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A big story

Like at Botany Bay, the visitors struggled to understand the Indigenous people at Waalumbaal Birri. When they broke protocols around catching turtles, there was conflict with local Guugu Yimidhirr people. The conflict ended in a powerful moment of reconciliation between an Elder and James Cook. This is a story that Guugu Yimidhirr people today would like all Australians to know.

Part one: Breaking the rules

A light box made from plywood and medium density fibreboard [MDF]. An acrylic painting on the front of the box features a boat with three masts. It has 12 turtles and three aboriginal men inside the boat and three white men on the shore. very small holes have been drilled into the painting around the prominent features.

Twelve Turtles by Wanda Gibson

Joseph Banks, 15 July 1770:

The Boat returnd from the reef bringing 4 Turtles, so we may now be said to swim in Plenty. Most of those we have caught have been green turtle from 2 to 300 lb weight.

While the ship was being repaired, Cook instructed his crew to gather supplies for the long voyage north. In a few days, they had caught 12 large green turtles.

Eric Deeral, Gamay:

One morning 10 of our Bama [people] were invited to inspect the visitors’ boat. To their horror, they saw a number of turtles on board. When they asked if they could have one, they were refused.

Joseph Banks, 19 July 1770:

They soon let us know their errand … to get one of our Turtle of which we had 8 or 9 laying upon the decks. They first by signs askd for One and on being refusd shewd great marks of Resentment; one who had askd me on my refusal stamping with his foot pushd me from him with a countenance full of disdain.

Part two: Blood on the ground

A plywood and medium density fibreboard [MDF] lightbox featuring an acrylic painting of a sail boat and two canoes on the water, a group of four white people on the shore with two pigs and two Aboriginal on the other side of the river. Very small holes have been drilled into the painting around the prominent features.

They Burnt the Piggy-Piggies by Gertie Deeral

Eric Deeral, Gamay:

To our Bama it became an offence. The sharing code was broken. The visitors had trespassed.

Joseph Banks, 19 July 1770:

They seizd their arms in an instant, and taking fire from under a pitch kettle which was boiling they began to set fire to the grass to windward of the few things we had left ashore with surprizing dexterity and quickness.

James Cook, 19 July 1770:

I was obliged to fire a musquet load with small shott at one of the ring leaders which sent them off … one must have been a little hurt because we saw ... blood.

Part three: Reaching out

A light box made from plywood and medium density fibreboard [MDF] with an acrylic painting on the front of the box that features two groups of people with a campfire in the centre, a tree on the left and water in the background. Text on the left side of the box reads ' COOKS MEN ARMED WITH GUNS / THEY WERE SCARED OF ALL THE BAMA / THE BAMA WERE VERY ANGRY / OF THE TURTLES THAT WERE TAKEN / IT WAS FAR TOO MANY.' The right side of the box has text that reads 'THERE COULD HAVE BEEN BLOOD SHED / BUT THE LITTLE OLD MAN / WHO WAS THE HEAD OF THE TRIBE / BROKE THE TIP OF A SPEAR / HE WAS SAYING IN HIS OWN LAUNGAGE[sic] / NO BLOOD WILL BE SHED HERE'. Very small holes are drilled around a central aboriginal figure.

No Blood Will Be Shed by Wanda Gibson

After Cook had wounded the man, an elder approached and performed Nagaalangun daamaay ritual.

Joseph Banks, 19 July 1770:

[He] came forward to us carrying … a lance without a point. He halted several times and … employd himself in collecting the moisture from under his arm pit with his finger which he every time drew through his mouth. We beckond to him to come: he then spoke to the others who all laid their lances against a tree and leaving them came forwards.

Harold Ludwick, Bulgun:

He was blowing his sweat over them … that’s what we do when people come onto our country. We smother them in our scent. It resets things and makes us all equal.

A call for peace 01:04

Freddy Deeral as Yabaarrigu, performing the Nagaalangun daamaay ritual. Note: this video has no sound. View transcript

Part four: Reconciliation

A plywood and medium density fibreboard [MDF] lightbox featuring an acrylic painting of a sail boat with an Aboriginal man on it and a canoe with seven figures in it next to a turtle in the water. A tree on the right side of the painting has three black birds or bats flying away from it. text on the left side of the box begins 'Cook's men would / go out...' and text on the right side begins 'Bama would only / take what they / needed.' Very small holes have been drilled into the painting around the prominent features.

Reconciliation Rocks by Madge Bowen

After the Nagaalangun daamaay ritual, Cook returned the spears he had confiscated.

James Cook, 19 July 1770:

We now return’d them the darts we had taken from them which reconciled every thing.

Albert Hornby, Bulgun:

He recognised that those spears were of great importance to Bama … so he gave it back to them. It was a physical thing.

Luminous Reef by Esme Bowen, Hopevale Arts and Culture Centre (a colourful artwork of an ocean scene featuring turtles and other sea creatures and species).

Main banner image: Luminous Reef, Esme Bowen. Hopevale Arts and Culture Centre

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