the intermediate area to the sewn bark-canoe east of Clarence strait and to the dugout-canoe west of that point.
The historical movement in the Kimberley region as indicated by documentary evidence is shown in fig. 20

Figure 20.

The Ordinary Raft.

Ordinary rafts have been reported from a great many localities in Australia and seem to differ not only from locality to locality but from raft to raft.
In other words it seems impossible to group them into any strict classifi­cation.
This is not surprising, for the raft is generally such a simple craft, intended often for only temporary use, that its appearances are bound to differ one from the other.
The important points for our consideration are the areas in which various rafts are found.

On the inland stretches of the Mulgrave, Russell, Barron, and Tully rivers of eastern Queensland the use

Page 46

the raft was found by Roth. [87]
These craft are made of from three to six odd lengths of light timbers tied together near their ends with native rope.
In the better examples provision is made for the carrying of fire on a clay hearth, It is important to note that these rafts do not seem to be used along the coast where the bark-canoe prevails.
Their distribution on the backwaters of several parallel rivers would seem to indicate that the raft had once been in use on the coast where its presence was no longer required as the result of the coming of the bark-canoe.

At Bathurst island (Sunday strait) Stokes [88] reports the use of a raft made from the trunk of a mangrove-tree with three distinct stems from one root.
It was covered by a platform of small poles upon which dry grass had been placed.
A rude raft was also seen by Stokes at Patterson bay [89] (Northern territory).
This was composed of small bundles of wood lashed together without a definite shape or form.
Stokes [90] again mentions a raft near port Darwin which was towed by men swimming, but no description of it is given.
All of these appearances were peripheral to, or just on the margin of, the distributions of both the dugout and the sewn bark-canoe at that time.
Rafts were also seen by Basset Smith at cape
Bougainville, Bigge island, and Baudin island in 1891,[91] and this may indicate that the dugout may not have been fully accepted in those places at that time.1
Although details are not given, it is possible that these rafts were triangular rafts.
These areas are within the present distribution of the dugout, but none of the latter was seen.
In South Australia a reed-raft was used on lake Alexandrina [9
2] and a reed and timber-raft was made by the peoples on the low Murray river. [93]
In both these places the simple
bark canoe was also present.
In Tasmania rafts seem to be
of two kinds.
Some authorities state that they were teased


87. Rolfe, W. R, 191% pp. 4-5.
88. Stokes,
t, p. 1??.
Stokes. 2, p. 16.
Stokes, 2. p. 1?.
Smith, p. 3XL
92. Tindale, verbal information. A specimen is in the South Australian Museum. See Angas, 1, p. 90.
93. Stephens, p. 75, cited by Thomas, 1905, p. 70.

Page 47

of the trunks of two trees about thirty feet long to which four or five smaller were lashed to hold them five or six feet apart.
Other writers, however,
found rafts made of bundles of bark, alongside of which some natives swam while others rode.[94]
The question arises in my mind as to whether we should consider the so-called Tasmanian canoe as a raft.
It falls within the definition of the latter in that it is composed of three rolls of bark which are tied together in a solid mass.
The term "canoe" generally implies a hollow vessel and hollowness is not a feature
of this Tasmanian craft.

Reference has already been made to the single-log "raft" found in 1851 by Austin at the mouth of the Gascoyne river."[94]
It is questionable whether this appearance should
be regarded as a raft or as a log.-
It is more like a raft in that it has a small platform on it due to the peculiar shape of the log.
On the other hand, it is formed of a single tree and hence could be included in the single-log group.
According to Brown a single log with pegs driven in the sides and intertwined with twigs or grass to steady it, or two logs, pegged together and treated in the same way, were in common use in this area.[95]
It is difficult, therefore, to determine just where to draw the line between the raft and the log.
Both are certainly simple and must be regarded as most primitive attempts to travel by water.

To summarize the little information available on the raft:
We have seen that in most cases it is found only in areas which are marginal to, or
on the boundary of, more advanced types of craft.
It would seem, therefore, that the raft is probably a very ancient type of watercraft in Australia, now relegated in use to those areas where more modern craft are not used or now employed only for emergency use in those regions or elsewhere.

We have traced the progression of watercraft down the north-west coast and have seen that the single triangular raft is peripheral to the other advanced appearances. I
is possible to make one more step in this progression, for

94. Roth, H. Ling. pp. 154-158.
Brown. no. 4.

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westward of Roebuck bay the raft is not found, the only watercraft of the region being a simple log.

