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Captain Cook - Cook Claims New South Wales
Year of production - 2007
Duration - 3min 4sec
Tags - Australian History, British Empire, Captain Cook, DIY Doco, Indigenous Australia, conflict, documentary genre, exploration, historical representations, indigenous cultures, land, leadership, media, media text, representations, symbols and symbolism, television documentaries, television programs, values, see all tags
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Captain Cook – Cook Claims New South Wales is an excerpt from Beyond Speculation, the third episode of the 4 x one-hour series Captain Cook – Obsession and Discovery, produced in 2007.
Captain James Cook FRS RN (October 27, 1728 – February 14, 1779) was an English explorer, navigator and cartographer. Cook made three epic voyages around the world.
In this excerpt Cook spends some time observing and interacting with the Guugu Yimithir Aboriginal tribe on the east coast of Australia after he pulls in to make repairs to the Endeavour. Through his skills in diplomacy Cook has avoided a major confrontation with the tribe, and of possibly being killed himself, after violence erupts between his crew and the aborigines.
Scenes in the clip dramatising Cook’s journal entries of this time focus on his admiration for their easy lifestyle and enjoyment of life. Dr Penelope Edmonds from the University of Melbourne explains that this makes sense, given that Cook had come from humble origins and had to work his way up through Britain’s structured society. Another commentator, Professor John Maynard from the Wollotuika School of Aboriginal Studies, stresses that Cook was impressed by the seeming equality amongst the aborigines.
However, these entries comparing British society unfavourably with Aboriginal culture were edited from the published version of Cook’s diaries. Vanessa Collingridge points out that the establishment would not want to make it known that in Cook’s opinion the aborigines were happier than the British.
After setting sail again and navigating his way out of the Great Barrier Reef, described as an astonishing feat of sailing, Cook landed and claimed the east coast for Britain, naming it New South Wales. Cook’s secret orders contained two conditions that would allow him to claim land for Britain: if the land was unihabited, which it wasn’t, or if the native peoples gave their consent, which they had not.
Professor John Gascoigne from the University of NSW points out that as a servant of the British Empire Cook was bound to do this to steal an advantage over rival countries.
Captain Cook – Obsession and Discovery is a Film Australia National Interest Program. A Cook Films, Ferns Productions, South Pacific Pictures and December Films production. Produced with the assistance of New Zealand On Air, the Canadian Television Fund and Film Victoria, in association with History Television, ZDF in co-operation with ARTE and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. An Australia – Canada Co-production.
Students will learn:
- how 18th Century British peoples viewed Aboriginal land rights
- the history of how Captain Cook claimed NSW for Britain
- how Indigenous issues are represented in contemporary documentaries
Also, consult your local State and Territory Curriculum.
“I had ambition not only to go farther than any man had been before, but as far as it was possible for a man to go.” James Cook
In the series, best selling British author Vanessa Collingridge, a Geographer and Cook expert tells the story of the explorer James Cook. The series traces him from his origins as son of an English farm labourer, at the very bottom of Britain’s class-bound 18th Century society, through his rise as the best cartographer of the 18th Century, to his incredible voyages of discovery which resulted in Cook describing more of the globe than any other man.
The series relives what it was like to navigate uncharted and unknown waters in search of a legendary 'Great Southern Continent’ and then a North West passage through the Arctic ice; as well as to be among the first Europeans to visit exotic Pacific islands like Tahiti. The harshness and danger of life on the sea is depicted graphically as well as the rigid social structure of the time. The series includes direct descendants of the indigenous peoples of Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Hawaii who Cook met 240 years ago and the men of the Endeavour, Resolution, Adventure and Discovery, particularly the famous gentleman botanist Joseph Banks and the young William Bligh.
All of Cook’s major achievements are dramatised and analysed including his discovery of Hawaii, sailing the uncharted coast of New Zealand, proving it isn’t part of the ‘Great Southern Continent’ and the landing at Botany Bay as he claimed Australia for king and country, to death on a beach on the far side of the world.
A hero to some, a villain to others, Cook is depicted from different points of view: as an historic figure of the great stature to the British Royal Navy of the 18th Century and contemporary western culture, and as an exploiter of the Indigenous peoples he came across.
- The dramatised scenes of Cook observing the tribe with the actor’s voice over narrating diary entries. What tribal activities has the film maker chosen to depict? Why?
- How Cook’s attitude to the Aborigines is represented in this clip.
- What did Cook admire about Aboriginal culture?
- What comparisons are made here between Cook’s society and that of the Aborigines?
- Why were the postive entries in Cook’s diaries edited out?
- The use of experts to provide explanations for Cook’s admiration of the Aborigines.
- Cook’s claiming of NSW without gaining the consent of the Aborigines.
- What explanation is given for Cook’s action?
- Why does Professor Maynard describe Cook’s claiming of NSW for the British Empire as “still a theft today”?
- How are the events of Cook’s claiming of NSW portrayed in the clip?
- Discuss the effectiveness of the dramatisation, experts and narration.
- What point of view is taken of Cook’s actions?
- How are land rights viewed today? What are the important issues?
- Divide into two groups and plan and debate the topic: That James Cook’s claiming of NSW was not an illegal act in terms of the time and context in which it occurred. See below for recommended resources.
- In groups, create a short scene of one of these events not fully represented in the clip. These can be acted out, storyboarded or filmed. Contemporary costume and dialogue can be used effectively to link with issues being debated today focussing on reconciliation and land rights.
- Cook lands and claims NSW for Britain.
- Cook explains to his crew why fighting with the tribe must cease.
- Cook negotiates peace with the tribe
For teachers notes and further information go to the Film Australia Captain Cook – Obsession and Discovery showcase.
For the history of land rights in Australia go to NSW Aboriginal Land Council
View Aboriginal People Make a Canoe and Hunt a Turtle also available on this site.