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Building canoes revives traditional skills

Students from the Southern Cross School of Distance Education in Ballina have built traditional bark canoes with Aboriginal community members and staff from NSW Roads and Maritime Services.

A group of people stand behind a bark canoe.

RMS staff, Aboriginal community members and students with a traditional bark canoe.

The school principal, Danny Henman, said students jumped at the chance to be part of the RMS project which raises awareness of Aboriginal peoples’ connection with the water, and of boating safety.

“Local Aboriginal elders and traditional canoe-building and rope-making specialists assisted in the program, which also aims to strengthen relations between local RMS staff and the community,” Mr Henman said.

“The students learnt more about the traditional significance of the rivers and sea to the local Aboriginal community and picked up some boatbuilding skills, all the while having reinforced to them the importance of staying safe on the water.”

One of the canoes is on permanent display at the RMS Rozelle Bay foyer, and another will be preserved and installed in a display cradle at the Southern Cross School of Distance Education.

Roads and Maritime Executive Director NSW Maritime Mark Hutchings said the bark canoe project was part of a proactive Aboriginal engagement program to raise awareness of boating safety issues faced by Aboriginal communities. It also aimed to promote diversity across the RMS and build relationships with the community they serve, by teaching staff traditional boat and rope-making techniques in partnership with the Aboriginal community.

“In addition to building relationships the program supports and celebrates Aboriginal cultural revival and promotes the role of Aboriginal leaders in the community,” he said.

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