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The place where Cooktown now stands was originally called Gan-Garr, after the word gun-gaar which is a type of white crystal quartz found in the area. Gan-Garr was part of the estate of Waymbuurr. Cook sailed into Waalumbaal Birri, now known as the Endeavour River, on 17 June 1770. Waymbuurr, one of 32 clan lands of the Guugu Yimithirr tribal nations was a neutral zone where surrounding clans would come together for cultural ceremonies and mediations. It was law that no blood was to be deliberately spilled on this land– allowing unthreatening interaction and respect. Had Cook landed on the other shore of the Endeavour River, the story of Australia as it is today may have never even begun.

Cooktown Expo 2020 is a three week regional expo built around the first recorded act of reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, focusing on the historical heritage to inspire, challenge and educate. Cooktown can lay unique claim to three of the most important elements of Cook’s voyage through Australian waters: 48 days of mutual respect, the first recorded act of reconciliation and significant scientific discoveries.

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Cook’s Landing in Cooktown (Waymbuurr)

The Endeavour and its crew of 86 men spent 48 days (seven weeks) in Cooktown, previously known as Waymbuurr – the longest and most significant land-based stay during Cook’s east coast expedition.

Cook’s long stay in Cooktown was due to The Endeavour hitting the Great Barrier Reef on high tide, damaging the ship and waiting for optimal sailing conditions. Cook and his crew landed in a neutral zone of Waymbuurr which by law no blood was to be spilled on the land.

During this time, Cook and his crew walked the shores of the Endeavour River, climbed Grassy Hill and other ranges, made numerous flora and fauna discoveries, communicated with Indigenous locals and explored the extensive coastline as they searched for safe passage out through the reef.

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From what I have seen of the Natives of New-Holland they may appear to some to be the most wretched people upon Earth, but in reality they are far happier than we Europeans.

– Excerpt from Cook’s Journal

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Mutual Respect in Cooktown (Waymbuurr)

Over the 48 day stay – the longest time Europeans had ever spent on Australian soil,  genuine communication was established between the crew and the Bama Ngay (local Indigenous Australians) both on Waymbuurr soil and aboard the Endeavour.

Whilst on board, an altercation between the Bama Ngay and Cook’s crew arose over the capture of turtles. The Bama Ngay were offended by Cook’s refusal to release the turtles caught by his crew which resulted in grass fires being lit and one Bama being shot in the leg. The indigenous people knew the importance of not taking turtles during breeding season.

The wisdom of a Bama elder referred to as the ‘little old man’ ensured that the rift was quickly healed and the first recorded act of reconciliation in Australia was recorded with the presentation of a broken spear tip.

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We followed them for near half a mile and then set down and call’d to them and they stopped also; after some unintelligible conversation had passed they lay down their darts and came to us in a very friendly manner; we now returned the darts we had taken from them ‘which reconciled everything.

– Excerpt from Cook’s Journal

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Scientific Discoveries

On board with Cook’s crew were a number of scientists, led by Sir Joseph Banks. During their time on land 325 plant specimens – over half the known species today were collected.

Also recorded were the first sightings of kangaroo, crocodile, flying fox, dingo, possum as well as different species of fish, birds and shells.

The skills of botanist Dr Daniel Solander and artist Sydney Parkinson were vital to the success of Banks’ botanical discoveries.  During the voyage, Parkinson’s work included over 900 drawings and 250 watercolours which resulted in almost 700 engraved plates.

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The first sighting of the kangaroo occurred in Cooktown, traditionally called ‘gunguuru’ by Guugu Yimithirr tribe. “In gathering plants today. I myself had the good fortune to see the beast of so muck talk of… he was not only like a greyhound in size and running, but had a long tail, as long as any greyhounds; what to liken him I could not tell, nothing certainty that I have seen at all resembles him.

- Excerpt from Joseph Bank’s Journal

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If you’d like to learn more about the history and culture 

Cook Shire Council acknowledges the traditional custodians of the land on which Cooktown 2020 commemorations will be held and pay respect to the Elders past, present and future. 

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