The Endeavour replica at full sail in the Whitsundays. (Credit: Ellie Dent/AAP)

Cooktown history up for debate

  • BY AAP with AG Staff |
  • November 02, 2011

Captain Cook stopped in Far North QLD to repair the Endeavour in 1770, and the cultural significance is now up for debate.

CAPTAIN JAMES COOK and his 86-member crew spent just 48 days on the mainland of Australia's far north in 1770 while they repaired their damaged Endeavour, but it was enough to change the area's local identity forever.

Local Aboriginal people were justified in their caution as they watched the crippled ship limp up the coast seeking a safe harbour, then observed it beach in calm waters so the crew could repair the hull, care for their sick and replenish food and water supplies.

Cook's crew wasted no time in getting to know their place of refuge. They recorded the first clear sightings of the kangaroo, crocodile, flying fox, possum and dingo, plus hundreds of new species of fish, insects, butterflies and birds.

First record of Aboriginal language

They also made the first recording of the indigenous language, recording about 50 local words, one of which was the Guguu Yimithirr word for the bizarre jumping native animal they discovered, "gangurru", which later became "kangaroo".

Endeavour became the new name for the Wahalumbaal River, and also for the reef that damaged the ship's hull. And the community that the Guugu Yimithirr tribe called Gan.Gaarr (Gan.Gaarr) (meaning "place of the rock symbols" in the native tongue) officially became Cooktown, named after the master navigator.

Today, some Cooktown locals refer to Cook's 48 days as "the first settlement" on the east coast of Australia - and the subsequent 1788 arrival of the First Fleet as Australia's "second settlement".

Historical significance

From 4-6 November, a symposium and major expose in the town will celebrate those crucial six weeks in the town's history, with historians and aboriginal leaders speaking about the cultural significance of the events after the exploration party sought shelter.

And the Cooktown Re-enactment Association will re-enact Endeavour's arrival in 1770, which is celebrated in the town every year. The symposium's president and co-ordinator Loretta Sullivan promises "a full weekend of animated debate, discussion and thought-provoking questions" from The Endeavour's seven-week stay.

Cook's journal provides the best written record of the events that took place, she says. "We believe recognition of the shared history and cultures of both Guugu Yimithirr and European residents will have a positive influence on the outcomes of the conference, on the future social welfare of our people and the sustainability of the whole region."

Aboriginal perspective

From the indigenous perspective, local Guugu Yimithirr Alberta Hornsby will present an insightful observation into the Endeavour's visit in 1770 and the Deeral family will speak about the region's history.

More than a century after Cook's visit, the Cooktown area was the site of a gold rush. In 1873, after discovery of alluvial gold at Palmer River southwest of Cooktown, prospectors flocked to the area from all over the world and a new township and port were established at the site of the present town.

But with the boom came what records attribute to "cultural misunderstandings" between the diggers, the local Aboriginal people and hundreds of Chinese prospectors and market-gardeners. Eventually, whole groups were wiped out as European settlement spread over the Cape York Peninsula.

Attendance for the November 4-6 symposium at Cooktown Events Centre, including a welcome function on the Friday and full-day sessions on Saturday/Sunday (with meals) costs $200pp.
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* Accommodation and tours can be arranged by Nature's Powerhouse at

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