Cooktown (Part 2), Sunday 16 to Tuesday 18 June 2019

The re-enactment of Cook’s landing at what is today Cooktown was scheduled for 10:00 am. We expected there would be a big crowd, so we were up for early showers. We had had our third and last night in the RV Rest Area, and tonight we had a site booked in one of the caravan parks. We drove into town, bought some bread rolls from the bakery, and found a level parking spot on the main road almost straight across from the site of the re-enactment. We had our breakfast inside Matilda—cereal and coffee for Katie and Ian, My Dog, apple and yogurt for Dexter.

We took out our folding chairs and set ourselves up in a very good position in front of the stage where the re-enactment was to take place. The stage was a depiction of the HMB Endeavour. We wore our 1770 Festival singlets that we bought a few weeks ago from the town of 1770, and it attracted the attention of the lady in period costume shown in the fourth last photo in the previous post. While we waited for the re-enactment to start, the announcer tried hard to encourage audience participation by getting us to sing the chorus of a traditional sea shanty called A-Roving (The Maid of Amsterdam):

A rovin’, a rovin’
Since rovin’s been by ru-i-in
I’ll go no more a rovin’
With you fair maid.

Dexter was sitting nicely beside Ian with his harness and lead on, and people sat around us in chairs or on the ground.

The re-enactment was a serious production that took over an hour to cover the 48 days that James Cook and the crew of the Endeavour spent ashore. There were over 50 actors and production staff. Here is a summary of the story that was told to us, with some details taken from the booklets Historical Endeavours and 48 Days A Shared History purchased from the James Cook Museum in Cooktown:

On 29 April 1770, Captain Cook and His Majesty’s Bark Endeavour arrived at what is now Botany Bay in NSW. The ship departed 8 days later without making contact with the indigenous people.

HMB Endeavour anchored in Bustard Bay near what is now the town of 1770 in Queensland on 23 May. The name of the bay came from the shooting of a 17 pound “bustard” bird by the landing party and eaten. The bird was an Australian Bustard or Plains Turkey. The crew slept one night on the ship, and Endeavour left.

There were three more brief landings in Queensland. Then, around 11:00 pm on a clear moonlit night of 10 June, the Endeavour struck a reef and stuck fast. She was severely damaged on what was to become known as Endeavour Reef. To lighten the ship, the crew threw overboard six cannons, casks, anchors and stores—50 tons or more. On the high tide the next evening, the Endeavour was floated off the reef.

Everyone on board, including Cook and Banks, took turns at manning the pumps to remove water flowing in from the breached hull. A midshipman suggested a temporary repair called fothering, in which a sail was used to make a type of pillow, filling it with dung, wool and other stuff, and the pillow was placed against the hole. This slowed the water intake significantly, and it took another week to find safety in what is now Endeavour River, or Waalumbaal Birri in the local Aboriginal language.

On 17 June 1770, 86 men along with livestock and stores came ashore in the area that is now Bicentennial Park. The Endeavour was beached up against the shore, and the hole was found to have been partially plugged by a large piece of coral. It only took a few days to repair the ship, but adverse wind and tides made refloating her difficult.

Unlike at Botany Bay, there was significant contact between the Europeans and the local Aboriginal people, or bama. Six meetings occurred with the bama, all initiated by the bama. The first was on 10 July. There were friendly encounters, and then a dispute arose over turtles that had been taken by the Europeans on board for food at a time that all the bama knew was outside the turtle hunting season. The last meeting was on 19 July and was the first recorded reconciliation between Indigenous Australians and Europeans. Sydney Parkinson, an artist brought along by Banks, recorded 132 words and phrases of the local languages. The re-enactment portrays several of these meetings, and is a fascinating story in itself involving kangaroos and turtles.

The Endeavour was eventually refloated, and it crossed the moth of the Endeavour River on 4 August. However, she had to wait outside the harbour due to unfavourable winds until she departed on 10 August.

There were another seven landings made before Cook left Australian waters for a refit in Batavia, at the time a Dutch colony, now called Jakarta.

The re-enactment production team did a great job portraying the story of the landing of the Endeavour and the adventures of its crew over the next 48 days. The Marines fired real rifles, and the loudness of the shots was unexpected for everyone. The first time it happened, Dexter escaped from his harness into the people sitting on the ground around us. The second time the guns were fired, Dexter darted off again and sought refuge among the Aboriginal elders who were sitting in reserved seating behind us. Everyone was very good about this, and Ian got help to put Dexter back into his harness. When someone said that the guns were to be fired again, Ian led Dexter back to the motorhome, and locked him inside with a window open as it was starting to warm up. Ian ended up missing a fair bit of the re-enactment. When the re-enactment was over, we returned to Matilda and Ian was worried that Dexter might have jumped through the open window during several more gun shots. We found Dexter cowering in the cabin behind our seats, traumatised. Katie went off to find food, and Ian heard “Fire in the hole! Fire in the hole!”, then another blast nearby that was louder than all the guns fired together. This was from a canon that had been fired immediately across the road from where Matilda was parked. That upset Dexter again, but thankfully that was the last blast we were to experience.

