This is the only remaining 19th-century Aboriginal canoe from the Melbourne region. Scottish immigrant John Buchan collected the canoe in the 1850s from local Aborigines camping near his home overlooking the Yarra River at Studley Park.
The site where the Merri Creek joins the Yarra, upstream from Buchan’s Kew home, was a traditional camping ground and ceremonial site. The river flats and lagoons of the Yarra River were favoured places for the Wurundjeri people, providing a plentiful supply of fish, eels and birds’ eggs. Canoes provided an easy means of travelling through the lagoons and into reed beds.
This canoe carries evidence that it was made after European arrival. There are several sharp cuts in the edge of the bark that have been made by a metal axe. Three types of rope have been used to tie the canoe into shape; two of these are handmade, but the third is machine-made European twine. Most striking are the three metal straps (taken from a wooden barrel) that maintain the canoe’s shape; we shall never know if the Wurundjeri makers incorporated the bands into their traditional techniques, or whether Buchan later slipped the bands over the canoe.
Recent analysis shows that the bark comes from Mountain Ash, which grows in the ranges east of Melbourne. This suggests that Wurundjeri steered the canoe 50 or more kilometres down the Yarra, moving through their land. The return journey, later in the season, would have been made by foot, the canoe being left to rot slowly by the river.