Walkabout with Willie Gordon

We started our day with a visit to the James Cook Museum. It’s situated in a beautiful restored convent which was started by the Sisters of Mercy from Ireland.

There are several sections to the museum. One is the story of how the Sisters ran a school and eventually had to leave because the convent was taken over by the army in the war. Another part is about the gold rush when 30,000 people, the majority being Chinese flocked into Cooktown to make their fortune and the hardships they faced mining gold in such extreme temperatures. Of course the largest part is reserved for Captain James Cook and the story of how the crew of the Endeavour threw tons of equipment overboard including the main anchor and all their canons to lighten the ship making it possible to get off the reef and then managed to beach her in Cooktown. They spent weeks carrying out repairs and it was touch and go as to whether they would survive.

The museum now has the main anchor and all the canons. They also have original logs of day to day events, sketches of kangaroos – the first ever seen by a European. They also made the first contact with native Aboriginals (they shot one!)

In the afternoon we went to Hope Vale, an Aboriginal township on Aboriginal land 45kms from Cooktown where we had arranged to meet Willi Gordon a Nugal Warra elder. We spent the afternoon walking with Willie who showed us 3 seperate rock art caves and explained how his ancestors lived, hunted and fished and moved with the seasons. He also explained what the cave drawings which were some 20,000 years old depicted. He showed us so many things like picking leaves off a tree, rubbing them in your hand with water to make a lovely scented cream.

Of all the information Willie gave us the most fascinating was that wherever you were born your placenta was buried nearby and when you died you were buried for 7 or 8 months and then your bones dug up and washed and then taken back to be buried with your placenta thus creating the circle of life.

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