About canoes

Canoes were used for travelling around Sydney Harbour and its tributaries as well as out beyond the Harbour heads.

Small bark paddles, called goinnia or narowang were about 60 cm - 90 cm long and were used to propel the canoes. The canoes ranged in length from 2.5 m - 6 m.

Canoes were an essential part of fishing, particularly for women who sat in them to fish, using hooks and lines. Men either stood up in the canoes to throw fizz-gigs (spears) or laid across the canoes so they could see into the water.

A small fire was kept alight on a bed of clay or seaweed in the canoes. This kept everyone warm during cold weather and enabled them to cook fish while in the canoe.

No bark canoes from the Sydney region survive.

'The canoes in which they fish are as despicable as their huts, being nothing more than a large piece of bark tied up at both ends with vines. Their dexterous management of them, added to the swiftness with which they paddle and the boldness that leads them several miles in the open sea, are, nevertheless, highly deserving of admiration. A canoe is seldom seen without a fire in it, to dress the fish by as soon as caught.'

Captain Watkin Tench, 1788


Dr Val Attenbrow , Principal Research Scientist
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Tags living, harbour, people, coastal, sydney, Aboriginal, Canoes,