The Marines with their period rifles, with Aboriginal huts in the background
First meeting between Cook and the bama
Local Aboriginal people played a huge role in the re-enactment
The first kangaroo was shot and eaten
Captain James Cook, played by Ric Ashcroft, seated at his desk in the HMB Endeavour

Katie returned fried rice and dumplings from the market for an early lunch in Matilda. We intended to buy some fresh tropical fruit from a stall that we saw on Saturday, but that stall was not there on the Sunday. We checked into the Cooktown Caravan Park and booked an additional night, then spent the rest of the afternoon doing the normal motorhome chores. We had light and healthy salmon and salad rolls for dinner, and Cornetto ice creams for dessert (not quite so healthy, but nice).

On Monday, we visited the Cooktown IGA and did some substantial shopping. We then parked in a shady spot opposite the James Cook Museum.

The James Cook Museum at Cooktown is one of the National Trust’s most important museums, and they also sponsored the Cooktown Discovery Festival. Entry on the previous Saturday was free, but we could not fit it into our day. We did not know what to expect, as Ian does not generally like museums. Katie stayed in the motorhome to look after Dexter, and Ian went into the museum—it is $10 entry for seniors. This museum is worth every cent, and more. The building was originally a Catholic convent and a girls’ school. There is still a very narrow spiral staircase used by the students. Ian joined a tour and learned about the convent’s beginnings—the nuns from Ireland had a hard life in tropical Cooktown.

Very narrow spiral staircase for use by the students of the girls’ school

Ian learned more about Cook’s landing, and the Chinese people who came to work the Palmer River Goldfields. One of the Endeavour’s five anchors and one of its six canons are on display, having been recovered from the Endeavour Reef. Meanwhile, the shadow that was covering Matilda moved, and it became too warm inside the motorhome for Katie and Dexter. After Ian’s museum visit, we found another shady spot near the RV dump point and water supply, and we had lunch of ham and salad sourdough rolls. The rolls from the Cooktown Bakery were lovely!

In the afternoon, Ian dropped Katie off at the museum for her turn. She was fascinated by the story of the early Chinese settlement at Palmer River.

Chinese people in Far North Queensland

Ian then headed to the Cooktown cemetery with Dexter on the advice of several of our friends. Ian looked for the oldest grave, the youngest grave, and the most interesting grave. The oldest grave belonged to a lady called Elizabeth Cooper. She and two other people drowned off St Patrick’s Point on 16 August 1874, but only Elizabeth’s grave is marked. The cutter Platypus, with eleven people aboard, capsized during a reef trip. There was later controversy about whether enough was done by the other eight people to save those who drowned. The site of the grave is also a mystery because the grave is well away from the main part of the cemetery. Maybe, this was the main part of the cemetery in those days.

The oldest grave—Elizabeth Cooper
Most recent grave
Another old grave, a Jewish one, from 1875, or as the sign says, the Hebrew year AM 5635
This was Ian’s favourite grave

Ian also found the Chinese Shrine. Over 300 Chinese people were buried in this area between 1873 and 1920. The shrine was built in 1887. Chinese emigrants feared they might die, never to return to the land of their ancestors. Most of those initially buried here were later exhumed and returned to China. The three characters on the shrine, written in ancient script, read Tjin Ju Tsai, which means, Respect the dead as if they are present.

The Chinese shrine

We had a very interesting day in Cooktown, but not too strenuous or traumatic. We enjoyed a satisfying dinner of crumbed lamb cutlets, new potatoes and Greek salad.

On Monday morning, we packed up and were out of the caravan park by about 9:30 am. We stopped at the Bakery to get more of those wonderful sourdough rolls that we loved, then headed for Atherton.

We had three stops, the first at Black Mountain. Although this looks like a hill of basalt, it is actually made of granite. The mountain is a significant and respected place for Aboriginal traditional owners of the area. Known as Kalkajaka, meaning place of the spear, Black Mountain is the focus of several Dreamtime stories. The granite is 260 million years old.  The top of the pluton developed a jointing pattern, which led to fracturing. Water penetrated the network of fractures and facilitated weathering when the top of the pluton was exposed by erosion. The dark appearance of the rocks is due to a film of lichens and other small encrusting plants growing on the rock surfaces.

Black Mountain

Our next stop was the iconic Lion’s Den Hotel, which you would pass by if you drove to Cooktown from Mossman via Cape Tribulation along the Bloomfield Road. It was a bit early for a beer, so we had some tea and coffee, and we ate some goodies we bought from the Cooktown Bakery as the hotel did not have any morning tea food. The Hotel has an adjacent, riverside camping ground, which was lovely and green when we were there. It is certainly worth considering for an overnight stop next time we are up this way.

Where the hotel is located used to be a thriving tin mining area, which later became known as Helenvale. The hotel was established in 1875. The hotel’s name came from the name of a tin mine in the mountain opposite the hotel.

Katie and the Lion
The Lion’s Den bar

Our third stop was the Byerstown Range rest area that we found on the way north.

We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Cooktown, and felt that we should seriously consider coming back next year for the 250th anniversary of Captain Cook’s landing there, but we would leave Dexter behind.

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