In June 1770, from the shores of Gungardie, the Guugu Yimithirr people watched a strange sailing ship enter the mouth of their river, Waalumbaal Birri. The strangers on board the ship navigated it to the calm waters near the mouth of the river and beached it on the sands.
Today, the area is known as the Endeavour River at Cooktown, in far-north Queensland. The ship was the HMB Endeavour, and the strangers were Captain James Cook and his crew. For seven weeks, they stayed in Cooktown to repair the Endeavour, which had been damaged on the reef.
Weeks later, a skirmish occurred between the Endeavour crew and the Guugu Yimithirr people over several turtles that had been collected by the crew to replenish their dwindling supplies. The fight was followed by a symbolic truce, initiated by a Guugu Yimithirr elder and accepted by Cook on behalf of his men. This truce is the first recorded reconciliation between Indigenous Australians and European explorers.
The legacy lives on
Since 1970, the Cooktown Re-enactment Committee has commemorated Cook's landing by hosting a historical re-enactment of the events in 1770. It is a part of the Cooktown Discovery Festival, which celebrates both Indigenous and non-Indigenous cultures on the long weekend in June each year.
The festival has changed considerably since its inception. The re-enactment is a faithful retelling of Cook’s account of the events as recorded in his journals, including costumed players representing up to 30 people from both the shore and the ship. The re-enactment has more recently included an Indigenous perspective of the events, drawn from Guugu Yimithirr oral history as told by their descendants.
The Cooktown Discovery Festival attracts many visitors to Cooktown every year to share in the region’s history, culture and environment.
In 2021, the Cooktown Expo will be combined with the Reconciliation Rocks Festival and the Endeavour Festival, to continue to tell the story of the Endeavour and the Guugu Yimithirr people.