In June of 1770, the British vessel HMS Endeavour was sailing along the far north Queensland coast. Captain James Cook and his crew had travelled far since leaving England in August 1768. Their luck was not with them this day and the Endeavour struck a reef north of Cape Tribulation. Many place names in the area derive from this story: Mount Sorrow, Endeavour Reef, and Cape Tribulation.
Cook and his crew nursed the Endeavour up the coast to an inviting river mouth and beached the ship at what is now Cooktown. Repairs were made, and then they waited for favourable weather in which to set sail for England. In all, the Englishmen stayed almost seven weeks at Cooktown. The local indigenous people, the Guugu Yimithirr, had seen them coming and kept their distance, but they eventually made contact with these strange, pale visitors. There was curiosity on both sides of the encounter, conflict, and the first act of reconciliation between indigenous Australians and Europeans. And it’s the first time the word “kangaroo” entered the English language. Botanist Joseph Banks recorded it in his diary, having asked the name of a local creature that baffled the Englishmen. Gangurru is the Guugu Yimithirr word for “grey kangaroo”.
Every June since 1960, on the Queen’s Birthday weekend, the people of Cooktown re-enact the events of 1770. The Queen saw it herself in 1970, during the Cook bicentennial. The event is the centre-piece of the annual Cooktown Discovery Festival
The re-enactment has changed considerably in its 54 years. It’s a faithful telling of Cook’s own account, recorded in his journals, and has more recently included an indigenous perspective, drawn from Guugu Yimithirr oral history. The result is an engaging and informative spectacle, complete with costumes, musket fire and an enormous kangaroo. And it takes place right where the events depicted really occured, 243 years ago.
More about Cooktown http://www.tourismcapeyork.com/
Read about the James Cook Museum in Cooktown http://www.nationaltrust.org.au/qld/james-cook-museum
Listen to highlights of the 54th re-enactment of the Cook landing.