The story of James Cook‘s voyage along the Australian east coast is one we all know well. Historical perspectives of Cook’s first interactions with Aboriginal people have been told through the artworks and diary entries of Banks, Cook and his crew. But what if you had an opportunity to hear the story from different perspectives? How would this change your understanding of history and how are these past encounters relevant to Australians today? These are the questions posed by East Coast Encounter – re-imagining 1770, a new exhibition of works by Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australian artists, writers and songwriters opening at the Australian National Maritime Museum on 9 May 2014.
The exhibition re-envisages Cook’s journey by imaginatively exploring moments of contact between Aboriginal and European world views during these encounters. Artists include Michael Cook, Peter Hudson, Adam Hill, Gail Mabo, Euan Macleod, Reg Mombassa and Judy Watson and performer/songwriters Gemma Cronin, Shane Howard and Neil Murray.
Paintings, photographs, videos and sculptures feature alongside a documentary DVD by Australian journalist Jeff McMullen AM, which gives further voice to the artists and records their encounters with significant contact sites and traditional owners. One key image is a photograph by Michael Cook, Undiscovered #4, which reverses expected roles by depicting an Indigenous man dressed as an imaginary explorer on the shore with a tall ship behind him. The Australian National Maritime Museum is pleased to have recently acquired a complete limited edition set of the Undiscovered series.
Peter Hudson’s work Cook & Banks pays homage to the friendship and successful partnership between these two men. He positions an excerpt from Cook’s diary in brightly coloured writing next to detailed drawings of Cook and Banks. In contrast, Reg Mombassa’s Jim Cook Mugshot portrays Cook in the style of a ‘Wanted’ poster that states ‘executed for armed robbery by the people of the south Pacific – Feb 14th 1779’.
Another significant inclusion is a translation of a song dating back to the time of Cook’s voyage which has been passed down by Badtjala people from K’gari or Fraser Island. It starts with the line ‘Strangers are travelling with a cloud’ and tells of Cook’s passing of Indian Head on the island.
Donna Carstens, Manager of Indigenous Programs at the National Maritime Museum said,
The National Maritime Museum is delighted to be the first venue to host this powerful new exhibition. It is a significant contribution to NAIDOC and Reconciliation Weeks and complements the museum’s ongoing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Programs.
By presenting this shared story from varied perspectives, the exhibition aims to promote cultural dialogue and reconciliatory understanding.
East Coast Encounter opens at the Australian National Maritime Museum on 9 May 2014 and will travel to regional centres in NSW and QLD from August 24th. Entry is included in the museum’s galleries ticket – $7 per adult, $3.50 per child/concession and $17.50 per family.
This project has been developed by the University of the Sunshine Coast and assisted by the Queensland Government through Arts Queensland and the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body; for more information visit www.eastcoastencounter.com.au.
To celebrate the significant new exhibition and Reconciliation Week the museum is also hosting a full day of events, performances, artist talks and panel discussions on Saturday 31 May featuring journalist Jeff McMullen AM, artist Peter Hudson, East Coast Encounter co-curator Dr Lisa Chandler, historian Professor John Maynard, singer songwriter Neil Murray and more.