Comparing Indigenous accounts of Captain Cook

'Australia, the first hundred years' by Andrew Garran (1886)

'Australia, the first hundred years' by Andrew Garran (1886)

The following account of Captain Cook was told to anthropologist Kenneth Maddock by Rolly Gilbert, a ‘Kurtjar man.’ It has a number of things in common with Yolngu accounts of Cook. The most obvious is that Cook is understood to be an immoral character who thought little of Indigenous people and acted accordingly. The story also suggests Rolly thinks Indigenous mob were ‘like animals’ from Cooks point of view.

This is similar to the Yolngu notion that he saw them as gorillas or ‘monkeys’. There is a denial of Indigenous peoples’ humanity, and, significantly, Cook doesn’t just think it, he acts upon it – this judgement or misrecognition. Both stories thus so offer an account of intercultural power dynamics in some important way.

Here is Rolly’s story:


‘That Captain Cook, that Jew, he was traveling in the boat on the ocean. Then he came out to see Australia. A couple of blokes were in the boat and himself. He said: “We go ashore in Australia” and they did come to shore, and saw these couple of Aboriginal people standing by the beach. They were going to do them over, like shoot them down, and another fellow said “You had better not do that. They might give a good idea where the other people might be.” And so they did. They pointed out where the Aborigines had their main camping area. So they set off and found the tracks of Aborigines where they were hunting around the area. Then they went back to the boat and set up the people to explore and go down the countryside and shoot the people down, just like animal. They left them lying there for the hawks and the crows….So a lot of old people and young people were struck by the head with the end of a gun and left there. They wanted to get the people wiped out because Europeans in Queensland had to run their stock: horses and cattle.”


(Quoted in Maddock, K. 1988, ‘Myth, history and a sense of oneself’ (in) Keen, Ian (ed), Past and Present: The construction of Aboriginality, Aboriginal Studies press, Canberra, p. 17).


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Filed under Thesis/Yolngu related writing

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