The Captain Cook Myth

Jillian Robertson (published under maiden name prior to 1980)


Who discovered Australia? Any schoolchild will tell you: “Captain Cook.” Mention the name William Dampier, and the same child will probably say he was a Dutchman. But Dampier was, in fact, the first Englishman to set foot on Australian soil, and before him came a whole string of Portuguese and Dutch navigators and explorers. Years before Cook’s birth, the Australian continent featured on world maps – incomplete in outline, but firmly in place.

Captain James Cook’s achievements were many, but the discovery of Australia cannot be said to be one of them. The short time Cook spent on the Australian coast was due more to chance than choice, and he was plainly not impressed by what he saw there. Although he had the opportunity, he never returned to Australia, and certainly never promoted its settlement.

All these facts are well documented. Why then the continuing adulation of Cook as Australia’s national hero? Why the lavish ceremonial, the statues and monuments? Why do towns, rivers, schools, hospitals all over the country bear his name? What deep need in the Australian consciousness is met by the image of this clean-living, thrifty and industrious sea captain, this working-class boy made good? In this fascinating book, Jillian Robertson sets out to answer these questions, to separate the truth from the propaganda, to explore, and explode, the Captain Cook myth.

Jillian Robertson is an Australian journalist and author at present living in England. She began her career in Sydney, has worked for major newspapers in Australia and the UK, and was a correspondent in Vietnam. The Captain Cook Myth is her third book. Jillian spends much of her time in an old farmhouse on the Longleat estate in Wiltshire, where she concentrates on writing.