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Nawi—exploring Australia’s Indigenous watercraft: Cultural resurgence through museums and Indigenous communities

Stephen Gapps, Mariko Smith


This paper describes the Australian National Maritime Museum’s Indigenous watercraft project, conceived by its curators due to the lacking presence of Australia’s first mariners and their vessels in cultural institutions and academic scholarship. The Nawi project aims to align with best- practice in Indigenous Australian museological policy to better facilitate strong Indigenous cultural futures, rather than dwell in an Indigenous past. Nawi participants built a dynamic picture of Indigenous watercraft culture today that is open to all nuances and complexities in Indigenous Australian (post)colonial experiences and identity, without privileging authenticity of unbroken connection over cultural resurgence. This paper also raises issues about authenticity faced by cultural institutions regarding Indigenous watercraft replicas. It concludes with a discussion about the concept of “community”, and how the Nawi project emphasizes its importance in cultural practice today through the lens of the amazing array of watercraft of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.


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Print ISSN 1177-1801 Online ISSN 1174-1740