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MARI NAWI Aboriginal Odysseys

240 x 180 mm, 192 pages, 38 colour and 32 b&w illustrations

ISBN 9781921719004, $35.00, Paperback

Keith Vincent Smith

Available: Now

The first sailing ships that entered the world of the Indigenous people of Botany Bay and Port Jackson caused fear and wonder. 

They thought they were giant birds, monsters, or floating islands and that the figures climbing the masts were devils or possums.

This book reveals the significant role Aboriginal men, and some women, played in Australia’s early maritime history. Its focus is the Indigenous people who sailed on English ships through Port Jackson to destinations throughout the world in the period 1790-1850.

Theirs was a canoe culture and they called the foreign ships mari nawi, meaning ‘large canoes’. With remarkable resilience, they became guides, go-betweens, boatmen, sailors, sealers, steersmen, whalers, pilots and trackers, valued for their skills and knowledge, while some, like Musquito, Bulldog and Dual, were exiled as Aboriginal ‘convicts’.

These seafarers faced cruel seas, winds and currents. Some survived shipwreck or were marooned for months without supplies on isolated islands. They sailed the Australian coast, to sealing and whaling grounds in Bass Strait, the icy sub-Antarctic and New Zealand and to international destinations like Timor, Mauritius, Bengal, Britain, Canada, Hawaii, Tahiti, San Francisco and Rio de Janeiro. This book is published in conjunction with the Mitchell Library exhibition curated by Keith Vincent Smith. It is illustrated with rarely seen portraits, landscapes and ship images by English, French and Russian artists and is based on previously unpublished sources, such as ship’s musters, logs, journals, dispatches and shipping records.

Historian Dr Keith Vincent Smith is the author of King Bungaree (Kangaroo Press 1992) and Bennelong (Kangaroo Press 2001). He was co-curator (with Anthony Bourke) of the 2006 Mitchell Library exhibition Eora: Mapping Aboriginal Sydney 1770-1850 and principal researcher for Episode 1 of the SBS television series First Australians.