Canoe Tree

This tree was the source of the last canoe made in the Robinvale area. It was made by Darcy Pettit around 1980 as part of the documentary ‘River People’. Canoes were formed from a single piece of bark approximately 4.5m long 0.9m wide and about 20cm deep.

Construction was seemingly simple, but required patience and much skill. Bark was removed from river red gums only during summer, when the sap ran freely. First the required size and shape of the canoe was cut, with a digging stick, through the bark to the hardwood core.

The bark was then slowly prised from the tree by the use of numerous smaller sticks.

The whole slab was held in position by forked branches or hand-woven rope. When finally separated from the tree the slab was lowered to the ground. Flat on the ground, small fires were lit on the moist inside of the bark, which evaporated the sap and made the bark curl upwards. The ends where then pulled together, sticked with hemp and plugged with mud.

Stretchers were inserted to hold the open shape. After typing, it was allowed to mature when it was constantly rubbed with grease and ochre. Such a craft had a life of about two years.

More of our interesting local history