THURSDAY, 19th. In the P.M. had fresh Gales at South-South-West and Cloudy Squally weather, with a large Southerly Sea; at 6 took in the Topsails, and at 1 A.M. brought too and Sounded, but had no ground with 130 fathoms of line. At 5, set the Topsails close reef’d, and at 6, saw land extending from North-East to West, distance 5 or 6 Leagues, having 80 fathoms, fine sandy bottom. We continued standing to the Westward with the Wind at South-South-West until 8, at which time we got Topgallant Yards a Cross, made all sail, and bore away along shore North-East for the Eastermost land we had in sight, being at this time in the Latitude of 37 degrees 58 minutes South, and Longitude of 210 degrees 39 minutes West. The Southermost point of land we had in sight, which bore from us West 1/4 South, I judged to lay in the Latitude of 38 degrees 0 minutes South and in the Longitude of 211 degrees 7 minutes West from the Meridian of Greenwich. I have named it Point Hicks, because Lieutenant Hicks was the first who discover’d this Land.
—James Cook’s Endeavour Journal.
And so in the early light of 19 April 1770 did James Cook catch sight of Australia, or New Holland as he had it then. This glimpse was Cook’s introduction to the country of the Bidhawal and Gunaikurnai peoples. They called the point Tolywiarar.
As much as Cook had ‘discovered’ land new to English imaginings, so too would the ancient inhabitants of this continent shortly discover the agents of a distant culture, a culture set on acquisition and dispossession.
Yet, and this voice will be conspicuous on the coming 250th anniversary of Lieutenant Hicks’s observation, there are still many Australians who cling to the idea that this was a land only made visible when seen with European eyes; a country whose inhabitants then remained invisible thanks to a legal fiction and a long, habituated, self-interested blindness.
Theirs is a muddled, absurd version of Australian history, one unreconciled to the great Australian truth: that this is a country with an ancient, unbroken story, of peoples whose dominion was never ceded, and whose permission for colonisation was never sought.
In this issue of Meanjin Paul Daley looks back at Cook and thoughtfully considers his complex legacy. Here begins the story of this country’s occupation. It is not, though, the story of this country.
The reconciled nation that might write that tale, a nation honest with the many facets of its true modern self and respectful of its ancient elders, is yet to be discovered.
The Summer 2019 edition of Meanjin will be in shops from December 3. Pre-order here.