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ANMM Collection Reproduced courtesy of Lola Greeno

Kelp water carrier

Date: 1998
Overall: 410 x 540 x 180 mm, 383 g
Medium: Bull kelp, tea tree sticks, twine made from red hot poker leaves
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Copyright: © Lola Greeno
Object Name: Water carrier
Object No: 00031473
Place Manufactured:Tasmania
Related Place:Cape Barren Island, Tasmania, Bass Strait,

User Terms

    This bull kelp water carrier is also called a water basket and they were used to carry fresh water and to drink from. The basket is made from kelp collected locally and held together by tea tree sticks.
    SignificanceWater carriers made from bull kelp are specific to Tasmanian Aboriginal people with an example dating to 1851 being held by the British Museum. The making of bull kelp containers is a tradition of the Aboriginal people of the Furneaux Islands group off the north east coast of Tasmania (including the main islands of Flinders and Cape Barren) and the west coast of mainland Tasmania.

    Such carriers have been found to not only be a practical necessity, but to also be a health-related measure. Kelp contains high levels of iodine, which may be why many of the ‘old people’ on the islands reportedly have few thyroid problems.

    The kelp water carriers also demonstrate the value of historical records by European explorers to help revive and empower local contemporary and future Tasmanian Aboriginal cultural practices.

    HistoryThe contemporary Palawa (Tasmanian Aboriginal people) had their beginnings in the early 19th century when European sealers in particular stole Aboriginal women from both the Tasmanian and Australian mainland and settled on the north-east Tasmnian islands in Bass Strait. The communities grew and the skills of sealing and then muttonbirding became the mainstay. By the mid-19th century a community of 50 was centred on the Furneaux Group. The lifestyle was built on both Indigenous and European ways - hunting kangaroos and other animals, growing crops and using a mixture of many languages.

    Kelp water carriers, such as the ones made by Lola Greeno, were traditionally used to collect and store fresh water. It became a custom of Palawa women over many generations.

    18th century French explorers, such as Labillardière (a naturalist on the d’Entrecasteaux expedition of the region during 1791-1794), wrote about the Palawa kelp water carrier. Labillardière named the species of kelp ‘Fucus potatorum’ in recognition of its use as a practical container. ‘Potare’ means ‘to drink’ in Latin. Charles-Alexandre Lesueur, part of the 1802 Baudin expedition, made detailed observational studies in the form of drawings of such containers in the early 19th century.

    Due to the devastation of Tasmanian Aboriginal culture and people during the 1800s and 1900s, many lives, languages and cultural practices (such as the art of kelp water container making) were lost. Until recently, illustrations made by European explorers were often the only historical record left of this practice.

    Artists like Lola Greeno are reviving the cultural practice of making these kelp water carriers for current and future generations of Palawa people.

    Additional Titles

    Label title: 6 Bull-kelp water carrier

    Primary title: Sea Kelp Container

    Web title: Kelp water carrier

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