Category Archives: trade

Archaeology is unravelling new stories about Indigenous seagoing trade on Australia’s doorstep



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A Motu trading ship with its characteristic crab claw shaped sails. Taken in the period 1903-1904.
Trustees of The British Museum, CC BY-NC-SA

Chris Urwin, Monash University; Alois Kuaso, Papua New Guinea National Museum and Art Gallery; Bruno David, Monash University; Henry Auri Arifeae, Papua New Guinea National Museum and Art Gallery, and Robert Skelly, Monash University

It has long been assumed that Indigenous Australia was isolated until Europeans arrived in 1788, except for trade with parts of present day Indonesia beginning at least 300 years ago. But our recent archaeological research hints of at least an extra 2,100 years of connections across the Coral Sea with Papua New Guinea.

Over the past decade, we have conducted research in the Gulf of Papua with local Indigenous communities.

During the excavations, the most common archaeological evidence found in the old village sites was fragments of pottery, which preserve well in tropical environments compared to artefacts made of wood or bone. As peoples of the Gulf of Papua have no known history of pottery making, and the materials are foreign, the discovered pottery sherds are evidence of trade.

This pottery began arriving in the Gulf of Papua some 2,700 years ago, according to carbon dating of charcoal found next to the sherds.




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Explainer: what is radiocarbon dating and how does it work?


This means societies with complex seafaring technologies and widespread social connections operated at Australia’s doorstep over 2,500 years prior to colonisation. Entrepreneurial traders were traversing the entire south coast of PNG in sailing ships.

There is also archaeological evidence that suggests early connections between PNG and Australia’s Torres Strait Islands. Fine earthenware pottery dating to 2,600 years ago, similar in form to pottery arriving in the Gulf of Papua around that time, has been found on the island of Pulu. Rock art on the island of Dauan further to the north depicts a ship with a crab claw-shaped sail, closely resembling the ships used by Indigenous traders from PNG.

It is hard to imagine that Australia, the Torres Strait and PNG’s south coast were not connected.

The region termed the ‘Coral Sea Cultural Interaction Sphere’ where archaeology is gradually uncovering evidence of ancient interconnections.
Author provided

An unconventional trade

The trade itself was quite remarkable. When British colonists arrived in Port Moresby (now the capital of PNG) in 1873, some 130 kilometres from the start of the Gulf of Papua to the west, they wrote in astonishment of the industrial scale of pottery production for maritime trade by Indigenous Motu communities.

Each year, Motu women would spend months making thousands of earthenware pots. Meanwhile the men built large trading ships, called lakatoi, by lashing together several dugout hulls. The ships measured 15-20 metres long and had woven sails in the shape of crab claws.

In October and November, Motu men would load the pots into the ships and sail west towards the rainforest swamplands of the Gulf of Papua. The trade on which they embarked was known as hiri. The voyages were perilous, and lives were sometimes lost in the waves.

Rows of Motu pots ready for shipment to the Gulf of Papua. The pots are arranged on a beach situated in today’s Port Moresby region. Taken by Reverend William G Lawes in 1881-1891.
Trustees of the British Museum, CC BY-NC-SA

When the men arrived – having sailed up to 400 kilometres along the coast – the Motu were in foreign lands. People living in the Gulf of Papua spoke different languages and had different cultural practices. But they were not treated like foreigners.

Sir Albert Maori Kiki, who became the Deputy Prime Minister of PNG, grew up in the Gulf of Papua in the 1930s. He described the arrival of the Motu in his memoirs:

The trade was not conducted like common barter […] the declarations of friendship that went with it were as important as the exchange of goods itself […] Motu people did not carry their pots to the market, but each went straight to the house of his trade relation, with whom his family had been trading for years and perhaps generations.

In exchange for their pots, the Motu were given rainforest hardwood logs from which to make new canoes, and tonnes of sago starch (a staple plant food for many people in Southeast Asia and across the island of New Guinea).

The Motu would stay in Gulf villages for months, waiting for the wind to change to carry them back home.

Quantity overtakes quality

Pottery has been traded into the Gulf of Papua for 2,700 years, but the trade grew larger in scale about 500 years ago. Archaeological sites of the past 500 years have much larger quantities of pottery than those before them. The pottery itself is highly standardised and either plain or sparsely decorated, in contrast with older sherds that often feature ornate designs.

In the past 500 years it seems that pottery makers valued quantity over quality: as greater quantities of pottery were traded into the Gulf of Papua, labour-intensive decorations gradually disappeared.

Fragments of a decorated earthenware bowl dating to within the past 500 years. Found in an excavation at Orokolo Bay (Gulf of Papua, PNG) in 2015.
Photographs by Steve Morton (Monash University)

We think this is when the hiri trade between the Motu and rainforest villages of the Gulf of Papua began in earnest.

The coming decades promise further findings that will help unravel the forgotten shared history of PNG and Indigenous Australia across the Torres Strait. But it is becoming increasingly clear that Indigenous Australia was not isolated from the rest of the world.The Conversation

Chris Urwin, Researcher, Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage, Monash University; Alois Kuaso, Deputy Director for Science Research and Consultancy Division at the Papua New Guinea National Museum and Art Gallery, Papua New Guinea National Museum and Art Gallery; Bruno David, Professor, Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage, Monash University; Henry Auri Arifeae, Cultural Coordinator, Papua New Guinea National Museum and Art Gallery, and Robert Skelly, Archaeologist, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Throw a sea cucumber on the barbie: Australia’s trade history really is something to celebrate



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The sea cucumber, or trepang, Australia’s first export to Asia.
Shutterstock

Tim Harcourt, UNSW

The sea cucumber is a marine animal that has a leathery skin but soft body. Its shape and size resembles a cucumber. In Australia we commonly call it trepang, adopted from a Malayan word. It was Australia’s first export to Asia, where it is regarded as a delicacy, particularly in Chinese cuisine.

