MUNGO MacCALLUM. Around the twist or navigating around Australia.

Jan 28, 2019

Unlike the National Party’s deputy leader. Bridget McKenzie, our Prime Minister presumably knows that James Cook and Arthur Phillip were not the same person.

They may have both been dead white male sailors serving the mad King George III, but they did so in different times and different places. Even Scott Morrison learnt that much at school.

And he probably also knows that Cook did not actually circumnavigate Austraiia. But what the hell, he could have if he’d wanted to – and this close to Australia Day, why waste a marketing opportunity?  

So ScoMo has decided that on the 250th anniversary of Cook’s first and only voyage to Australia, there is to be a re-enactment of the imaginary feat in a reconstructed Endeavour – a spin which some might call worthy of a real circumnavigation but which others will deride as around the twist

For what it is worth, the first Australian to circumnavigate the continent was Bungaree, a Kuringgai man who accompanied Matthew Flinders (English), George Bass (English) and the cat Trim (born at sea) during their 1841 exploration in the Tom Thumb. Oh well, that leaves time for another celebration for that bicentenary – better start preparing for it immediately, because Morrison the election campaign is almost upon us. So much fake history, so little time.

But while we are waiting, it may be worth checking on what actually happened, before Morrison and his mates rewrite the record entirely. As far as we know the first people to arrive were the Aborigines, the First Nations; they came either by sea or by a land bridge or both some 60,000 years ago.

Over the centuries there were no doubt many visitors, Malaccas from the Malay peninsula and probably others from other parts of Asia and the Pacific, but they were not white and therefore did not count. The first Europeans, the Dutch, landed in the early 17th century.

The first Pom was the pirate William Dampier, who dropped in on the west coast in 1688 – exactly a century before the so-called first fleet arrived with Phillip, who announced to the bemused locals that this time they had come to stay.

So when Cook reached Botany bay in 1770 he was already something of a blow in. Nonetheless, he formally took possession of the entire landmass, conveniently ignoring the royal direction that this should be done with the consent of the natives. And like many absentee landlords, he then buggered off home, before embarking on two more epic voyages. A peerless navigator, a great explorer – but not the discoverer of Australia, let alone the inaugurator of the society we have today.

But Morrison seems somewhat obsessed with the man whose name bears his electorate. Perhaps he knows more history than we give him credit for; in Cook’s third and fatal voyage, when he stopped for provision (and a bit of r’n’r for the long-suffering crew) on the islands of Hawaii, some of the residents believed he was the reincarnation of their god Lono.

Perhaps ScoMo feels that this divinity has been passed on to him, and that is why he can transform political fiction into historical fact But there is a catch: the Hawaiians realised that Cook wasn’t a god after all, and killed him. Morrison would not want to take the comparison too far.

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