Paddle unites Australian and Antarctic deserts

A painted wooden paddle presented to the Australian Antarctic Division by Aboriginal artists last year, will be displayed onboard Australia’s Antarctic icebreaking ship Aurora Australis this Antarctic season.

The Wiluna paddle was presented to the Australian Antarctic Division because its representation of the dry, hot Australian desert shares a connection with the frozen Antarctic desert. Both the Australian and Antarctic desert environments are perceived as desolate, unforgiving and harsh, and yet both environments support enormous ecological diversity. Both deserts are also remote and fragile.

The Wiluna paddle was painted at the World Indigenous Network Conference (see side bar below) in Darwin in 2013 by Ms Lena Long, with advice from Ms Roxanne Anderson. Both artists are members of the Martu language group from the township of Wiluna, within the Western Desert of Western Australia.

The paddle contains images of Ms Long’s country. On one side there is a ghost gum tree, which reminds her of her childhood and which has cultural significance to Martu people. The other side depicts the wells of the Canning Stock Route, where Ms Long was born and grew up.

On 29 July this year the paddle was presented to the Master of Aurora Australis, Captain Murray Doyle, by Australian Antarctic Division Strategies Branch General Manager Mr Jason Mundy. The paddle will be displayed in a prominent position onboard the ship, to remind travellers to Antarctica of the links between the Australian and Antarctic deserts.

‘It is appropriate that a paddle from a vast and distant region of Australia, designed to unite people to a common purpose, should have a long voyage to another vast and distant place, where Australians are working together to conduct globally significant work,’ Mr Mundy said.

Wendy Pyper
Corporate Communications, Australian Antarctic Division

Paddles inspired by Magic Canoe

The inaugural World Indigenous Network Conference, held in Darwin in May 2013, attracted 1300 delegates from First Nations across 55 countries to share indigenous knowledge about land and sea management in the face of climate change.

As part of the conference our social engagement group, Paramodic, initiated an artistic collaboration amongst the delegates, based on the ‘Magic Canoe’ — the inspiring story of how indigenous Canadians united to save their rainforest home from logging. The story has since become a metaphor for large-scale transformation and social change. In five days our team collected more than 100 stories as videos, one-on-one interactions and painted art, including 55 painted paddles.

Many of the stories we collected contain practical, innovative and insightful knowledge about dealing with changing climate. Indigenous Peoples are links to unbroken chains of human knowledge stretching back tens of thousands of years, and they are deeply concerned they will be the last ones to hold this knowledge.

The paddles are message sticks, connecting people to share this knowledge, and have been sent to 26 countries on every continent. They have become an enduring symbol of the World Indigenous Network and the connections made in Darwin. You can follow the stories of the paddles at

Dr Ruth Mirams
Paramodic Pty Ltd