After the 1870 centenary Cook’s landing, there were annual pro-British celebrations at Botany Bay that included the presence of the Governor, flag-raisings, gun salutes, and military displays.

Cook was more acceptable as a founder in a society that wanted to remove its convict stain than Governor Arthur Phillip, who established the penal colony at Sydney Cove in Sydney in 1788.

There was a lot of confusion then, and it continues to be today, about the historical roles played by Cook and Phillip. Cook’s picture and an Endeavour model were adorning the biggest triumphal arch of Sydney during the 1888 Centennial of the First Fleet.

In January 1901, the Commonwealth of Australia was inaugurated. This prompted a large-scale reenactment in Kurnell. It was dubbed the “Second Coming of Cook”. Over 5,000 people attended the spectacle, and 1,000 of them enjoyed a champagne brunch in a huge marquee.

The Monument of Captain Cook is located in Kurnell. Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences

The reenactment started with the arrival on shore of Endeavour, which was represented by the local fishing boat “Fanny Fisher.” Cook, his marines, and sailors encountered 25 Aboriginals armed with spears decorated with feathers. Cook fired a gun overhead and then ordered a sailor to shoot at the Aboriginals before claiming his claim to the continent. Cook, Joseph Banks, and an Australian nymph spoke about the “greatness” of Britannia in the Southern Ocean.

The reenactment was performed by a group of Indigenous Queensland men, even though an Aboriginal community once lived in La Perouse on the other side of Botany Bay. The troupe was directed by Archibald Meston, who is a parliamentarian and businessman. He had previously used Indigenous performers for his “Wild Australia’ show.

The circumstances under which the Aboriginal men were hired for the Federation Reenactment are unknown, nor is it known if the men were paid.

National Gallery of Victoria, Landing of Captain Cook in Botany Bay by E. Phillips Fox, 1902.

The Federation production, despite dramatizing a beachside skirmish of Aborigines and British soldiers, cemented Cook’s role as the conquering peacemaker. E. Phillips Fox was commissioned to paint The Landing of Captain Cook in Botany Bay in 1770 by the National Gallery of Victoria.

This magnificent work depicts Cook walking up the beach and stretching his hand out as he claims territorial possession. This image was widely circulated and reproduced and became the most famous and influential representation of Cook’s landing in Australia.

Read more: An honest reckoning with Captain Cook’s legacy won’t heal things overnight. But it’s a start.

The evolution of performances

In the first half of the 20th century, performers made gestures in the past to commemorate the arrival of Endeavour at Botany Bay. The steamship brought dignitaries to Botany Bay, where they gave speeches establishing Cook as the founder of Australia.

In 1930, at the height of the Great Depression, audiences were encouraged to “practice self-denial and self-reliance, as shown by Captain Cook’s exploits.”

Cook’s popularity waned after the Federation Jubilee in 1951. The formalities and a full-scale recreation were dropped.

In 1970, the bicentennial of Cook’s Australian Landing changed this dramatically. Cook became a household name, as government funding supported pageants, memorials, and other Cook novelty items around the country.

A reenactment of the events of several months was performed at Kurnell for Queen Elizabeth II and her entourage. It was a nationalistic culmination of many months’ worth of work. Hayes Gordon directed the show, which was designed to be broadcast on global television. The actors were selected through a nationwide search. It was held on “Discovery Day” and attracted over 50,000 spectators.

Reenactment of the arrival of the First Fleet in Domain, Sydney, in 1938. Royal Botanical Gardens Sydney

This reenactment, which was marketed as depicting the “birth” of modern Australia, capitalized on the growing public interest in Australia’s history. The emphasis was on historical accuracy. However, nothing challenged the long-established myth that Cook’s party faced Indigenous peoples briefly before peacefully claiming Australia.

As a way to show the progress the country has made, Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, and “multicultural” children jumped and slid in waves on the beach.

Protesting, mourning

Despite the “celebration,” there were a number of Aboriginal protests taking place, but they were barely covered in the media.

Oodgeroo Noonuccal, an Aboriginal activist and poet (Kath Walker), was one of hundreds who protested at La Perouse. They boycotted reenactment events and released funeral wreaths in the sea.

The night before the silent vigil, a day of mourning was observed in Sydney Town Hall as well as other Australian cities.

Wreaths were thrown in Botany Bay on April 29, 1970, to mark the Day of Mourning. The Tribune collection contains an image from the 1970 Cook bicentennial protest. This image will be featured in the State Library of NSW’s upcoming exhibition, Eight Days in Gamay, which opens in late April.

A second reenactment took place in Cooktown in 1970. The queen was also present. The Endeavour spent seven weeks in Cooktown, receiving repairs after it ran into the Great Barrier Reef.

Cooktown is a town with a long history of Cook-related performances. Initially, these were sporadic. The Cooktown Reenactment Association began to host an annual event in 1960.

The performance evolved from a struggle with Aboriginal people to Cook landing on the island and taking possession, and more recently, celebrating acts of conciliation.