This isn’t the kind of thing I’d normally devote an entire post to, but I promised a while ago that there’d be more Captain Cook, and this is a pretty key Cook site. Botany Bay is where Cook first made landfall in Australia, and was thus the first point of contact between Europeans and Aborigines. Unfortunately, the historical importance of the site wasn’t enough to stop the encroachment of the modern world, and whilst the landing site and a section of park around it have been preserved, the view from the bay is not so attractive, being mainly industrial plants belching smoke into the sky (it didn’t really look like water you’d want to swim in, even if there wasn’t the threat of jellyfish and/or sharks, this being Australia).
Anyway, although you can just drive right into the park (after first navigating through quite a lot of ugly urban sprawl on the trip down from Sydney), you’re apparently meant to purchase a pass, which is $8 per car. We did see the sign at the entrance warning us about the fee, but it wasn’t clear where we were meant to get the pass from. There were also no signs by the visitor centre, so we just parked up and did the Cook walk. It wasn’t until after we finished walking and used the toilets that we caught sight of a large sign (by the sinks!) warning of a $400 fine for non-payment, so we then hurriedly made our way inside the visitors’ centre and requested a pass from the rather unfriendly and bemused woman inside. Moral of the story is: I don’t think they enforce the fine very well, but if you’re concerned, you can buy a pass from the visitors’ centre, and apparently from machines somewhere by the entrance, which aren’t very obvious, because we missed them entirely.
The walk is self-guided, with the help of some arrows posted around the trail now and again; we followed the main trail, but apparently we should have been doing the wheelchair accessible trail, because we missed a whole bunch of stuff and had to backtrack to see it (unless we just followed the signs incorrectly, they did kind of peter out after a while). I got the impression that the park was at one time way more Euro-centric, and they changed it within the last couple decades to embrace the Aborigines more, as some of the Aboriginal culture stuff felt kind of tacked-on, as though it were an afterthought. There was a large stone structure at the start that told us more about first contact, and I guess was meant to represent the meeting of the two peoples, which was all well and good (though it did somewhat overstate what happened at the meeting. It was definitely momentous, but the actual encounter was somewhat anticlimactic. The Aborigines basically told the English to go away, and ignored them as best they could), but then we had to walk through an “Aborigine soundscape,” which was a little bizarre. I kept hearing people talking, which creeped me out a little bit because we were quite obviously alone, but it turns out that was just the “soundscape.”
But I was excited when the short walk (I think the whole trail was only 1.5 km) took us down to the bay, and I spied the giant Captain Cook memorial near the waterfront. Just beyond it, on a rocky outcrop, is the actual landing place, though I get the feeling that they don’t really want people going out to it, because it’s not particularly accessible. I only noticed it because it was marked on one of the maps – you have to climb up slippery rocks covered in sharp pointy oysters to get a look at it, and hop over about a two foot gap from one rock to the other, which I was not confident enough to do in jandals (and certainly not in bare feet, because of all those damn oysters), so I only walked up to the rock facing it, and my boyfriend hopped over and snagged a picture of the plaque for me.
There’s also meant to be a buoy somewhere marking where the Endeavour was anchored whilst the men were onshore, but I didn’t see it. Probably hidden amongst all those industrial plants. The beach wasn’t great, but it was still pretty cool to stand right where Cook and his men (including that dishy Joseph Banks) did, and I enjoyed it, even though my feet stank like rotten clams for the rest of the day (they stink anyway, but it’s usually more of a Dorito-y smell).
There was a pier where you could walk out over the bay, and this contained more information about first contact and the Aborigine tribes that lived in the area. Until the mid-20th century, when it was made into a national park, it was a popular holiday spot for Aborigines, who would fish and gather the oysters that are clearly here in abundance.
I was most excited about the Joseph Banks memorial, for obvious reasons, but it was something of a disappointment. It must have been commissioned by a man, because he chose to use a portrait of Banks from when he was old and fat, rather than the dishy young Banks that would have come ashore here. It also wasn’t built until the 1960s or something, so was clearly a bit of an afterthought as well.
In addition to more signs about the native flora (including Banksia, named after, well, you know who) and fauna (both of which were in abundance, hence the name Botany Bay. If Banks and Solander hadn’t had time to go ashore here and spend a few days gathering plants, it would probably today be known as “Tolerably Well-Sheltered Bay,” going by Cook’s initial diary entry on the place), there was also a grave marker erected to the first British person to die in Australia (one of Cook’s men, who had tuberculosis. His name escapes me, and I can’t quite make it out in the photo) put up a century or two after his death (so the spot is presumably approximate). Even though it was a beautiful day, we didn’t see anyone else there until we headed back up to the visitors’ centre, and we then came across two groups of schoolchildren playing some sort of game with the park rangers (I think this is the sort of place that every Australian schoolchild is required to visit, so I can understand why adults aren’t keen).
Speaking of the visitors’ centre, there was a small museum-style display in there, including a scale replica of the Endeavour, and some information about Cook’s voyages and legacy. Botany Bay was meant to be the spot where the first transported convicts would be sent, as recommended by Joseph Banks (Cook was dead by this point) and others, but Cook and his men had been there during the autumn, when it appeared to have a pleasant climate, and plenty of natural resources. The “First Fleet” arrived during summer, when there was a drought, and found there was no source of fresh water, and not enough of a harbour, so they moved a few miles up the coast to what would become Sydney instead. If not for that, there would be a bustling city here today, instead of urban sprawl and a bit of parkland.
My favourite part of the whole endeavour (see what I did there?) was the mural painted on the walls of the lecture theatre. I couldn’t help but sneak a cheeky selfie with their rendition of Banks, even though it wasn’t nearly as good as the portrait of him in the National Portrait Gallery. All told, I enjoyed Botany Bay, but this was primarily because of the Cook connection rather than what was actually in the modern park (which could do with a bit of work; some of the plaques and stuff were so worn down, you could barely read them, and the visitor’s centre wasn’t great. I wanted a Captain Cook t-shirt or something, and they didn’t even have postcards. Not that I particularly wanted to buy them from the surly woman working there, but still…). 3/5, but only because of the history, rather than the National Parks’ lacklustre efforts.