The Swimming-log.

use of a log as a transportation device seems to be known in most parts of Australia where wide or dangerous streams must be crossed.
In those regions where improved forms of watercraft are used, the swim­ming-log assumes the importance of only a temporary makeshift to be discarded immediately after use.
At first glance, therefore, in so far as such regions are concerned, one is apt to regard this device as of little value in any consideration of the historical development of Australian watercraft.
A simple log is such a rudimentary contrivance that one is inclined to dismiss it at once as being outside the definition of watercraft.

In most regions of the world, and in those parts of Australia where it serves the purpose of a mere temporary aid in the crossing of a stream, such a conclusion is possibly justified.
However, when one stops to consider its fundamental value in other parts of Australia where it is the sole means of not only river travel but of ocean navigation as well, and where it is distinctly of a permanent character, one begins to wonder just how important this simple log may have been in the history of watercraft in Australia.

The swimming-log has been reported from all of the Australian states with the exception of Victoria and New South Wales, but there can be no doubt but that it was
Fig. 21.
Natives Swimming with Logs.
Mitchell River, Queensland.
After Roth.

Page 49

used on occasion in these areas as well.
We have already seen that the crudest types of bark-canoes are found in these two states, and, since they are more or less in common usage it seems quite likely that recourse to a log would seldom be necessary.
On the gulf of Carpentaria coast of the cape York peninsula the use of the log has been described by Roth [96] for the Mitchell river region (fig. 21):

"A log is cut to about
between five and six feet long, and when in the water can easily support the native who stretches himself upon it straddle-leg, with the thicker butt-end in front, somewhat in the position of a child riding a hobby-horse, and so paddles himself along; being able to keep his balance with one hand, he can thus have the other free to carry his spears, etc.
To see these logs for the first time, lying as they were here, and there on the sides of the riverbanks, and to suggest the purpose for which they were intended, would certainly have constituted a puzzle which, without ocular demonstration, I should never have guessed.
Upon inquiry, as to how they had come to practice such a manner of transport, the blacks told me that having the body so much out of the water, they could swim these estuaries with much greater ease.
On the other hand, I cannot refrain from hazarding the opinion that the employment of the float in this manner may at the same time serve the purpose of protective mimicry from the attacks of crocodiles, which literally swarm in these waters, the thinner end of the float, which projects behind after the nature of a tail, giving the swimmer all the appearance, at no considerable distance, of one of these saurians; that the natives here have but little dread of these creatures may be gauged from the fact that on the occasion of a visit of the Government ketch Melbider to the Mitchell river, eleven crocodiles were to be seen at one and the same time from the vessel's deck."

On the south-eastern coast of Queensland, in the region of the Keppel islands, the use of a log is again reported.
Conditions here, it should be noted, are decidedly unlike those of the Mitchell river district.

The great hazard of crocodiles is absent, but in its place is the danger of sharks which abound off the east coast.
In this particular area the log is used for travelling on the ocean, from one island to another, and, when necessary, to the mainland, a distance of at least six miles.
Roth reports:
"Having floated
a pandanus log, up to as much as thirteen or fourteen feet in length, according to the number in the party, the leader of the gang guides its lesser extremity with the one hand

96. Roth,
W. E. 1910, p 3-4.

Page 50

(say the left), and swims along with the other; the man behind, resting his right hand on number one's loins propels himself with his left; number three holds onto number two with his left, and swims with his right, and so on.
The most skilful part of the manoeuvre would appear to be in the proper use of the leg so as to prevent its impeding the progress of those behind.
When the leader gets tired, his place is taken by another, and if all require a few minutes' rest, they have the float to hold on to." [97]

For the region now known as North Australia we have several accounts of the prevalence of this custom.
Here, as in north-western Queensland, the rivers are infested with crocodiles, so that the crossing of a bay, or a stream, in the tidewater country, is always attended with considerable risk.
At port Darwin, Stokes [98] (1837-1843) saw native men towing a raft each of whom was supported by a log placed across the chest.
A similar practice was seen by the same author in the neighbouring Patterson bay. [98]
In more modern times the custom has been noticed by Le Hunt at point Pearce [100] and by Basedow [101] for the general coastal region in this part of North Australia.
According to the latter, the log is often used in swimming long stretches.
It is utilized to carry the possessions of the swimmer who pushes it before him in the water.

