Boorun's Canoe

Canoe and photographs
Exhibition at Birrarung Gallery, Bunjilaka, featuring Boorun's Canoe and photographs.
Image: James Henry
Source: Museum Victoria
Boorun the Pelican, our Gunai Ancestor, came to Gippsland carrying a bark canoe on his head. Canoes are part of the story of who we are and where we come from. I want to respect my Ancestors by continuing the tradition of canoe-making and safeguard it for future generations.
Steaphan Paton

Boorun's Canoe is a story of cultural pride and the continuation of knowledge that has been carried from time immemorial, a deep awareness and unbreakable link of Victorian Aboriginal Culture, Community, Country and Identity.

Boorun's Canoe was led by Gunai artist Steaphan Paton in collaboration with Gippsland photographic artist Cam Cope. Steaphan sought to learn cultural knowledge from his grandfather Senior Gunai/Kurnai Elder Albert Mullett and to continue the long practiced skill of canoe-making. One of his objectives was to include his brothers and other young men in the family in the project. They worked together to learn, to connect and to maintain their culture. Cam Cope's aim was to capture the creation and first floating of the canoe in a respectful way that helped Steaphan share the story of his family's cultural heritage.

By following the intrinsically visual narrative of the photographs, we experience the journey of the canoe being crafted and more importantly, we follow the close connection and respect Steaphan, his brothers and his cousins have for their grandfather. Through the project we gain a privileged insight into the cultural strength and bond that has been instilled in Uncle Albert and which he passes onto his grandsons. The project also tells us that the tradition and practice of canoe-making and maintaining cultural knowledge is a fundamental part of who these men are as Gunai/Kurnai people, and as a family.

Boorun's Canoe is significant, not only for the Mullett family's role in the evolving cultural practices of Aboriginal Victoria but it also reveals the strength and vitality of Victorian Aboriginal Culture as it is lived and practiced today. It is a tangible connection to the past and to the present; reminding us that the voices of our Ancestors can still be heard.

Biographies

Uncle Albert Mullett is a senior Elder of Gunai/Kurnai Peoples of Gippsland and a respected master-craftsman of traditional wooden artefacts. He led the Gunai/Kurnai people to gain Full Native Title over traditional lands in 2010, a first for Victoria. Uncle Albert’s wealth of knowledge and respect from community has led him to be involved in a range of community projects. He is always willing to share his knowledge with those who show respect.

Steaphan Paton is a Victorian Aboriginal artist based in Melbourne. A member of the Gunai nation, he grew up in Gippsland. Paton was highly commended for the Lin Onus Award at the 2007 Victorian Indigenous Art Awards for the drawing Dyillah (2007) and was a recent finalist inthe 2012 awards. Steaphan has received a number of grants includinga City of Melbourne Laneways Commission for his project ‘Urban Doolagahl’. Stephan’s work is informed by his interest in archaeology and in preserving knowledge about Indigenous Australian history, traditions and stories.

Cam Cope is an emerging photographic artist originally from Gippsland in Victoria who works on travel and documentary projects. Cam spent much of his youth engaged in visual arts, but in his academic years explored history, film, environmental studies and Spanish language. His early professional career was in environmental consultancy in Melbourne, though in 2009 Cam began developing a new way to express himself from behind the lens. His projects are both personal and collaborative in nature while his broad experience allows him to engage meaningfully with a variety of subject matter. His goals are to explore his creative vision, connect with different cultures, contribute to public debate and engineer platforms for people to tell their own stories. Cam has had travel work published in Get Lost Magazine and Backpacker Essentials, exhibited work in Melbourne and Sydney and has received recognition in multiple photography competitions.