Cook and His Aborigines

I recently read an article in The Conversation by Alison Page, Adjunct Associate Professor, University of Technology Sydney, about James Cook and his contact with Indigenous Australians when he sailed up the eastern coastline of what he named as ‘New South Wales’ 250 years ago. Page portrays the encounters from an indigenous historic perspective and includes a diary entry by James Cook that not only sheds light on the real Aborigines, before Europeans invaded [my word] and settled their land, but also gives an insight into Cook himself.

Cook wrote:

From what I have said of the Natives of New-Holland, they may appear to some to be the most wretched people upon Earth, but in reality they are far more happier than we Europeans; being wholy unacquainted not only with the superfluous but the necessary conveniencies so much sought after in Europe, they are happy in not knowing the use of them.

They live in a Tranquillity which is not disturb’d by the Inequality of Condition: The Earth and sea of their own accord furnishes them with all things necessary for life; they covet not Magnificent Houses, Houshold-stuff […]

[…] they live in a warm and fine Climate and enjoy a very wholsome Air, so that they have very little need of Clothing and this they seem to be fully sencible of, for many to whome we gave Cloth to, left it carlessly upon the Sea beach and in the woods as a thing they had no manner of use for.

In short they seem’d to set no Value upon any thing we gave them, nor would they ever part with any thing of their own for any one article we could offer them; this, in my opinion argues that they think themselves provided with all the necessarys of Life and that they have no Superfluities —

This I fear will lead me to read more about James Cook, the man, and currently the obvious choice is probably Peter Fitzsimons’ latest book of the same name. I have read and enjoyed a number of Fitzsimons’ books and although he has attracted some criticism for his style and the fact that he employs a veritable army of researchers assisting him, it is the latter that holds promise that I might learn more about the man who was one of history’s greatest explorers.

Of course Cook and is not a complete stranger to me. His Australian landing place at Kurnell in Sydney has been visited on several occasions and we have “bumped into” him on our travels around the Pacific. We have seen him remembered in Fiji, Hawaii and far away Vancouver.

Getting back to the Aboriginal people, I can’t help but recall what I read not long ago and included in my post “Aboriginal Australians and Guns, Germs and Steel”:

“The reason we think of Aborigines as desert people is simply that Europeans killed or drove them out of the most desirable areas, leaving the last intact Aboriginal populations only in areas that Europeans didn’t want”

As a result it is probably fair to say that Indigenous Australians are generally no longer “far more happier than we Europeans,” as Cook described them. Understanding and accepting the importance of the ancient non-materialistic culture with its attachment to “Country” appears to be very difficult for many non-indigenous Australians.

Alison Page’s article certainly contributed to giving me a better knowledge of our history from a black as well as a white perspective. She ends her article with the following conclusion:

“Revealing our shared history is the only way to make peace with those ghostly visitors of the past. But we will only find that peace in the truth and it’s the truth of our history, which will be our new voyage of discovery.”

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