In South Australia, according to information given me as hearsay by Tindale, the Yanthruwunta natives in the neighbourhood of Innamincka used to cross Cooper creek, when in flood, on logs paddled with the hands.
In Tasmania H. Ling Roth [102] gives the impression that a single log was commonly used in crossing streams and narrow straits, although the crude rafts, as already mentioned, were also prevalent

For the western part of the coast of southern Australia, watereraft were not needed as far as inland navigation was concerned, for there are no formidable streams over the 1,200-mile coast between port Augusta and cape Paisley.
In the region about Albany, however, as already mentioned, the log was used in crossing rivers.
This is the only report of any kind of watereraft for this part of Australia and

97. Roth, W. E., 1910, p. 4.
98. Stokes, 2, p. 15.
Stokes, 2, p. 16.
100. Le Hunt. p. 4.
101. Basedow, 1907, p.
102. Roth, H. Ling, pp. 154-158

Page 51

it has been thought until now that nothing was used on the Murray river in South Australia and the Gasgoyne river on the western coast where Austin found the single-log "raft" in 1851.

Between Shark bay and the southern end of Ninety-mile beach the log assumes its greatest importance in navigation.
It is used on the rivers of this region in much the same way as already described, but in so far as the coastal areas are concerned it is not a mere makeshift for temporary use, nor an aid for swimmers who may tire on their journey, but a bona fide "craft" which is used in the same way in the daily routine of life as are those of peoples in other parts of the world (fig. 22).  

Fig. 22.

A native using a log on the north-west coast of Australia, 1821. 
After King

On these crude devices the natives intentionally allow themselves to be carried for many miles to sea to visit the islands which are numerous along the stretch of coast near Roebourne.
With the return of the tide the native comes back to the mainland, guiding his log with his hands but relying upon the tide to carry him to his destination.
The importance of the log was first noticed by King [103] in 1818 for the region about Depuch, Rosemary, and Lewis islands, and Nickol bay near what is now Roebourne.

The manner of using the log in this locality is shown in fig. 22.
 It is to be noticed that the native sits upright with his feet on the log in contrast to the prevalent custom in other regions where the native is more or less immersed in the water while the log is being used primarily as an aid to swimming.
In the north-west the native seems to use and

103. King, 1. pp. 38, 40, 43.

Page 52

to regard his log as a water-vehicle in much the same way as the inhabitants of other regions use and regard rafts, canoes, dugouts, or outriggers.
In some cases a tool, such as an axe, may be lashed to the log. 
At Delambre island, Gregory [104] found the logs equipped with a little rail of sticks driven in the sides for use as a leg rest.

In respect to the use of the log it is important to note that, like the raft, it is confined more or less to those regions where the more advanced types of craft are unknown (see fig. 17).
It is the sole means of water-transportation at Cooper creek, in the eastern end of that great area which is characterized by a lack of watereraft, and on the north-west coast, the opposite boundary of the same region.
Furthermore, the only intervening appearance in this area, that in the Albany region, is also a log, apparently in its crudest form.


We have now reviewed the main types of Australian watercraft and their distributions.
At the beginning of our survey we suggested that because of the peculiar natural conditions of the continent, which restricted watereraft to the coastal regions and the Murray-Darling basin, it should be possible in many instances to determine the chronological relationships of the various types on the basis of their geographical sequence along the coastline.
This prediction appears to have been fulfilled, for we have been able not only to predicate a logical chronology on the basis of geographical distribution, but also, in some cases, to confirm these results with historical data.

In respect to the east coast of the continent, we have seen that starting at cape York, where the double-outrigger is in use, the types of craft gradually lose their complex characteristics and assume more simple and more primitive appearances as the extreme south is approached.
The double-outrigger is flanked on the south by the single-outrigger.
South of the latter, the complex sewn bark-canoe is met.
Still further south, the more primitive tied bark-canoe prevails.
Finally is western Victoria, eastern South Australia and the Murray-Darling basin, the crudest of all

104. Gregory. p. 56.

Page 53

the canoe types, the simple bark-canoe, is used.
It is even possible to carry the progression farther than this for, on the western periphery of distribution of the simple bark-canoe, the ordinary raft is found at lake Alexandnna and on the Lower Murray river, while still further outward at Cooper creek the single swimming-log is occasionally used.

