Salt, Daphne F.
Kurnell: Birthplace of Modern Australia.
Cook first saw Australia on 19th April, 1770. Heavy surf prevented his landing, and it was not until 29th that a successful attempt was made. It was at Botany Bay on the peninsula we now know as Kurnell.
Kurnell's history does not begin with Cook, but the Aborigines, and it is with these people that Daphne opens her book, describing their arrival and life there with comments from direct descendants. Their name for the area, Cunnel, may well have led to the later name Kurnell. Cook's life is briefly given, and his arrival amply recorded and illustrated. After reading all this in the first chapter I assumed there would be little else to be of interest to me, but I was completely wrong. The succeeding eight chapters have much to hold the attention.
In 1815 the first white settler arrived in Kurnell, James Birnie and built a farm, Alpha Farm, which became Half-a-Farm in the official records! His successor Thomas Holt cleared and burnt the scrub, cut down the timber and his stock ate the grass, unleashing "an unstable transgressive dune sheet that moved north at the rate of at least 8 metres a year." On 20th March, 1822, "an old Aborigine, 'white haired and hoary with age', who had witnessed Cook's landing, accompanied members of the executive of the Philosophical Society of Australia to Kurnell and pointed out the landing place to them. They fixed a brass plate"
In 1870 Holt erected an obelisk "at his own expense to celebrate the centenary of Captain Cook's landing". It was not until 1899 that the privately held land went back into public ownership. The Captain Cook Landing Place Reserve was declared "for the use and enjoyment of the public for all time. A formal and public dedication... was to take place on 28th April... being the anniversary of Captain Cook's landing. Unfortunately the state of the weather necessitated a postponement until the 6th May - the date on which Captain Cook sailed away from Botany Bay." In his address Sir Joseph Carruthers, Minister for Lands, said "What Plymouth Rock is to America, so should this memorable but little reverenced spot be to all Australians".
"The Captain Cook Landing Place Reserve came under the provisions of the National Parks and Wildlife Service Act in 1967 when the park was proclaimed 'an historic site'... Though the character of the landscape at the entrance to Botany Bay does now differ, it would not be unrecognisable to the 18th century British and French maritime explorers."
"Large native mud oysters, once prolific in Botany Bay, were relished by the Aborigines and were gathered by Captain Cook during his stay." The early European settlers gathered them so much that "by 1896 the then Fisheries Department declared mud oysters extinct" though there remains an abundant supply of shells in the Bay.
"In 1950 the Captain Cook's Landing Place Road Trust applied for assistance to build a road. Council, on 30th October the same year, dedicated a strip of land 80 feet wide for the road to Kurnell and named it 'Captain Cook Drive'... At the end of July 1954, the road opened to all traffic." About the same time a block of marshland between Captain Cook drive, Solander Street and Cook Street was reclaimed. It became "Marton Park, after Captain Cook's birthplace, by Justice Ferguson on 27th October 1951."
This book is easy to read and amply illustrated - a marvellous aspect. I gave up counting how many pictures there are (20 in the first chapter alone). It even has an appendix to explain how the date of Cook's landing can be both 28th and 29th April, as "Cook used ship's time and Banks, being a civilian, wrote his entries using the civilian calendar time." And no one made any adjustments for crossing "the International Date Line until October 1770 when he reached Indonesia."
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 1753, volume 23, number 3 (2000).