This is a printer friendly page
Free for educational use

Captain Cook - Great Southern Continent

Video clip synopsis – In his first great voyage of discovery, James Cook is chosen to find and explore the 'Great Southern Land'.
Year of production - 2007
Duration - 1min 46sec
Tags - Captain Cook, DIY Doco, documentary genre, historical representations, language, media, media influence, media text, symbols and symbolism, television documentaries, see all tags


Captain Cook - Great Southern Continent

How to Download the Video Clip

To download a free copy of this Video Clip choose from the options below. These require the free Quicktime Player.

download clip icon Premium MP4 cookgsc_pr.mp4 (13.0MB).

ipod icon Broadband MP4 cookgsc_bb.mp4 (6.1MB), suitable for iPods and computer downloads.

Additional help.

About the Video Clip


Great Southern Continent is an excerpt from A Likely Lad, the first 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.

This excerpt marks the most significant turning point in Cook’s life, his selection as Captain of the Endeavour to embark on a voyage of discovery for the British Royal Navy. This was one of the British Empire’s first great scientific expeditions, to study the Transit of Venus in the Pacific Ocean and chart the ‘Great Southern Continent’. The narrator of the series, Vanessa Collingridge, describes the 18th Century legend of the ‘Great Southern Continent’ and why Cook was chosen to find and chart it. Cook had emerged as a superb navigator, one who could best be relied upon to find any southern lands as he was an outstanding cartographer and would be able to map it accurately.

In the excerpt, Professor John Gascoigne from the University of NSW describes the thirst for land and power that had increased greatly in the 18th Century. Gascoigne explains how Britain hoped to reap the riches of the legendary southern continent just as Europe had already secured with the discovery of America. The choice of Cook, who at the time was just a ships’ master, was a calculated one based on his skill rather than patronage. The excerpt reveals the fortuitous choice of Cook’s ship the Endeavour, a Whitby cat with a flat-bottomed keel, only 35 metres long (equivalent to the length of 7 family cars). The Whitby cat had traditionally been used to carry coal from Whitby to the Thames and back loaded with timber. Cat is an acronym of “coal and timber ship”. This type of ship had been Cook’s “classroom of the sea” where he had learnt the seaman’s trade.

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.

Curriculum Focus


Students will learn:

  • how documentaries represent their time of production through style and content
  • how historical figures are represented in documentaries
  • to critically anyalse the codes and conventions of contemporary documentaries
  • to critically analyse the clip’s production values and point of view
  • to produce a documentary text

Curriculum Links

The Arts – Criticism and Aesthetics

Students are required to reflect critically on meanings and values associated with particular visual artworks. They use the language and terminology to analyse the style, technique, subject matter and design of media.

This is a guide only. Teachers and students should consult their state’s curriculum and learning programs.

Background Information


“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.

Classroom Activities



  1. How is Captain Cook represented in this clip?. What spoken, visual and written text elements contribute to this view?
  2. How are visual codes used in this clip to represent:
    1. the knowledge of the geography of the world before Cook set out on his first voyage?
      View the opening 3D images of the globe of the Earth as people in the 18th Century conceived of it. Is this a more powerful representation that using a map? What production elements are used to represent the unknown southern part of the globe; consider colour, use of light and dark and shot size and movement.
    2. the imagined riches of the Great Southern Continent? Consider the symbolic use of mythical animals, wealth and power and how they are represented as pop ups on a map.
    3. the ship chosen for Cook? Why is a painting of the ship used at this point in the documentary? How does it contribute to the visual style of the clip?
  3. How the various production and visual conventions in this clip are used to convey the information – for example, paintings, maps, digital images, interview to camera and narration. What modes and their styles, used in this multimodal text, indicate it was produced recently?

Create your own documentary
Interview a person you know and admire. You can take notes or record them on audio or video.

  • Focus on the three most important points about this person and script a 5 minute video that best illustrates them.

Further Resources


For teachers notes and further information go to the Film Australia Captain Cook – Obsession and Discovery showcase.

Go to Screen Education and Metro Magazine for excellent articles and study guides for studying Australian documentaries and how to produce media.

For complete script to screen tutorials on the production of storyboards and video go to The Australian Children’s Television Foundation, Live Action Kit