On the west coast of the Cape York peninsula as on the east coast, we find the double-outrigger as the most northern type of craft, but directly south of it, the use of the sewn bark-canoe commences.
There is a possibility that the two may have been separated originally by a single-outrigger, if the toy at the Batavia river is of any historical significance, in which case the chronology would be the same as that on the east coast.
The apparent lack of the single-outrigger on the Gulf coast, however, does not need any explanation, for this type may never have diffused west of cape York.
At any rate, the most important point is that on both coasts the sewn bark-canoe is peripheral to the use of outriggers.

In the western part of the continent we also find the chronological relationships well defined by their geographical sequence.
In this region different types of watercraft are encountered.
However, although the craft themselves and their characteristics may vary from one region to another, it is apparent that the forces of diffusion have acted
similarly in the west as in the east.

Starting from Arnhem Land, the place where the most recent of the western types of craft was introduced, the geographical sequence eastward is dugout, sewn bark-canoe, single triangular raft.
West of Arnhem Land the sewn bark-canoe was formerly used as far as Clarence strait but now is only occasionally seen for its use has been superseded by that of the dugout.
A century ago the sequence of types to the west was the same as on the east, but to-day we find the dugout flanked by the triangular raft.
Lastly on the far western periphery we notice the most simple of all watercraft, the log.
We thus see that starting from the north-eastern part of the continent there is a gradual change to primitive characteristics as the Murray river region on the south-

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eastern coast is approached or as the North-west Cape area on the western coast is neared.
These two peripheries, as already mentioned, mark in a general way the borders of that vast part of south-western Australia in which watercraft are completely lacking, with the exception of the log in the Albany area and the log-raft at the mouth of the Gascoyne river.

Now since there is a gradual lessening of watercraft complexity as these borders are approached, there seem to be no reasons for supposing that the lack of watercraft in the extensive region of southern and western Australia is due to natural conditions which may have barred their entry.
It is true that there are no rivers along the great Australian bight which could encourage inland transportation, but there are numerous islands off the west coast of South Australia which invite exploitation.
These islands would be no more difficult to visit than Kangaroo island, off cape Jervis (not far from the mouth of the Murray river).
It has been believed that this island was never inhabited by the natives, but the recent archaeological investigations of Tindale and Maegraith [105] have brought to light evidences of aboriginal occupation.
The only known types of watereraft of the adjacent mainland are the simple bark-canoe and the raft, hence, unless some other type of craft, now unknown, was employed to make the crossing, or a former land-bridge was traversed, one of these two must have been used.
It is extremely doubtful whether the simple bark-canoe could have successfully crossed the strait, hence the raft appears as the more likely craft.
It is not known whether these islanders maintained any commerce with the mainland, and it may be that the occupation was the result of a misadventure which landed them there.
The important point, however, is that the island was reached.
As a consequence we are forced to believe that it would not have been impossible for at least the raft to have been utilized to reach the islands further west.
The west coast of south Australia is not an area rich in forests, but trees suitable for watereraft are available.
There seem to be no natural conditions, therefore, which might be responsible for barring the diffusion of

105. Tindale and Maegraith, 1931.

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watercraft along the southern coast at least as far as the head of the Great Australian bight.

The reason why the diffusion was not carried the simple bark-canoe, the raft, or the log be found perhaps in their inherent qualities, for although they are usable, they certainly are not conducive to the development of ocean-navigation, especially in an area such as the storm-beaten southern coast where there are no streams for inland navigation.
Rafts and logs can be used on the ocean under more favourable conditions, as we have seen for the northern coasts where placid seas are normally found.
However, in Victoria and along the south-eastern coast where simple bark-canoes are in use ocean-navigation is not practised.

At first glance it would seem natural to ascribe this condition to the character of the ocean in this region.
On second thought, it seems more reasonable to lay the blame on the inherent qualities of the crude canoes, for the rough conditions of the southern ocean do not prohibit the use of watercraft in general, but they do deter the utilization of crude unseaworthy types which are satisfactory only on rivers and protected waters.
It would seem, therefore, that the lack of the simple bark-canoe in the coastal plain of western South Australia and adjacent eastern Western Australia can be explained in terms of geography, for, as we have seen, there are no rivers running across this littoral.
In respect to ocean-transportation in the same area, however, the lack of watereraft cannot be explained on a geographical basis, for the restrictive factors are purely cultural, since they depend almost entirely on the types of watereraft available and the ability of the people to use them.

