Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Maritime History and Archaeology

The Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory's Maritime Gallery houses the largest museum collection of Southeast Asian historic boats and ethnographic watercraft in Australia and possibly in the world. 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 westernPacific (as far east as the islands of Fiji) has the greatest diversity of boat types from which to choose 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 sloops) 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 padawakang, this type of historic boat was the kind of vessel that the Makassans sailed the Timor and Arafura seas during the nineteenth century 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.Recognised by many scholars as a vital source for future studies in maritime technology and cultural studies, the maritime historian, archaeologist, anthropologist, school group or enthusiast will not be disappointed. The Maritime History andArchaeology section also undertakes maritime heritage surveys and administers the Historic Shipwrecks Program in the NT for the Australian Government.

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