A pre-European-contact style wooden vessel
This is a pre-European-contact style wooden vessel or container with curved sides from inland New South Wales. It measures 35 cm in length and is made from the outer bark of a tree trunk, possibly an acacia tree. Marks from an adze are visible on both sides of the vessel. It was acquired by the Australian Museum in 1983 from the Darling River area of western NSW.
A container such as this was designed primarily for women to use to carry utensils, babies, food such as fruit, berries, nuts, seeds and shellfish and, depending on its shape, water. The container's secondary functions included use in digging and winnowing - in arid areas, collected seed was tossed in the air to allow the wind to blow away the husks and chaff; the heavier seeds were caught in the container as they fell to the ground.
The maker of this vessel would have cut a piece from the outer bark of a tree trunk in the intended shape, which would have left a distinctive scar on the tree. The piece of bark would then have been shaped into a vessel using an adze, a tool with a blade at right angles to the handle. When not shaped with an adze or axe, wooden containers were moulded using the heat from fire to bend the sides.
The vessel shown here is an example of a container that was carried under the arm or on the head. To carry the vessel on her head an Indigenous woman balanced it on a ring pad made from human hair, possum fur, twisted grass, bark, feathers or, after British colonisation, sheep's wool.
One example of the wide variety of food and water containers used throughout Australia, this type is called a coolamon on the south-eastern coast of Australia and a murri in Queensland. Such containers were made from wood or folded sheets of bark. The bark ones were made from paperbark or stringy-bark trees. The wooden ones were made from softwood such as erythrina or hardwood such as mallee.
To prevent the container cracking due to desiccation, it was maintained by frequently applying animal fat such as the fat from emus. As well as nourishing the wood this made it waterproof and gave it a shiny appearance.