Australia 2004, part 4: Cooktown

Endeavour River from Grassy Hill, Cooktown

Cooktown marks the point where Captain Cook beached his ship, the Endeavour, in June 1770, thus becoming Australia’s first non-indigenous, though temporary, settlement. The town itself was founded in 1873 as a supply port for the goldfields along the Palmer River, and at its peak it had a population of over 30,000. The guidebook we used in 2004 gave the population as 1410: interestingly, according to Wikipedia, the 2016 census puts it at 2631. It’s not very big anyway!

After our drive along the Bloomfield Track, we arrived in Cooktown for a three night stay in Milkwood Lodge Cabins. This was one of the places John had phoned in advance to check accessibility for a person in plaster to the knee, and the owners had kindly moved our booking to a cabin with no steps to the entrance. They couldn’t have been more helpful, and I see they are still in business getting good reviews on Trip Advisor, so I feel confident recommending them. The only downside is that a bushturkey seemed to think he had visiting rights, and when not pushing his way inside could be heard scrabbling about on the roof! But we were quite fond of him.

On our first day we explored the town, first of all driving to the lookout on Grassy Hill, with its 19th century iron lighthouse, from where we got a good overview.

Cooktown’s main street is Charlotte Street which has many historic buildings along it. We drove up and down so that I could look at it, then John returned on foot to take photographs while I sat on this bench resting my leg. I look quite happy, but I do remember shedding a small tear at this point because wandering round historic buildings is what I love doing.

There is, of course, a statue to the eponymous Captain Cook, and a graveyard where the most interesting memorial was to Mrs Watson “heroine of Lizard Island tragedy of 1881” and her infant son, Ferrier.

Mrs Watson also has a memorial in town, on which she is given a name – Mary. For some reason, we don’t have a photograph of it, so here is the Wikimedia image. We do have a picture of one of the plaques, which you can see below the Wiki photo – “last entry” refers to a journal she kept of her ordeal.

Mary Watson's Monument (2010)
Heritage branch staff / CC BY https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0

It’s a tragic story: the monument was erected in 1886 to honour this young woman, who died, along with her infant son and her Chinese employee Ah Sam, from thirst and exposure after a conflict with a group of indigenous people in October 1881. I can’t do the story justice in this short post: it’s well worth reading the Wikipedia entry if you are interested. Important points I took away from the article are that this is the only known public monument to an individual woman (other than a head of state) in Queensland; and the way it illustrates the injustices which accompanied early European settlement, and the lack of communication and understanding between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples. That the memorial does not mention Ah Sam is another illustration of the racist attitudes of the time.

On our second day we explored the area around the town, visiting Isabella Falls, Endeavour River Falls, Barretts Lagoon, and Archer Point.

I wasn’t able to do very much at any of these places except look, but at least we weren’t inhibited from enjoying nice cafes during our stay – often with a view and a good beer.

It was now a week since my accident and I hadn’t yet told anyone at home, so on our last night in Cooktown I made the dreaded phone calls to my parents and my closest colleague. All were sympathetic, of course, so having got that out of the way, we packed up to head back to Cairns and (hopefully) to enjoy the last few days of our Australian adventure.