Captain Cook's journey should be celebrated

Opinion piece published in The Examiner, 4 May 2020 (available here). 

Captain James Cook's world-class navigational skills changed the world when he landed at Botany Bay in April 1770.

This historic and heroic achievement is worth celebrating even after 250 years. The fact it was not celebrated as it should've been is to be regretted. Not only was it a class act of navigational expertise for the era. It was also a world-changing event.

As our national treasure and pre-eminent historian, Prof Geoffrey Blainey AC said: Captain Cook

"...indirectly made possible present-day Australia which, despite its many failures, is surely one of the success stories of the world."

Australia as a modern nation 250 years after Cook's magnificent discovery stands amongst the best, if not the best, in the world. Blessed with a civil society, a democratic constitutional monarchy, rule of law, personal freedoms, peace, and comparative wealth untold, we are home to a nation full of people from the four corners of the world living in harmony. It's no secret we are the envy of the world. And for good reason. Their judgement and assessment of us as a people and a country of opportunity is not wrong.

Cook and his crew would never have been able to imagine what their discovery would usher in. For his time Captain Cook's advancement through the ranks was an exception as he came from humble beginnings working on the ships delivering coal from Yorkshire to London. His sheer capacity and personal skills allowed him to advance and be the quite rightly celebrated hero navigator of his era. His achievements based on the opportunities afforded him based on merit is worthy of celebration and passing down to the next and following generations.

Failing to pass on the history of this giant and his integral involvement in the establishment of modern Australia is to do not only Captain Cook and his crew a disservice but an especially huge disservice to our children who are entitled to know the history of their nation.

And let's remember, Captain Cook set out on a voyage of scientific and geographic exploration - not invasion. He was a man of his time, not ours. As such his legacy must be viewed in that context.

We should never reduce our nation's great history to a narrow grievance fault-finding focus. Our history, like that of every country (and indeed every individual), has its unattractive elements. But these elements should never be allowed to define our national narrative given we and our forebears have achieved so much.

As predictable as night follows day so there are the few who seek to shroud the Cook achievements in darkness with a smattering of alleged negative missteps. In doing so they very capably look past the log in their own eye to identify a speck (real or more likely imaginary) in Cook's. The one imponderable question the naysayers will never dare to ask, let alone answer is: But for the Cook discovery and English settlement what would've been the destiny of this great south land?

The meeting and indeed clash of cultures 250 years ago can't be undone. While a few busy themselves feverishly finding fault with our past, true leaders busy themselves building for the future.

As a migrant from a non-English speaking background, I for one am thankful for Cook and his legacy. It should be celebrated. So from me at least, a big thank you to Captain James Cook and his crew. Your legacy lives on in the foundations of the best country in the world.


About Eric

Eric Abetz has been a Liberal Senator for Tasmania since 1994 and has served in a range of Leadership, Ministerial and Shadow Ministerial roles.

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