In respect to the northern portion of the western coast of the continent, natural conditions, taken all in all, appear to be very favourable for the use of watercraft.
There are not only a number of rivers, but also well sheltered bays filled with islands.
The reasons for the lack of watereraft in this region, therefore, cannot be ascribed to natural conditions nor to the primitive characteristics of any particular type of craft, for any of them could be used in this area.
The only logical explanation of the lack of their appearance under these receptive conditions is that

Page 56

forces of diffusion have not yet brought them to this area.
 We have seen that the single triangular raft, the double-raft and the dugout are actually diffusing westward toward the area of negative appearance, so it would seem probable that, unless they are hindered by the interference of modern European influences, they should eventually reach the west coast of the continent.

To return to the question of the chronological relationships of the different types of watercraft in the various regions of Australia, it will be remembered that the double-outrigger canoe with the stick-type of attachment appears to have been the most recent invader of the cape York region, and that it was probably directly preceded by the double-outrigger type with the direct-lashed form of attachment.
All indications point to the conclusion that the single-outrigger canoe with the undercrossed method of attaching the floats was the first of the three to enter Australia.
Each appears to have extended its distribution at the expense of its predecessor by diffusing southward along the east coast of Queensland, and such conditions imply that the sequence of introductions at cape York is the same as that indicated in their geographical order on the Queensland coast.

In the Northern territory we found the dugout to have been brought in by the Malays.
It seems quite obvious
that it is the most recent type on that coast.

With the elimination of those forms of watercraft of known foreign origin which have recently invaded Australia, we have left on the continent only the bark-canoes, the rafts, and the logs; hence, if it is possible to determine their chronological order, we should know the order of development of all the types of watercraft in Australia.

There is every reason to believe that the sewn bark-canoe is indigenous to Australia.
In the first place, it has not been observed in New Guinea or other nearby Pacific regions.
This does not necessarily prove that it could not have originated elsewhere, being subsequently replaced by other forms of craft. The apparent indication of its Australian origin, however, rests upon the finding in Australia of the more primitive types of bark-canoes from which it undoubtedly developed.
It is only reasonable to

Page 57

suppose that the sewn bark-canoe originated somewhere within the limits of its present distribution, for it appears to have diffused westward to the Northern territory and southward along the southern coast of eastern Queensland.
These indications point to northern Queensland as a most likely place of origin.

Now if the development of the sewn bark-canoe took place in northern Queensland, its home is suggestively near New Guinea.
This again does not necessarily imply that it may have originated outside of the continent, but it does indicate that foreign influences may have been responsible for the urge which led to the perfecting of a primitive bark-canoe to one with more seaworthy characteristics.
The foreign influences may have exerted themselves only indirectly on the then prevailing type of Australian craft by introducing new concepts of marine activities such as deep-water fishing or off-shore travel, and these, in turn, may have been the incentives which influenced the Australians of Queensland to add to their craft such improvements as pole-gunwales, ribs, stretchers, and ties.

There are some traits, however, which seem to have been taken directly from outside sources.
These include the spatulate paddle and the sail.
Sails have been introduced into two areas, cape York and the Northern territory.
In both regions they are associated with the recently-acquired types of watercraft, and their derivations undoubtedly have been from New Guinea on the one hand and Malaya on the other.
The spatulate paddle, however, may have been associated with the sewn bark-canoe in the Northern territory before the dugout was brought in by the Malays, so it is possible that its distribution is primarily the result of influences at cape York.
These paddles are found only along the northern coasts of the continent in association with the advanced type of watereraft.
In the southern and peripheral regions, propulsion is limited to poles, small bark-scoops, six to eight inches long and four to six inches wide (fig. 12), spears or spear-throwers used as paddles, or the hands.
These distributions again indicate that watercraft-development has taken place in northern and tropical Australia and not in the south.

