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Tasmanian bark canoe

At a glance

  • 19th century design
  • Coastal Tasmania
  • Rex Greeno and family
  • Preservation of ancient skills
Tasmanian bark canoe, with hearth, made by Rex Greeno. Photo: George Serras.

Made to an ancient Aboriginal blueprint

This modern Tasmanian bark canoe was made to an ancient blueprint by Rex Greeno. At 4.7 metres in length, it is an impressive example of the canoes made by Aboriginal people in the 19th century to journey around coastal Tasmania and its offshore islands.

European encounters 

A large Tasmanian canoe seen on the eastern shore of Schouten Island, colour engraving by Charles-Alexandre Lesueur, artist on the Baudin Expedition (1800–1804).
A large Tasmanian canoe seen on the eastern shore of Schouten Island, colour engraving by Charles-Alexandre Lesueur, artist on the Baudin Expedition (1800–1804).

French explorers visiting Tasmania in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and other early European settlers to the island, made frequent references to bark canoes that were paddled around southern Tasmania and its offshore islands.

The canoes were said to be strong enough to carry up to six men across stormy seas, and often included a hearth for fire at one end. They allowed travel across water, and were used in the search for swan and duck eggs and for hunting seals.

Models of these canoes were made for Europeans by Aboriginal people at the time, and rare examples survive in museum collections.

The making of the Tasmanian bark canoe: video

Colour photograph showing a man beside a long bark canoe. A hearth with coals in it sits at the near end of the canoe.
Rex Greeno with the canoe on its arrival at the National Museum's Mitchell repository in May 2012. The canoe includes a hearth for a fire at one end. Photo: George Serras.

Rex Greeno's family

Rex Greeno was born on Flinders Island in Bass Strait.

His Aboriginal heritage comes from his mother, Dulcie Greeno, a noted shell necklace maker, and his grandfather, Silas Mansell, who taught him mutton-birding, kangaroo- and wallaby-snaring, and how to make craypots and boats.

A fisherman like his father, Greeno drew on his background to make traditional Tasmanian paperbark canoes.

In his retirement, Greeno used his knowledge of the sea as inspiration for reconstructing the traditional canoes, which had not been seen in Tasmania since the early 19th century.

Greeno taught himself the craft by reading extensively and by experimenting with collecting and processing various raw materials and ways of constructing the canoes.

This is the fifth canoe that Greeno has made, and it was specially commissioned for the National Museum.

It was made with his son Dean and grandson Harrison to pass these ancient skills on to new generations.


The Tasmanian Aboriginal bark canoe is currently on show in the Hall at the National Museum of Australia.