November verse 11: Kurnell

First, my 14 lines, and later explanations in case they’re needed:

November Verse 11: At Kurnell, birthplace of modern Australia
Oh excellent foundation story!
‘We thought you welcomed us ashore
but oops! we were mistaken. Sorry!
Now let’s move on. What we’re here for
is water. We’re prepared to parley.
Put down those spears and don’t be surly.
Twenty minutes – far too long.
Our muskets put you in the wrong.’
Righteous Cooman faced the strangers,
shouted ‘Warra warra wai!
(Go away now!)’ Futile cry,
it seemed, but still he braved the dangers.
Wounded on Gweagal sand
he championed this ancient land.

Yesterday some friends and I went walking around Kurnell. There’s an unpromising roadside sign, ‘Welcome to Kurnell, the Birthplace of Modern Australia,’ but from then on, the marking of this as Cook’s first landing point on this continent is remarkably complex – which probably goes some way to explaining why it’s not a big tourist attraction. There’s a memorial that was raised in the late 19th century at a cost of £100, with two plaques added over the decades; a flagpole which yesterday sported three remarkably tattered flags – of Australia and New South Wales, and the Aboriginal flag; and a plethora of plaques telling stories of the place from many perspectives, including quotes from elders from La Perouse on the other side of Botany Bay.

My favourites are the quotes from the journals of Cook, Banks and Sydney Parkinson, brilliant reminders of the dubious beginnings of British dealings with the east coast of Australia. and encouraging signs that despite Tony Abbott’s pessimism ‘our’ British history is being remembered and memorialised.

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In case you can’t read the images, here’s the text. First plaque:

‘WARRA WARRA WAI [go away now]’
Aboriginal meeting party, [29] April 1770, as recorded
in the journal of Endeavour artist Sydney Parkinson.

… THEY CALLED TO US very loud in a harsh sounding
Language of which neither us nor Tupia understood a word,
shaking their lanvces and menacing, in all appearance
resolvd to dispute our landing to the utmost tho they were
but two and we 30 or 40 at least. In this manner we
parleyd with them for about a quarter of an hour, they
waving to us to be gone, we again signing that we wanted
water and that we meant them no harm. They remaind
resolute so a musquet was fired over them …
Journal of Endeavour botanist Joseph Banks [29 April 1770]

Second plaque:

… AS WE APPROACHED THE SHORE they all made off except
two Men who seem’d resolved to oppose our landing… I
thout that they beckon’d to us to come a shore but in this we
were mistaken for as soon as we put the boat in they again
came to oppose us upon which I fired a musket between the
two … one of them took up a stone and threw at us which
caused my fireing a second Musquet load with small shott
and altho’ some of the shott struck the man yet it had no
other effect than to make him lay hold of a Shield or target …
emmediatly after this we landed which we had no sooner
done than they throw’d two darts at us this obliged me to
fire a third shott soon after which they both made off …
Journal of Lt James Cook, 29 April 1770

6 responses to “November verse 11: Kurnell

  1. Great post- thank you J.S.

    Like

  2. Certainly disputes the blandness of the Tony Abbott version – and has gigantic implications for the Windschuttle blindness. Thanks, Jonathan.

    Like

  3. kathyprokhovnik

    Well said Jonathan. We come in peace. Now let me shoot you.

    Like

    • A nice summary, Kathy. I’ve got a drawing of massachusetts’ original state emblem, which features a Native American man in a canoe with a scroll issuing from his mouth saying, ‘Please come and help us’. Similar distorted history

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