National Heritage List inscription date 28 February 2005
Cook’s landing at Kurnell Peninsula Headland in Botany Bay led to the British settlement of the Australian continent. It altered forever the way of life for Indigenous Australians, dramatically expanded the world's scientific understanding of the continent's unique flora and fauna and ultimately led to the creation of a new nation — Australia.
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- More images of Cook's Landing Site - Kurnell Peninsula from the Australian Heritage Photographic Library
About Kurnell Peninsula
Exploring the Pacific
The story of the British colonisation of Australia took place at a time of great imperial rivalry between France and Britain, which extended to the Pacific. The HMS Endeavour left Plymouth, England on 26 August 1768 under the command of James Cook. The primary objectives of the expedition were to observe the transit of Venus in Tahiti and search for the great southern continent in the Pacific. If he found the great southern continent, Cook was to chart it carefully and record the nature of its soils, animals and plants. Botanist Joseph Banks and naturalist Dr Daniel Solander along with several artists, accompanied Cook.
After travelling to Tahiti, the Endeavour sailed east to New Zealand before reaching the east coast of Australia on 20 April 1770. The Endeavour then travelled north, surveying the coast, but conditions prevented the ship making landfall. Sailing northwards along the coast, Cook found the first safe harbour to drop anchor on 29 April 1770.
Making contact with the Aboriginal inhabitants
Kurnell Peninsula was the first landfall made by Cook on continental Australia during his successful mapping of the eastern coastline, and is the point of first recorded contact between the British and Indigenous Australians in eastern Australia.
I thought that they beckoned us to come ashore, but in this we were mistaken, for as soon as we put the boat in they again came to oppose us I fired a musket between the two which had no effect one of them took up a stone and threw at us
- Cook's journal, 29 April 1770
With no means of understanding each other's language, confusion marked the initial contact between the landing party and the local people.
Despite several encounters, Cook was not able to establish effective communication with the local people, who maintained a wary distance. The crew noted local activities such as camping, fishing, using trees for bark and food, collecting shells and cooking fish.
The Europeans were not the only ones recording first impressions. Captain Cook stories exist in parts of Aboriginal Australia the explorer never visited. In some Aboriginal stories, Kurnell Peninsula is called 'The Foot', the place where Cook's foot first connected with Australian land.
Banks and Solander
‘Dr Solander and myself went a little way into the woods and found many plants.’
(Joseph Banks’ journal, 29 April 1770)
Cook's party explored the Kurnell Peninsula Headland over the next eight days, gathering food, collecting scientific samples and observing this new land. Banks and Solander collected a large amount of botanical specimens. On 6 May 1770, Cook named the bay Botany Bay, after the great number of plants found by Banks and Solander.
Colonisation and dispossession
In 1786, the British Government was facing a crisis with how to manage its rapidly growing convict population. Along with strategic considerations, the decision was made for the colonisation of Australia based on the glowing reports of the country provided by Cook and Banks.
The First Fleet, under Captain Arthur Phillip, arrived at Botany Bay on 18 January 1788, taking possession on 26 January 1788.
Cook’s Landing Site – Kurnell Peninsula symbolically represents the birthplace of a nation, and the dispossession of Indigenous people.
National Heritage listing of Kurnell Peninsula ensures its seminal place in Australian history is preserved and recognised for future generations.
Consultation with Indigenous people about the Kurnell Peninsula national heritage listed place
Indigenous people are the primary source of information on the value of their heritage and should be consulted on a proposed action likely to significantly impact on the listed Indigenous heritage values of the place and/or on a protected matter that has Indigenous heritage values (like listed threatened species).
Prior to undertaking any action, proponents should contact the appropriate Aboriginal Traditional Owners and custodians of the land on which the action will occur that has listed values that may be significantly impacted, as well as the Aboriginal Traditional Owners and custodians of adjoining lands that may be significantly impacted by the action.
A letter from the appropriate representative bodies declaring that they have been adequately consulted on the action informs the Department that a best practice approach has been undertaken. Further information on Aboriginal representative bodies is available from Native Title Corporations or via local Aboriginal Land Councils. Guidance about best practice Indigenous engagement can be found at Engage early – guidance for proponents on best practice Indigenous engagement for environmental assessments under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).