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“We pay our respects and dedicate the Unsettled exhibition to the people and other Beings who keep the law of this land; to the Elders and Traditional Owners of all the knowledges, places, and stories in this exhibition; and to the Ancestors and Old People for their resilience and guidance.
We advise that there are some confronting topics addressed in this exhibition, including massacres and genocide. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples should be advised that there may be images of people who have passed away.”
Laura McBride and Dr Mariko Smith, 2021.
Captain Cook taking possession
This reproduction of an 1865 engraved drawing by Samuel Calvert (based on the original oil painting by John Alexander Gilfillan) shows how the annexation ceremony mentioned by Lieutenant James Cook in his 22 August 1770 journal entry appears in the popular imagination.
This scene presents a somewhat romanticised visual representation (since Cook and his crew did not have cameras, and artists could only go by interpretations of Cook’s journals and their own artistic licence) which veers towards the fantastical and fictional. If this was indeed meant to show the island of Tuined, then the types of trees and rock formations seen here are not accurate depictions of what is found there. Is it more like a scene from Botany Bay? Or rather like trees from England instead?
Sir Joseph Banks journal
Cook cooked the books … We know our history of the plants and animals created in our areas since time immemorial to sustain us Elder Waubin Richard Aken, Kaurareg Traditional Owner, 2020.
Elder Waubin Richard Aken of the Kaurareg First Nations people pointed out that this famous image of Cook, inspired by readings of his journal entry, is based on the dubious claim that he landed on Tuined (Possession Island) with his party and that the local Indigenous people were subdued or ran away. This is a direct reference to claims made by Sir Joseph Banks in his 21 August 1770 journal entry:
21 August, 1770:
Running along shore with charming moderate weather, as indeed we have had ever since our second entering the reef. We observd both last night and this morn that the main lookd very narrow, so we began to look out for the Passage we expected to find between new Holland and New Guinea.
At noon one was seen very narrow but appearing to widen: we resolv'd to try it so stood in. In passing through, for it was not more than a mile in lengh before it widned very much, we saw 10 Indians standing on a hill; 9 were armed with lances as we had been usd to see them, the tenth had a bow and arrows; 2 had also large ornaments of mother of Pearl shell hung round their necks.
After the ship had passd by 3 followd her, one of whoom was the bow man. We soon came abreast, from whence we concluded we might have a much better view than from our mast head, so the anchor was dropd and we prepard ourselves to go ashore to examine whether the place we stood into was a bay or a passage; for as we saild right before the trade wind we might find dificulty in getting out should it prove to be the former. The 3 Indians plac'd themselves upon the beach opposite to us as if resolvd either to oppose or assist our landing; when however we came about Musquet shot from them they all walkd leisurely away.
The hill we were upon was by much the most barren we had been upon; it however gave us the satisfaction of seeing a streight, at least as far as we could see, without any obstruction. In the Even a strong tide made us almost certain.
Sir Joseph Banks’ claims of the local Indigenous people being cowardly and submissive is one of numerous British and early colonial accounts describing the “native” people in a particular way which conveniently served as justification and explanation for colonisation and dispossessing First Nations peoples of their lands.
In fact, it was often the case that the opposite was true, as Elder Waubin Richard Aken, Kergne Koey Kazil Kuiku Mabiag Pule Duguhuni Kuik, Appointed Tribal Historian of the Kaurareg First Nations People discussed in his interview for the Unsettled exhibition titled, Sovereignty, False Pretences Without the Rightful Consent.
klakal (Spears) 2021
Made by Senior Elder Daniel Tom, Elder Katuwa Rattler, Elder Waubin Richard Aken
klakal: kem (mangrove), red gum resin, muthuil (native cedar), metal, wire, synthetic binding
bunara (bow): bamboo and bamboo string. thaiyak (arrow): kem and dugong bone
Australian Museum Collection Acquisition
For Kaurareg First Nations people, the warnings about the HMB Endeavour approaching Kaiwalagal (the inner islands of the Torres Strait) prompted preparations for war. If Cook and his crew had landed on Tuined (Possession Island), they would have certainly been speared for violating Kaurareg sovereignty.
The spears in the exhibition represent the armed warriors who waited on the shore to defend their land. Sir Joseph Banks noted in his journal seeing warriors watching them from the island on 21 August 1770 - “9 were armed with lances [spears] … the tenth had a bow and arrows”.
- Naval Historical Society of Australia, (2019). Possession Island. From https://www.navyhistory.org.au/possession-island/
- Banks, J. (1768-1771). The Endeavour Journal of Sir Joseph Banks http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks05/0501141h.html#aug1770