Captain Cook Discovered Australia

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Lecturer’s Comments: A thoughtful, well-structured essay. The introduction is perhaps a little long in comparison with the overall length of the essay. (Note: This sample is provided in the exact form it was submitted and corrections and comments made in the text by the lecturer are not included. A Reference List was submitted by the student but this has not been included in the sample. ) They came in to the little town A semi-naked band subdued and silent, All that remained of their tribe. They came here to the place of their old bora ground

Where now the many white men hurry about like ants. Notice of estate agent reads: ‘Rubbish May be Tipped Here. ‘ Now it half covers the traces of the old bora ring. They sit and are confused, they cannot say their thoughts: ‘We are as strangers here now, but the white tribe are the strangers. ‘ (from ‘We are Going’, Noonuccal 193). This passage from the poem We are Going (by Oodgeroo Noonuccal) gives an illustration of how the Aborigines would have felt with the invasion by Europeans, of the land which they occupied for 1000s of years.

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The arrival of the Europeans ‘created a confrontation between two societies with radically different ways of living’ (Berzins 19). The two cultures disagreed or had misunderstandings because they held different concepts and ideas about life, particularly about the land. The Europeans considered Australia to be ‘terra nullius’ or unoccupied land, despite encountering the natives. Explorers saw no fences or borders which in their culture would symbolise some sort of ownership over the earth, therefore they regarded Australia to be land for the taking.

However, Aborigines believed that the and itself was communal property and that a large piece of country should not belong to any individual – the land belonged to the whole tribe (Ward 13). Yet no endeavour was made by Europeans to “understand or accommodate Aboriginal value systems” (Nile 49). Moreover, while the Aborigines were presumably the first to occupy Australia, they received little acknowledgment for their find or connection with the land. Captain James Cook on the other hand, receives much acclaim for discovering ‘The Great South Land’, although Aborigines, Asians and other European explorers stumbled upon it before him.

However, one cannot disregard the fact that Cook’s was a ‘discovery’ and quite an important one at that, for he literally put Australia on the map. Yet the term ‘discovered’ or ‘discovery’ according to the Macquarie Dictionary, refers to acquiring knowledge of, learning of or finding out, for the first time. Therefore, Cook did not ‘discover’ Australia in the true sense of the word, but rather he uncovered and revealed the potential of ‘The Great South Land’ to the rest of the world. As far as archaeologists know, the Australian Aborigines were the first people to inhabit Australia.

In fact, the ancestors of the indigenous Australians were the first human beings to cross oceanic depths between continents (Ward 1). Anthropologists speculate that the first human occupants in Australia were of the ‘Australoid’ race (Ward 6). It is thought that these first pioneering explorers entered Australia at least 50 000 B. P. , that is, before the present (time), as archaeologists say (Ward 1). In 1989 archaeologists excavated two ancient Aboriginal campsites at the foot of the western escarpment of the Arnhem Land plateau.

From these excavations it was established (through the use of thermo-luminescent and radio carbon dating) that men and women had first occupied the sites between 60 000 and 50 000 B. P. (Ward 1). The first indication of the culture, beliefs and way of life of these people occurred when archaeologists found the skeleton of a cremated woman at Lake Mungo in New South Wales. Evidence also suggests that there was continuous human occupation from at least 32 750 to 24 000 B. P. in this area (Ward 1).

Yet ‘for all but the last two hundred years, the Australian Aborigines were almost completely isolated from contact with other people’ (Nile 32). However, the first people that the Aborigines may have encountered were the Asians. The Asians or perhaps more precisely, the Buginese, are thought to have fished in Australian waters and possibly had some sort of contact with the Aborigines, before Europeans arrived (Clark 1). Yet many have ignored the fact that the Buginese may have had contact or knowledge of Australia, before Europeans encountered the continent.

It is recognised that the Buginese were arriving at the north coast from the Celebes to gather trepang – a sea-slug used by the Chinese for soup and as an aphrodisiac. However, they did not appear to be interested in gaining or invading the land. Perhaps the Buginese were as unimpressed by what they saw of the land as the Dutch and other explorers were afterwards (Clark 1). In fact, the Europeans were the last to ‘discover’ Australia. Many Europeans speculated that there had to be a great unknown southern land – terra australis incognita – to balance the landmasses of the northern part of the world.

In 1606, Spanish explorer Luis Vaez de Torres was the first to confirm that Australia and New Guinea were separate landmasses, when he sailed through the strait between New Guinea and Cape York Peninsula (Nile 98). However, the first European to land in Australia was a Dutchman named Dirk Hartog who arrived accidentally on the west coast while on his way from the Netherlands to Batavia. He left a pewter plate inscribed with the name of his ship and its officers on the shore (Nile 100).

Another great discovery of Australia was made by Abel Tasman – also a Dutch explorer. Tasman discovered the island which now carries his name, Tasmania in 1642 (Clark 12). Yet perhaps the most important discovery made by a European was by Captain James Cook. In 1770, Cook did what no other European had done officially – he placed the British flag on Australia and claimed it for Britain. He also chartered the entire east coast (while the Dutch mapped the west). In fact, he confirmed that what the Dutch called ‘New Holland’ was indeed ‘The Great South Land’ (Nile 105).

In addition, he confirmed that apart from Australia and Antarctica, no other southern continent existed (Nile 103). Thus he completed the jigsaw of the south. While Cook’s discovery was beneficial in some aspects, it was detrimental in others. Since European colonization and settlement the traditional pattern of the lives of the Aborigines has been massively disrupted and changed. Therefore, from the view of the Australian Aborigines, it may be a mute point to suggest that Captain James Cook or any other European discovered Australia.

In addition, while Cook’s discovery was extremely significant, one must take into account that Europeans were quite confidant that a south land existed and it was simply a matter of time before it was found. Therefore, Captain Cook did not ‘discover’, but merely uncovered a land which was already known in the minds of the Europeans. However, it is important to accredit all explorers of ‘The Great South Land’ and to recognise the contribution of the original inhabitants and their history with the land, as they all helped in the shaping of Australia.

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Captain Cook Discovered Australia. (2016, Oct 02). Retrieved from

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