There is evidence fishermen from Makassar, on what is now the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, were visiting the coast of what is now Arnhem Land to collect sea cucumbers as early as the mid-1600s to sell to Chinese merchants. The fishermen camped on the beach to boil and dry their caught trepang, and exchanged goods with the local Indigenous tribes.




Read more:
Long before Europeans, traders came here from the north and art tells the story


Through the lens of trade, therefore, the story of modern Australia, a nation interacting with the global economy, begins long before January 26, 1788.

There are many debates that surround Australia Day. But we can all celebrate our history of trade. Like any history, there are episodes of engagement we can’t admire or be proud of. But on the whole, what began with seafood trade on the coast of Arnhem Land has proven a remarkable success.

Arrivals, departures, department stores

Two of Hong Kong’s most iconic department stores provide another example of historic interaction with Asia.

Throughout the 19th century large numbers of Chinese, particularly Cantonese, migrated to Australia’s goldfields. As in any gold rush, it was those who ended up selling supplies that usually prospered more than the prospectors (the 19th century equivalents of Atlassian). In Victoria, Chinese merchants became prominent in the development of retail sectors in Ballarat and Bendigo.

Some Chinese migrants who opened stores in Australia eventually returned to China, and took what they had learned with them.

A Sincere store in Mongkok, Hong Kong.
Wikimedia, CC BY-NC-SA

One of those was Ma Ying Piu, who in 1900 opened Hong Kong’s first Chinese-owned department store, called Sincere. The store is said to have been inspired by David Jones in Sydney.

Hong Kong’s second Chinese-owned department store, Wing On, was started by brothers Kwok Lok and Kwok Chuen, who returned to China from Australia in 1907. Both businesses opened branches in Shanghai and became two of the “four great department stores of China”.

Such entrepreneurial spirit from around the world enabled
the separate Australian colonies to boom for much of the 19th century. Admittedly some paid a heavy price (convicts and Indigenous people treated like slaves, for example). But great economic growth was achieved, as economic historian Ian McLean points out in Why Australia Prospered, without a national government or “many of the institutions and sources of advice now regarded as essential for macroeconomic management”, such as trained economists.

The long march to the Asian century

Colonial governments ran trade missions to China, South East Asia and Japan in the 19th century. After federation in 1901, the Commonwealth government set up trade offices in Shanghai, Tokyo and Batavia (Jakarta) before the interruption of World War II. In the post-war era there have been “four waves” of Asian engagement.

The first three were: the Japan-Australia Commerce agreement in 1957; Gough Whitlam’s recognition of China in 1971; and the Hawke-Keating economic reforms between 1983 and 1996.

The fourth wave is the Asian Century. It began after Australia survived the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997-99 and realised its future did lie in Asia.

To get to that point was a long process. Paul Keating might have been the prime minister who most enthusiastically spruiked engagement with Asia, but he was certainly not the first to advocate closer ties.

That was then, and this is now

So that’s some of our history. What about now?

There are many contemporary things we can be cheerful (and proud about) in 2019 that echo our history.

We can be very pleased about successful Indigenous exporters and entrepreneurs – the successors of our first traders from Arnhem Land.

Think of Ros and John Moriarty of Balarinji, the design agency that has developed all of the motifs used by Qantas in its Flying Art series.

Balarinji oversaw translating Emily Kame Kngwarreye’s 1991 painting ‘Yam Dreaming’ for application on a Qantas jet.
Qantas

Or Peter Cooley, who founded Blak Markets to provide economic development opportunities to Indigenous people. (He also hosts his own business show.)

Or David Williams and the members of the Bangarra dance company.

At my business school at the University of NSW a new generation of Indigenous business students have just completed summer school. I am hopeful many will become our business stars of tomorrow.

Along with homegrown talent, Australia has been blessed by waves of immigrants rich in the same entrepreneurial spirit that enabled Chinese merchants to prosper despite the racism of the 19th century.

From the first fleet, we’ve had English, Scots and Irish seeking freedom from poverty and persecution. We’ve had East European Jews, Vietnamese Buddhists, Lebanese Christians and Afghan Muslims fleeing persecution and war.

About one in four Australians were born overseas, but they represent one in every two exporters, and two out of every three entrepreneurs. Immigration has been a good story for Australia in terms of trade and entrepreneurial talent.




Read more:
How Australian cities are adapting to the Asian Century


The books Why Nations Fail and Why Australia Prospered show Australia has developed much more successful economic institutions (such as property rights) and political institutions (such as democratic rights) than other nations with similar natural resources, agricultural endowments and increases in human capital through immigration.

This is partially due to our successful record as a trading nation.

No nation is perfect. They all have their failures and aspects of their history not to be proud of. But the things we have gotten right are worth remembering.

So even if you throw a shrimp on the barbie, at least remember the sea cucumber.The Conversation

Tim Harcourt, J.W. Nevile Fellow in Economics and host of The Airport Economist, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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