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Canoe trees

PRG 1258/5/1 -Two men standing at a tree with bark removed for canoes, ca1900 [Godson collection]

Two men standing at a tree with bark removed for canoes

ca. 1900

Photograph, State Library of South Australia

This item is reproduced courtesy of The Riverland Aboriginal Cultural Association. It may be printed or saved for personal research or study. Use for any other purpose requires written permission from The Riverland Aboriginal Cultural Association and the State Library of South Australia. Further information may be found at Permission to publish


Aboriginal communities living along the rivers of south-eastern Australia cut the bark from trees to build canoes. This practice was particularly prevalent along the River Murray and its tributaries and has left an abundance of what we now call ‘canoe trees’. The plentiful river red gums (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) around the Murray provided perfect bark for the building of canoes. While the bark was still fresh and supple, it was fashioned into a boat-like shape. The canoes were often propelled by the use of a long shaft like a punt. The canoes did not have a long life as prolonged immersion in water caused the bark sheets to become sodden. For this reason, the canoes were used for fishing and crossing rivers rather than for extended journeys.

Further reading

Edwards, Robert. Aboriginal bark canoes of the Murray Valley, Adelaide: Rigby for the South Australian Museum, 1972.

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