Page 58

Now if the sewn bark-canoe originated somewhere in northern Queensland, as seems quite likely, it is reasonable to believe that a more primitive bark-canoe must have been used previously in that region.
Although such a predecessor is not found in this area at present, it seems not unlikely that it may have been similar to the wrapped and tied bark-canoe now found on the New South Wales coast.
It is possible that the sewn bark-canoe is a direct development from the simple bark-canoe, but in view of the intermediate character of the tied type, it seems more reasonable to suppose that the latter is the direct ancestor and that it in turn represents an improved simple bark-canoe.
This sequence is also suggested by their geographical distributions on the east coast, where the progression runs from complex features in the north to the most primitive characteristics on the southern periphery.
The lack of this progression in the west may be due to the development in that region of the triangular raft, which is more seaworthy than the crude canoes.
It also seems reasonable to believe that the latter could have successfully barred the diffusions of the simple and tied bark-types if these types had tended to spread westward from Queensland.
On the other hand, since there are no evidences to show that these two types of bark-canoe were ever used west of cape York, it may be that both originated on the east coast.
It is possible that one or the other diffused into the cape York region from further south on the Queensland coast, and was there improved, as the result of influences from Torres Strait, into the sewn bark-canoe.
A new diffusion may have then started, carrying the newly-perfected sewn bark-canoe westward into the region of rafts and southward on the eastern Queensland coast into the area of the more primitive bark-canoes.

To consider the question of the marine equipment which may have been used by the early invaders of Australia, it seems obvious that we can eliminate the double-outrigger, the single-outrigger, and the dugout, as the result of their recent arrivals and their foreign derivations, and the sewn and the tied types of bark-canoe, because of their indigenous development from the simple bark-canoe.
It also seems likely that the simple bark-canoes originated in Australia.
They have not been observed in other Pacific regions and

Page 59

ore important still, they are of such a primitive character that it is difficult to believe that they could have been used to cross Torres strait as we now know it even in tranquil weather.
By a process of elimination, therefore, there appears to be only the raft and the log which could have been used to ferry early man into the continent.
All early rafts were probably of the ordinary form and not the triangular type, for the latter seems to be an indigenous development on the northern coast.
It does not seem reasonable to suppose that the log would have been used to invade the continent, although it does appear as a possibility.
It is much more likely that the ordinary raft was employed, for, of the known types of craft in use in Australia, it is the only one which satisfies all the requirements of antiquity, simplicity, and serviceability.

Since it is probable that there have been two or more invasions by early peoples, one the Tasmanian type, one or more the Australian type, there is the possibility that one or more types of craft were employed, unless it is to be assumed that all used the same means of transportation.
In view of the antiquity involved, however, we must assume that such craft must have been very primitive.
The most we can say is that the raft seems to satisfy the requirements of such voyages and the conditions of antiquity, and the appearances of chronology indicated by existing types of craft in Australia, assuming that it was not possible to cross from New Guinea to cape York by land even though the water-level may have been much lower than at the present time.

To bring our discussion to a close, we may indicate the following conclusions:

1. The single-outrigger with (a) undercrossed method of boom-attachment and double-outriggers with (b) direct- and (c) stick-methods of boom-attachment appear to have been derived from New Guinea by way of Torres strait in comparatively recent times and in the order named.

2. The dugout, also comparatively recent, was introduced into the Northern territory by the Malays

Page 60.

3. The bark-canoes seem to be indigenous to Australia and probably developed in the order of (a) simple bark-canoe, (b) wrapped bark-canoe, (c) sewn bark-canoe, possibly somewhere on the Queensland coast.

4. The double triangular raft appears to be indigenous to the north-west coast and a direct outgrowth of the single triangular raft.

5. The single triangular raft seems to be indigenous to the continent and may have originated some-where along the coast of North Australia.

6. The ordinary raft, the single log, or both, may have been the craft used by some early invading groups.

7. The craft used by some early invaders of the continent may not be represented in any of the existing forms of watercraft.

8. The geographical distribution of the various types of craft often seem to indicate their probable chronological relationship in certain regions.

9. The lack of watercraft along the great Australian bight may be the result of the peculiar characteristics of the primitive craft of south-eastern Australia, simple bark-canoes and rafts, which tend to be used only on tranquil inland waterways.

10. The lack of craft on the western coast of Australia seems to be the result of historical forces which have not yet diffused the types of watercraft of the northern coast to this region, but toward which the diffusion of them has been progressing for some time

Page 61.


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First published as:
Davidson, D. S.: The Chronology of Australian Watercraft.
Journal of the Polynesian Society
New Plymouth, New Zealand, XLIV, No. 1, 1935, pages 1-16, 69-84, and 137-153

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Geoff Cater (2014) : D.S. Davidson : Chronology of Australian Watercraft , 1935.