‘Botany Bay, Captain Cook, 1770. Place, person, date. The stuff of history.’
Botany Bay is a significant site in Australian cultural history. It was the site of Captain Cook’s first landing on the east coast of New Holland in 1770, was selected by the British as the site for a penal colony and is often referred to as the birthplace of Australia. This is not Botany Bay’s only history: it has a different significance for Indigenous Australians. At least in part, possession has led to displacement and dispossession. How well can we accommodate differing histories? Who do we remember, and why?
‘History is typically dependent on noteworthy events for its sustenance.’
In this book, Maria Nugent has drawn on oral histories and memories and on the landscape to present this account of Botany Bay and its symbolism. Ms Nugent’s narrative covers both the significant events that have occurred at Botany Bay as well as the urban development that has occurred. Ms Nugent details the transformation of Botany Bay from a sandy ‘wasteland’ used for isolating the unwanted to its place as a tourist destination. Botany Bay has also been seen industrial as well as suburban development. And through all of this development and change, there has always been a permanent population of Indigenous Australians.
I borrowed this book from a friend. I was intrigued by references to the significance of Botany Bay. I’ve never lived in Sydney, and my knowledge of Botany Bay’s history was largely confined to the knowledge that Governor Arthur decided Botany Bay was unsuitable for settlement: ‘The openness of this bay, and the dampness of the soil, by which the people would probably been rendered unhealthy, had already determined the Governor to seek another situation.’ I knew of the industrial developments around Botany Bay, and I’ve flown into and out of Sydney (Kingsford Smith) Airport a few times. Beyond that, while I’ve sung the song ‘Botany Bay’ more times than I care to remember, I’ve never really thought about this place and its significance. Ms Nugent’s book invites readers to think about history, myth and place, both specifically to Botany Bay and more generally.
I’m glad I read it.