Cook & Omai: the cult of the South Seas. National Library of Australia. 2001

Cook & Omai: the cult of the South Seas. National Library of Australia. 2001

Cook & Omai: the cult of the South Seas. 
An Exhibition held in the Exhibition Gallery of the National Library of Australia, Canberra from 15 February to 27 May 2001.
National Library of Australia.
ISBN 0-642-10731-9

First, you should have been there [see Cook's Log, page 1873, vol. 24, no. 3 (2001)].
Secondly, you should harangue your local, large Museum or Library to contact the National Library of Australia suggesting this marvellous exhibition be toured around the world.

Reginald Nankivell was a New Zealander who went to Europe to fight in the First World War. He stayed on in Europe after the war, reinventing himself as Rex Nan Kivell and becoming a successful dealer in secondhand books and other material. He built up a huge collection of items dealing with the history of the Pacific and Australia, some of which, eventually, he sold and some he bequested to the National Library of Australia (New Zealand should still be kicking itself for allowing this to happen).

The material now forms the basis for the National Library's huge collection and Michelle Hetherington, the curator of the Cook & Omai, was able to draw upon it to put together this wonderful exhibition. In one room it was possible to view originals of paintings and drawings by Webber and Hodges, original charts and journals from the voyages, and letters and other documents written by Cook and other significant players. For anyone whose previous experience was seeing small imperfect reproductions in books, this was heaven.

Even the works of Smith and Joppien about the Art of the Voyages could not prepare you properly. To see all the red chalk drawings by Hodges of Pacific Islanders along one wall was marvellous.

As the title of the exhibition says, the role of Omai was also featured. The various sketches and portraits of Omai during his time in Britain were all displayed.

A series of talks was given while the exhibition was being held on various subjects concerning Omai; his depiction in art, his depiction in literature and his influence on philosophical discussion. Some of these talks have been written up and compiled by Michelle Hetherington as a book, which has been published by the National Library of Australia. The book reproduces several of the pictures from the exhibition but, in doing so, serves to tell you, "You should have been there!"

John Robson

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 1893, volume 24, number 4 (2001).

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