'When a long way in a bark canoe becomes a quick trip in a boat': relationships to sea country & changes to Yanyuwa watercraft

Amanda J. Kearney, John J. Bradley

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9 Citations (Scopus)


Transport innovation and social complexity among maritime cultures have long been associated with one another. The relationship between watercraft technology and sociopolitical complexity has been argued by many, including Arnold (1995), Hayden (1983), Hodgins et al. (2001), Jones and Allen (1980), Kirch (1991), Patton (2014) and Rowland (1984, 1987). Arnold (1995) presents the view that coastal settings represent distinctive environments with unique opportunities for the development of social structures, networks of communication, and the movement of people, objects and ideas. For many Indigenous maritime cultures in Australia, ownership of sea territories is governed by systems of Law (see Cordell, 1989; Memmott and Trigger, 1998; Peterson and Rigsby, 1998; Sharp, 2002; McNiven, 2003; Morphy and Morphy, 2009; Bradley, 2011; Greer et al., 2011). The relationships that people establish with the sea and coastal areas are often defined according to rules of descent, links to ancestors, rights of access, obligation and moral duty. Under Indigenous Law, all is not free for the taking. This Law governs and controls what people can do in terms of travel, taking of resources, recounting of narrative and song, as well as holding and enacting knowledge (Morphy, 1995). With this in mind, this research explores the possibility that the relationship between people and their watercraft, as a vital facilitator of movement across sea territories, is much more than a functional dependency. We raise the possibility that the type of watercraft used has links to ideologies of movement and notions of relatedness, and ask: What is the relationship between modes of sea travel and the relationships people have with their sea territories?

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)166-176
Number of pages11
JournalQuaternary International
Publication statusPublished - 22 Oct 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Anthropology
  • Ethnography
  • Indigenous Cultures
  • Maritime Cultures
  • Watercraft


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