Flying the Aboriginal flag, the gaff-rigged ketch Tribal Warrior returns to Sydney

Keith Vincent Smith

Flying the distinctive Aboriginal flag, the tiny gaff-rigged ketch Tribal Warrior set out from Gomora (Darling Harbour) in Sydney on 30 August 2001, passing under Pyrmont Bridge to the Heads at the entrance to Port Jackson into the open sea.

The timber-hulled 15 metre long former pearling lugger (Mina), launched in 1901, carried a crew of seven Aboriginal men, ranging from 17 to 45 years of age.

In a voyage lasting 648 days, they carried a message of ‘goodwill, achievement and reconciliation’ to 120 Aboriginal communities scattered along the continent’s 36,000 kilometre coastline.

This was the first circumnavigation of Australia in a sea-going vessel crewed only by Indigenous Australians.

The Tribal Warrior followed in the wake of HMS Investigator, a 52 foot sloop with a crew of 15 men. Investigator, commanded by Captain Matthew Flinders, left Port Jackson on 22 July 1802 to explore, survey and chart Torres Strait, the Gulf of Carpentaria and the north-west coast of the continent then known as New Holland.

Two Aboriginal men, Bungaree and Nanbarry, accompanied Flinders. On 18 October 1802, Nanbarry returned to Sydney from the Great Barrier Reef in the sloop Lady Nelson.

As all the others on the ship were British, Bungaree, the Broken Bay leader, became the first known Australian to circumnavigate the continent.

Investigator returned to Sydney on 9 June 1803. Coincidentally, Tribal Warrior, dwarfed by the rocky headlands, got into Sydney Harbour on 10 June 2003 – just 200 years and one day after Flinders and Bungaree.

Copyright Keith Vincent Smith 2019