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National Museum of Australia

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Canoe that Val Plumwood was attacked in, Kakadu, 1985

2012.0031.0001

Canoe that Val Plumwood was attacked in, Kakadu, 1985

Object information

Description

In 1985 environmental activist and philosopher Val Plumwood visited Kakadu National Park. Knowing Plumwood was an experienced bushwalker, ranger Greg Miles asked her to walk the route of a proposed walking trail. To begin the trail, Plumwood needed to cross a tributary of the East Alligator River, so Miles loaned her this canoe.

Unbeknownst to Plumwood and Miles, heavy rainfall upriver had begun to swell the river and it was soon to flood. As Plumwood set out, light rain began to fall. Rising water obscured landmarks and she was unable to find the trailhead. As the rain became heavier, Plumwood explored the channel further. However, with a growing sense of unease, she decided to return to the station.

Rounding a bend, she noticed what looked to be a floating stick. As the canoe moved towards it, the stick suddenly developed eyes. Paddling to miss the crocodile, Plumwood knew it would be close, however she was unprepared for the blow as the crocodile struck the side of the canoe. As the crocodile continued to attack the canoe, Plumwood paddled furiously away.

With the crocodile in pursuit, and knowing she could capsize or be pulled into deeper waters, Plumwood tried to leap from the canoe into the branches of a paperbark tree. As she jumped, the crocodile dragged her into a death roll.

After a second death roll, Plumwood was able to grab hold of a tree branch. However, the crocodile grabbed her once again, pulling her into a third death roll.

Throwing herself up the muddy river bank, Plumwood managed to pull herself up. With severe injuries, she began walking back to the ranger station, which was kilometres away on the other side of the river. She was eventually found by a search party formed by Greg Miles.

Physical description

A terracotta coloured fibreglass canoe with a white painted interior. There are four treated planks of wood bracing the interior of the canoe, as well as a triangular wooden sheet covering either end. There are squares of discolouring on the interior near the hull and a patch on the outside centre. There are the remains of a blue adhesive sticker which reads '[?] CRAFT', and a fading ink stamp that reads '[?] TIMBERMATIC' on the ends of the canoe.

Statement of significance

The Andrew and Hilary Skeat collection comprises a fibreglass and timber canoe in which the Australian environmental philospher and activist Val Plumwood was attacked by a crocodile in Kakadu National Park in 1985. The canoe is in reasonable condition.

From the 1970s until her death in 2008, Val Plumwood powerfully critiqued traditional western concepts of nature. Her work exposed problematic attitudes to the natural world built into western thought. Plumwood analysed how western understandings of an opposition between reason and nature were both historically constructed and devastatingly applied. Her understandings of natural systems grew substantially during decades of close engagement with the vibrant rainforest biota of Plumwood mountain, where she lived in southern New South Wales, and after which she took her name. The experience of surviving a crocodile attack while canoeing alone in Kakadu National Park inspired Plumwood to explore ideas about death within an ecological context.

Object information

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