Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

Captain Cook Was Here

Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

Captain Cook Was Here

Article excerpt

Captain Cook Was Here

Maria Nugent 2009, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 164pp, ISBN 9780521762403 (hbk)

About ten years ago during a bus trip in Canberra I was privy to the following conversation between two women sitting in the row in front of me. They were discussing events of the recent 'sorry day', and complaining that it had taken place at all. One of them said:

   I don't know what it is about, sorry day. My grandfather did not
   come to Australia with Captain Cook, but he came to Australia on a
   ship. And Cook and his men were slaughtered on the beach. And my
   grandfather was not amongst them, but it could have been him. So I
   think they should say sorry to me!

This white woman's retelling of Cook's engagement with local people in what later became known as Australia is--apart from being stunningly ignorant and wrong--part of a phenomenon that makes Maria Nugent's work so pertinent and timely. Captain Cook stories, black and white, connect the present with the past, and focus on the moral (or amoral) core of the nation. They are mythical foundation stories. The placing of a British 'Cook's' cottage in Melbourne's Fitzroy Gardens is as much part of this struggle for what the nation is and should be, as are the Captain Cook stories told by Hobbles Danaiyarri to Deborah Rose (1991). Maria Nugent takes up this challenge by re-narrating and analysing the eight days of Cook's first voyage spent 'at and around the place he eventually called Botany Bay' (p.vii).

Captain Cook Was Here is a slim, beautifully designed volume, published by Cambridge University Press, that explores relationships and actions of the strangers stepping ashore and the people who lived there and met the strangers, and the ongoing connections between them. Maria Nugent uses a wide range of voyage accounts and manuscripts, as well as secondary texts, to produce a dense but readable text, which interweaves a nuanced analysis of historic events with Australian-based ongoing processes of re-narrating the effects and meanings of this encounter. …

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