Academic journal article Cultural Studies Review

Captain Cook: Chased a Chook

Academic journal article Cultural Studies Review

Captain Cook: Chased a Chook

Article excerpt

Captain Cook

Chased a chook

round and round

the history book1

Captain Cook has been marked again and again as culturally and historically significant. Even mentioning his name risks a set of responses: The Great Navigator, The Original Invader, The Marker of Modern Australia and The Discoverer. One of the challenges to think history 'experimentally' was to consider how and why and if we could redeem aspects of the past which have fallen outside what has been monumentalised as historically significant. But equally, how could we make new kinds of interpretative spaces within well circulated and official histories such as those which simply leave Cook as a 'discoverer' of Australia? The challenge in attempting to interrupt Cook as only a historical figure is that he already works through replication and chaotic proliferation that solemnly monumentalise him with a fake reason and at the same time popularise him in delirious rhyme. He is the figure represented through statues and 'discovery sites' that invent him as a foundational national figure and he is displayed and circulated through banal activities such as Captain Cook cruises and take away shops. As Chris Healy suggests of the multiple experiences of 'Captain Cook's Cottage':

Nevertheless, they have been linked by the name of Captain Cook, a name which refers us not to an actual historical figure but to an enduring icon, a huge network of narratives, images and ceremonies that seek to articulate a common reference for Australian historical culture: in the beginning was Cook.2

The commonality and repetitiveness of Cook may therefore be considered a part of the ongoing invention of the 'historical' Cook as an always incomplete effort to install Cook as the Original' Australian. But perhaps some of the ways we learn Cook that fall outside narrative and outside orders of reason may constitute an affective remnant of an embodied knowing that there was, and is, a 'before Cook'. Those remnants could disrupt the ways in which Cook is understood as national origin and historical figure and let us experience instead the nonsense of Cook, in the present.

How does history work? A set response following Foucault and White might be that history is a particular discourse produced through a set of power/knowledge relationships that privilege ideas of development and evolution which has as its indicative form the historical narrative. As an entry point to analysis, particularly a textual one, this is generally helpful but limited in how clearly it lets us see that history also works through people and things to produce a force of knowing that makes itself at home in specific skin. The kind of making at home history that put Chook and Cook together. The children's rhyme is personal and provisional. It changes over time. It lets us experience historical figures in realms such as the cellular and lets us improvise play with a particular immediacy. Here we might understand the Cook rhymes as merely another, more intimate, technology of learning to be 'at home' and so easily familiar with Cook. But perhaps some of the rhymes also go beyond that? There are many chooks to Captain Cook-here are some:

Captain Cook chased a chook

All around Australia

When he got back he got a smack

For being a naughty sailor

Captain Cook chased a chook

All around Australia

He lost his pants in the middle of France

And found them in Tasmania

Captain Cook chased a chook

All around Australia

The king of France

Kicked him in the pants

And made him do a Chinese dance

Captain Cook, the dirty old chook

Went sailing down the river.

He caught his cock on a rock

And ate it off for dinner

Captain Cook chased a bare bum chook

Up the Swannee River

Struck a rock, broke his cock

And crushed his balls to sugar

Captain Cook discovered a chook

He called the chook 'Australia'

It laid an egg, so they said,

And he called the egg Tasmania'

Captain Cook the bare bum chook

Went sailing round Australia

And coming back, he let a crack

And thought it was a failure

This is just a small sample of the collection of rhymes about Cook that you can read in the Australian Children's Folklore Collection at the Museum of Victoria. …

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