Canoes & Watercraft

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Canoe Tree, Federation University Historical Collection (Cat. No. 5988)



Canoes were important for fishing and birding along waterways. Usually a suitable tree was selected and a bark slab cut from the tree using a stone axes, poles and levers, then heat treated to bend it into shape. Either the ends were tied together and the body supported with wooden struts, or they were stopped with clay. The tree often died due to ring barking. Poles or short paddles were used to propel the canoes. [1]


to removed bark Aboriginal people cut an outline of the shape they wanted using stone axes, or one Europeans had arrived, steel axes. Thebark was then levered off. Sometimes the axe marks made are still visible on the sapwood of the tree, but usually they are hidden because the bark has grown back. The amount of bark regrowth helps date the age of the scar. [2]



Scarred trees provide valuable clues about the use of perishable materials by Aboriginal people. Because wood often rots away, Victorian museums only have a small number of Aboriginal wooden artefacts. Scarred trees are easier to find than many other archaeological sites. They tell us where Aboriginal people used to live, and help us locate other types of archaeological sites, such as scatters of stone tools. Scarred trees also provide Aboriginal people today with an important link to their culture and their past. [3]

Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Register

Aboriginal objects and heritage places are irreplaceable, non-renewable resources and can include traditional and spiritual sites of significance. The Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Register (VAHR) was established by the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006 is an important administrative tool and holds the details of all known Aboriginal cultural heritage places and objects within Victoria, including their location and a detailed description. Places or objects are recorded by cultural heritage advisers on forms which are approved under the Act. The Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Register is not a publicly accessible register because it contains culturally sensitive information. Registered Aboriginal Parties (RAPs) play a key role in the protection and management of Aboriginal cultural heritage. The Register holds information of each Registered Aboriginal party, their area of responsibility and contact details. [4]

The Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006 requires that the discovery of Aboriginal cultural heritage places or objects on any public or private land in Victoria be reported to Aboriginal Affairs Victoria - see

If you are the custodian of a Victorian Aboriginal object or place you are encouraged to document it on the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Register by contacting Aboriginal Affairs Victoria to arrange to complete the form located at

How to care for and register Aboriginal objects and heritage places is further explained via an 11 minute video available at

Recommended Reading


  1. Coutts, P.J.F., Readings in Victorian Prehistory Vol 2: The Victorian Aboriginals 1800 to 1860, Victorian Archaeological Survey, 1981
  2. Introduction to Aboriginal Cultural Places and Objects, Office of Aboriginal Affairs Victoria, 2008.
  3. Introduction to Aboriginal Cultural Places and Objects, Office of Aboriginal Affairs Victoria, 2008.

Further Reading

Sibtain, Nancy (Ed) Aboriginal Australia, Australian Gallery Directors Council Ltd, Sydney, New South Wales.

External Links

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