THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
SATURDAY, MAY 2, 1931.
When Lieutenant James Cook left England on August 26, 1768, in command of the Endeavour, his programme was to proceed to Tahiti with the party
of scientists who were to observe the transit of Venus and, when they had finished, to try to find the "great southern continent" which was supposed to balance the land masses in the northern hemisphere. The first part of his errand accomplished, he sailed
south-west, and circumnavigated New
Zealand, thus demonstrating it to have no connection with the hypothetical continent. He then set his course for Van Diemen's Land, discovered by Tasman over a century before. When he was not far from his goal a providential storm drove him northwards, and on April 20 he sighted what is now known as the Ninety-mile Beach of East Gippsland. He followed the coastline, looking for a harbour where he might lie in safety. The southerly blew him past Jervis Bay. The heavy surf prevented him from landing near Clifton - where Bass and Flinders camped fifteen years later - but at dawn on the 29th he sighted the opening of Botany Bay, and by the afternoon of that fateful Sunday the Endeavour was riding at anchor off Kurnell. In the beautiful Australian autumn -
This is the loveliest season of the year.
- Cook went ashore to examine this new demesne which the foot of white man had never trod. He stayed a week, and was enraptured with the place, which had "a great abundance of grass" and "the finest meadows in the world." It was largely on the strength of this description - endorsed by Sir Joseph Banks - that the authorities subsequently chose Botany Bay as the site of the colony, believing that "the rich black mould" of Cook's report would
produce an ample food supply. It is natural that Cook, a sailor, whose life had been spent afloat, should have misjudged the rank growth and sour soil. But that Banks, a botanist, should have been deceived is surprising, the more so because his original impressions had been distinctly unfavourable. However, in retrospect, the Botany Bay littoral acquired virtues with which he had not at first credited it, and he gave the scheme his benediction. Phillip, though no agriculturist, had a better eye for country than the other two. He quickly perceived that the colony could not flourish amid these swamps, and, after inspecting Port Jackson, the presence of which Cook had noted, he planted the settlement at Sydney Cove.
Six weeks later, Phillip visited Broken Bay, where was "the finest piece of water" he had ever seen. If, on his trip north from Botany Bay, he had missed Port Jackson and reached Broken Bay, he might have established the colony on its shores. The discovery of the Hawkesbury, with its bounteous tilth, would have been anticipated by six years. But owing to its shallow entrance Broken Bay could never have become a great port. A more attractive conjecture is that if the wind experienced by Cook had carried Phillip's fleet beyond his appointed destination right to Port Stephens, named by Cook, he might have thought this an ideal locality for the colony. Settlement would have spread up the fertile valley of the Hunter. There would have been no formidable mountain barrier to defy assault. The coal deposits hard by would have stimulated industry. The development of New South Wales would have been more rapid. However, if we are to indulge in speculation we can go further. It seems almost a "fluke" that Australia is British at all. De Quiros may have sighted Cape York Peninsula. Had chance brought him more to the south, he would have struck the mainland. Would Spain have annexed it? The Dutch were acquainted with the north and north-west of Australia, and considered it a miserable region - an opinion which Dampier shared. But several expeditions were sent to attempt to find a passage to the south of New Guinea. They failed. Had they succeeded and sailed down the more hospitable east coast, would they have taken possession of it? Would the inhabitants of Australia today be a people resembling the Boers? Neither contingency appears probable. The Spaniards had the treasuries of Spanish America and the Philippines to exploit. They had abundance of native labour to dig in the mines and cultivate the fields. Australia would scarcely have appealed to them; the conquistadores, for all their valour, were not the type to chop down trees or toil at the plough. The Dutch were first and foremost traders. There was no trade to be had in Australia. So they returned to the busy marts of the East Indies, with their spices and sugar, with their costly fabrics and precious unguents. However, surmise leads nowhere. The fact remains that with Cook's first voyage the history of Australia begins. The "divinity that shapes our ends" led his predecessors to ungracious parts of the continent, which even now are scarcely tenanted. It kept the land of promise for Cook, whose achievement we celebrate to-day, to