‘According to tradition in the Cook family,
Midshipman Isaac Smith, cousin of the wife
of Captain James Cook, RN. Afterwards an Admiral
in the British Navy, was the first Englishman to stand
on this rock and on the shores of New South Wales
on the 29th of April 1770.’
The above is from the plaque that is affixed to the rocks,
on the shore at Kurnell in Botany Bay. All pictures on
this post are courtesy of Wikipedia commons.
Captain Cook’s landing at Botany Bay.
We lived next door to a fisherman. Not your average weekend type with a few rods and a boat on a trailer. This man fished for a living and owned an old whaler’s rowboat. A beautiful thing that lived in one of the boat sheds at Frenchman’s Beach. He would row any neighbourhood kid over to Kurnell and drop them off there, fish and when he was ready would return to pick them up. Be there or be left behind though. Imagine my delight when I first stepped ashore adjacent to the rock that held a plaque reading the above. A Smith had set foot here, the first white man to set foot on eastern Australia. A Smith from the north of England and I stood where he had in 1770.
Midshipman Isaac Smith.
The Whale Boat.
The sea laps at the shore.
The waves pause, before
reluctantly leaving the sand.
Protesting loudly, the boat house
doors allow themselves to be opened.
She waits for us. Polished timbers
reflect the morning light. A jumble
of nets and pots huddle at the prow.
With the practised ease of years
he seduces her out of her lair,
and she slides into the
Leaning against the prow,
I dig my bare feet into the sand,
The click of oars into locks,
the spoons bite deep and she floats out.
Water pulling at my shorts
I hurl myself into the boat
and sit forward.
His hands, aged from sun and salt
grasp the smooth wooden handles.
The oars come alive,
spoons bite deep
and we glide across the bay.
Fish blood stains the deck.
I stare at it, then the bucket of
knives. He rows with a rhythm
embedded in him, becoming one
with the boat. Trying not to stare
I turn and kneel on the
Salt spray blows in my face,
the tang stirs something deep
and I dream of brave mariners.
We draw near the rocks and I
scramble over the side.
His words hang in the air.
‘Be back here by three, or
you’re on your own.’
The plaque is revealed as I stand next to it,
A Smith stood here. All else fades, a Smith.
Exploration and play fills the hours.
I watch the sun.
Noon has long gone.
I race down rugged tracks.
Back to the rocks.
Breath catching in my throat.
True to his word he returns.
Wading out I reach it and scramble aboard.
Fish flop amongst the bilge water.
Knocking off scales that stick to the timber.
Fascinated, I watch them gasping, tails flipping.
Some thump against the hull,
while others almost win their bid for freedom,
‘Grab it, don’t let it out.’
They slither out of my grasp to fall back
amongst their kind.
Do they know their fate?
Small waves carry us to the beach.
Tourists, looking for the unusual
come over to admire the catch.
While he makes a sale I hurry to the shed
and return with baskets.
A cloud of seagulls follow me,
floating above my head.
I watch mesmerized as he guts his catch.
The gulls as is their wont, fight over scraps,
when there is plenty for all.
Salt encrusted ropes tether the whale boat.
Heave, heave, the pulley takes her back to bed.
I trudge tiredly through the sand and up the
hill. Filled with thoughts of seafaring men
who sailed the seven seas and trod on the
shores of Botany Bay.
Laurie Smith© 2013
Home is the sailor home from the sea, and the hunter home from the hill.
R L Stevenson.
Looking at Botany Bay from Kurnell.
The entrance to Botany Bay. I have stood on the very edges of the heads at both sides and if my mother had known I wouldn’t have been allowed out again.