It was 247 years to the day when the annual “Meeting of Two Cultures“ ceremony was held at Kurnell, on the southern shores of Botany Bay, on 29 April, 2017.1 The ceremony recognised the arrival of James Cook in Endeavour. The involvement of the First Australians in this year’s event was substantial. This year’s ceremony was vastly different to that of my youth, 60 years ago. In those days I lived at Maroubra, a beachside suburb of Sydney, near Botany Bay. My family attended this ceremony many times in the 1950s.
The modern ceremony is all about respect and recognition, with the National Anthem sung in both English and Dharwal by local schoolchildren. The best speech was not given by The Treasurer of Australia (who holds the local Federal parliamentary seat) nor by the local Mayor, but by a local aboriginal national park ranger. He developed a fine, long metaphor about the mobile phone he used to talk to his ancestors. He said that the name of the model of his phone was RESPECT. How poignant. The food served after the speeches was flagrantly Australian, including barbecued kangaroo meat sausages, scones and cream with native Illawarra Plum jam and wattle-seed biscuits. All delicious.
The photographs I took that day focus on other aspects of the Kurnell site. The first shows its verdant, park-like appearance. In Sydney this year we had a wet end to summer, and beautiful, warm autumn days—ideal growing conditions for native plants. I reflected that these were the same very pleasant conditions that Cook found on his arrival at exactly this time of year. Plenty of feed for native animals, and fresh water for his men. How- ever, when Captain (and Governor) Phillip arrived 18 years later at this same spot with 1400 souls to feed, and seeking pasture for his considerable live stock, he was severely disappointed. The seasons had turned. No pasture grass and no fresh water— Welcome to Australia, Governor Phillip!
It is also important that the First Fleet arrived around January 18th, the peak of Australia’s summer. But I can also remember that the Kurnell site was often dry and dusty even in the Aprils of the 1950s. Weather is not consistent in the antipodes.
The next photograph is of an altogether different subject. This is the burial plaque of Forby Sutherland, a seaman in Endeavour who was the first Englishman to die in Australia—of tuberculosis.2 It is important to note that the local Sutherland Shire Council is NOT named after Forby, but is an alteration of the 19th century spelling of the area, which was Southerland!3 As you can see from this plaque, the Kurnell site will require quite some clean up for celebrations with a large crowd expected in 2020.
The final photo, although it also illustrates the rich background vegetative growth at Kurnell, is a sad reflection on our local society. This memorial to Joseph Banks was constructed in 1946. Next to it is a sitting area of fine-grained granite, with the large letters BANKS on the seat back, very centre of the photo.
This type of multiple seat made from only one material is known as a bank-seat. I wonder if the designer was playing with the botanist’s name and being humorous, which is why JOSEPH BANKS does not appear at the back, just BANKS. According to my copy of Macquarie’s Dictionary (produced in Australia) there are 30 different meanings for the word BANK, ranging from the slope bordering a river to an institution lending money and the lateral inclination of an aeroplane. Another meaning is “an arrangement of objects in a line”, so perhaps the artist/designer considered the curved row of seats to be a bank.
Severe vandalism of the central seat is quite evident. Cursory hazard identification has been affixed by the council in the form of tiger-stripe tapes, but perhaps the council should be nudged about their obligations to repair this large and attractive historical site.
Published in Cook's Log, the Captain Cook Society quarterly publication - July 2017
1. See Cook’ s Log, page 19, vol. 33, no. 3 (2010) for a report about the 240th anniversary celebrations, and page 32, vol. 38, no. 3 (2015) for the 245th anniversary.
2. Cook’ s Log, page 1157, vol. 18, no. 2 (1995) and Cook’s Log, page 33, vol. 31, no. 2 (2008).
3.Cook’s Log, page 1343, vol. 19, no. 4 (1996).