Aborigines more popular than Captain Cook?

Professor Ann McGrath AM says Captain Cook was not always popular with the Australian public.

The crowd celebrating Australian federation in 1901, at the re-enactment of Cook’s 1770 Landing, actually cheered for his opponents.

Waiting for the landing show to begin on 7 January, many in the 5,000-strong audience tired of standing in the hot sun. To amuse themselves, they drank and let off fireworks.

Then suddenly, many stormed the roped-off VIP area, grabbing the best seats. Others snatched fine foods. One man was seen gnawing at a huge turkey skeleton.

When the actor playing Captain Cook finally arrived, one spectator offered him a whisky and soda. His landing party included professional actors playing Joseph Banks, Daniel Solander, Pacific navigator Tupia and a band of men in marine uniforms.

The group that had already landed comprised 25 Aboriginal men from many different Indigenous nations, from the freshly minted states of Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia. As the Sydney Morning Herald reported, they were akin to ‘a federal representation of the blacks of the Australian continent.’

One reporter observed them applying clay and ochres to their torsos, arms and faces. When ready, they charged down the hill, yelling loudly, holding their spears high, ready to throw.With athletic, powerful physiques, and armed with long barbed shields, nullah-nullahs, boomerangs and woomeras, they looked spectacular in possum skins, the feathers and wings of parrots, cassowary and emu.