On 29 April 1770 British explorer and navigator James Cook and the crew of the Endeavour made first landfall on Dharawal Country, also now known as Kurnell, on the southern headland of Botany Bay. In the grand narrative of white Australia, Cook’s landing 250 years ago is heralded as the point at which the nation’s history ‘officially’ begins: the moment of ‘discovery’ and first step towards the foundation of a Greater Britain in a Southern World.
With the onset of British settlement this story of Cook became the country’s organising historical narrative and, over time, has been deeply etched in Australia’s collective consciousness. Yet the formulation of the nation’s genesis in this way is problematic. The continent had been long ‘discovered’ and inhabited by the time of Cook’s arrival, with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples living on this land for more than 60,000 years. In failing to reconcile this fact, the Eurocentric and linear narrative of Australian history that starts with Cook, smooths over the complexities of the nation’s recent past, with the effect of silencing the perspectives and experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples before, during and after his expedition.
Building on the exhibition of the same name presented by Flinders University Museum of Art (FUMA) and in response to exhibitions on the same theme presented by the University of Tasmania (Too Many Cooks curated by Professor Greg Lehman and Rachael Rose) and Queensland University of Technology (Rite of Passage curated by Shannon Brett), In the hold symposium seeks to explore and interrogate Cook as an idea, and a myth that continues to grip the public imagination. Cook is all at once a gathering point of narrative: a story, a symbol of colonisation, a contested site of ruptured histories and culture, a temporal order, a flash point of both dissent and nationalism. Cook perpetually forces pressing questions around matters of memory and memorialisation, Indigenous sovereignty, official histories, decolonisation, belonging, and of time.
This symposium brings leading Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists, curators, and academics into conversation to consider untold and alternative visions of Cook through film, performance, re-enactment, song, artwork, text and the archive. Like the artists whose work demands a truthful reckoning with the nation’s colonial past, In the hold symposium seeks to defy traditional representations of Cook and unsettle the reductive colonial discourse that follows his advent. In doing so, the symposium aims to contemplate our collective responsibility to our histories and how we grapple with their meanings and effects now and into the future.