Australia in the 1770s


Canoe making


The Cadigal people and other clans living around Port Jackson used canoes as their main form of marine transport over the harbour and along its inlets. Canoes were also important for fishing and travelling for those clans living along rivers. The canoe was important for maintaining the trade routes to exchange materials such as metals for making axes and foodstuffs such as eels with other clans.

Canoes were made in different ways in different parts of Australia. A traditional Cadigal bark canoe or 'nawi' came from a narrow-leaved messmate stringybark tree (Eucalyptus obliqua) and ranged from small, basic, low-slung canoes up to large sea-going canoes. Cadigal canoes were usually made after the spring rains. The bark would be cut and shaped from a tree when it was rich in sap. The stripped bark also went through a process to become fire-hardened, with the endings shaped until they met.

By contrast, in the Ramingining region in Arnhem Land, Yolngu people had a different method of canoe making. The canoes were sewn rather than tied. Groups who lived on the coastal areas of the north had to contend with swamps, so their canoes were built with prominent bows.

The British colonists were fascinated by the canoe-making skills of the Aboriginal groups they came in contact with, and in people's ability to steer the canoes on quite rough and difficult waters. William Bradley (1757?–1833), a lieutenant on the First Fleet, wrote in his journal about canoe making in the local area. He reported that after removing the bark from the tree it was cut to an exact length and gathered up at each end, and secured by a lashing of a strong vine that ran among the underbrush.


A snapshot of 1778

  • January
    • Captain James Cook began his third Pacific expedition in the ships HMS Resolution and HMS Discovery.

  • February
    • France entered the War of American Independence.

  • June
    • Spain declared war on Great Britain.

  • July
    • Louis XIV of France declared war on Great Britain.

  • November
    • Captain James Cook was the first European to sight Maui Island of the Hawaiian Islands.

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