Seafaring old men proud of historic exhibition at Tanks Arts Centre

George-Mosby-Nerelle-Nicol-and-Jeff-Bob-at-the-Tanks-Arts-CentreDelivering a visual feast of First Nations artworks, cultural exchange, and storytelling, Cairns Indigenous Art Fair (CIAF) highlights two satellite exhibitions now installed and open at Tanks Arts Centre and Courthouse Gallery ahead of this year’s event that runs from Thursday 13 to Sunday 16 July 2023.  Both exhibitions are free for visitors to enjoy and will be officially opened during CIAF.

Curated by Nerelle Nicol, Lugger Bort at the Tanks Arts Centre is dedicated to the seafaring lives of Aboriginal, Torres Strait and South Sea Islanders who lived aboard “pearl luggers” to work the pearling, beche-de-mer and trochus industries from the 1840s to the mid-1900s.  It was a treacherous existence.

Jeffrey (Jeff) Bob and George Mosby from the central Torres Strait Islands both started work in the pearling and trochus industries as teenagers aboard lugger vessels, of which there were around 100, during the late fifties and sixties.

Jeff was a diver’s lifeline who operated from a tender and signalled to the divers using a rope for around 10 years. George on the other hand started work as a cook on his father’s vessel at the age of 15 before becoming a deckhand and engineer.

CIAF’s Lugger Bort exhibition provides insight into the magnitude of the pearling, beche-de-mer and trochus industry’s operations and the perilous conditions under which these intrepid seafarers faced the watery abyss.

This timeless zone fed fears and apprehension into the minds of naive teenagers, as recalled by some of the few remaining Elders with first-hand knowledge of working in this industry.

Lugger Bort verifies the valuable economic contributions these seafarers made to Far North Queensland. It provides glimpses of the roles they played in helping to shape the character of the region, revealing achievement hereto unrecognised.

The second exhibition, Past, Present, Future at the Court House Gallery is a celebration of the vibrant south-east Queensland creative arts community that came out of the Contemporary Australian Indigenous Art (CAIA program at the Queensland College of Art (QCA), Griffith University.

Past, Present, Future focusses on the Indigenous community of artists, lecturers, and mentors that have developed around the CAIA program and is integral to CAIA’s success. The exhibition aims to highlight this extraordinary community and the excellence developed in their practices, leadership, and cultural understandings.

The CAIA degree program has a reputation for cultivating the careers of some of Australia’s most successful contemporary artists who have exemplified the highest standards of achievement nationally and internationally.

From Documenta and the Venice Biennale to every major gallery and museum in Australia, these artists and scholars are fundamentally transforming the Australian cultural landscape.

Lugger Bort
Tanks Arts Centre, 46 Collins Avenue, Edge Hill, Cairns
Exhibition continues to 23 July 2023
Free entry

Past, Present, Future
Court House Gallery, Abbott Street, Cairns
Exhibition continues to 16 July 2023
Free entry

The Cairns Indigenous Art Fair (CIAF) runs 13 – 16 July 2023. For more information and full program, visit: for details.

Image: Elder George Mosby with exhibition curator Nerelle Nicol and Elder Jeffrey Bob previewing the newly installed, CIAF Lugger Bort exhibition at Tanks Arts Centre (supplied)