Monday, December 22, 2008

Maritime Gallery

The Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory's (MAGNT) Maritime Gallery houses the largest museum collection of Southeast Asian historic boats and ethnographic watercraft in Australia. The Gallery has a permanent display of 21 boats and canoes. Darwin is often regarded as being part of the Southeast Asian region because of its closer proximity to Asian cities such as Singapore and Jakarta, rather than Australian cities such as Sydney, or Melbourne.

The Maritime Gallery clearly reflects this regional bias: indeed the collection policy that has driven the acquisition of this unique collection over the last 25 years, has demanded it. The region, defined as ‘North Australia’ (the area to the north of Broome on the west coast and Townsville on the east coast), Southeast Asia (including southern China) and the western Pacific (as far east as the islands of Fiji) has the greatest diversity of boat types anywhere in the world.

Individual craft displayed in the Gallery include an Australian pearling lugger (actually gaff, rather than lug rigged), a Vietnamese refugee boat, a Chinese refugee boat, Indonesian perahu lambo (gunter rigged sloop) and a perahu lete lete (lateen rigged). In addition, there are several smaller planked craft and double outrigger canoes, including a fine Balinese jukung. One of the most outstanding Indonesian boats on display was specifically commissioned by the MAGNT and built in a traditional manner by a boat building community in south-east Sulawesi. Known as a perahu padewakang, this type of historic boat was the kind of vessel that the monsoon traders (known as the Macassans) sailed the Timor and Arafura seas during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to reach northern Australia in search of trepang, turtle shell and other marine products.

Several examples of watercraft from the western Pacific are also on display. These include a very rare balangut, an inter-island trading canoe from Riwo near Madang in Papua New Guinea, a war canoe from the Solomon Islands, and beautiful single outrigger canoe from Fiji. There are also a number of single outrigger canoes.

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