Community & Cultural Projects

Canoe Building

Participation and retention rates are low for young Aboriginal people in school.  Through delivering culturally specific projects in and out of school we are able to engage with the next generation in meaningful ways that deliver many long-term benefits.

The Kempsey and Birpai Canoes projects provided the opportunity for significant cultural knowledge to be transferred between generations whilst the students learnt technical, leadership and life skills.

Everyone involved with and touched by the 2011 Canoe Project speak of the pride those young men had in more fully participating in their own culture and learning about it from men who knew and were willing to pass it on… Projects like these directly, positively and quite profoundly enable the school to lift levels of participation and retention. But of course the project offers much more than this – motivation, opportunities for traditional leadership, catalysts to community participation, springboards to staff cultural immersion.  In short, the initiatives produce all the effects we are seeking for our Dunghutti youth and the school.” – Mick Eller, Principal, Kempsey High School

Read more about the Kempsey Canoes Project.


Case Study | 2012 Birpai Canoe Project

Following the successful Saltwater Freshwater Kempsey Canoe Project in 2011, Dunghutti Youth and Culture (DYC) worked with the Birpai Men’s Group (BMG) and local Aboriginal youth from Port Macquarie to revive traditional canoe building techniques and share the local stories of their Aboriginal watercraft history. Together over a period of 10 months, a series of workshops and a cultural camp, they built five canoes using three different methods including traditional bark, dug out wood and corrugated tin.

DYC visited the Men’s group and using their experiences from the previous year guided BMG through the process.  Both the members of DYC and BMG share cultural links of displacement after most of the Birpai community was moved onto reserves, one of the largest being Burnt Bridge (Kempsey) Mission.  This history has an impact on the communities today. By taking steps towards reviving culture and opening up the discussions about local history we are actively providing a platform to increase the communities’ cultural identity and improve the partnerships between community members, schools and cultural organisations.

The tin canoe workshops took place over eight sessions at the Birpai Local Aboriginal Land Council during school term IV, 2012. Six leaders from DYC and BMG worked with 14 male Aboriginal students from Port Macquarie High and Westport High each Wednesday afternoon to produce two canoes (one from each school).  The two tin canoes were displayed at the 2013 Saltwater Freshwater Festival in Taree on Australia Day.  Project participants co-facilitated public workshops on mini bark canoe building at the Festival which included practical demonstrations on the various techniques of construction, storytelling sessions, and facilitated a platform for the transferal of knowledge to the wider community.

Work began on the dug-out canoe in late November. Representatives from State Forestry worked with the team in weekly sessions to build two dug-out canoes.   The final bark canoe was finished at a cultural camp between DYC and BMG in August 2013.  The canoe was made from a tallowwood tree found by Uncle Bill O’Brien at the Birpai LALC. It took three weekends to cut, shape and dry the bark, which was smoked and shaped on site.

This project has supported the economic growth of two key Aboriginal organisations as both DYC and BMG have an increase in capacity to deliver more workshops as a direct result of this project.  Sharing cultural knowledge is important for cultural sustainability and a bond has been created between BMG, DYC and local youth. Due to the lack of cultural and financial resources within schools, the participating schools have welcomed the hands on approach to educating the boys in a relaxed and interactive way.  The canoe revival project provided a fun and informal way for Elders to engage and connect with the boys’ Aboriginal history, practices, culture and stories while the students gained technical, leadership and life skills.


  • 3 different styles of canoes built
  • 10 Cultural leaders engaged
  • 15 youth involved
  • 1 Cultural camp
  • Canoes displayed at the Saltwater Freshwater Festival 2013
  • 1 Mini bark Canoe Building workshop at Festival


  • Elders and youth connecting
  • Skills development for participants in carpentry and metal work
  • Increased capacity of two key Aboriginal organisations
  • Reviving culture
  • Engaged the wider community
  • Increased knowledge about local history and traditions


“The canoe model making workshops were fantastic especially having an Elder to sit with guiding the entire process. Seeing children participating and gaining valuable insight into the importance of canoes in the local Dunghutti and Birpai communities.” – Festival Participant

 “I want to come to the workshops because I would like to learn more about culture and more about myself.” – Youth Participant


Arts NSW


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