It is highly likely that if British Captain James Cook was a more alert skipper and hadn’t run his ship the Endeavour aground on Australia, the human history of our continent may have unfolded somewhat differently.
Just before midnight, on a calm moonlit night, the Endeavour hit the Great Barrier Reef off the North Queensland coast at Cape Tribulation on June 11, 1770, delaying Cook’s expedition for seven weeks while the ship was repaired.
The explorer named quite a bit of Queensland’s present-day geography as he continued on his Cook’s Tour, including Stradbroke and Moreton islands, the Glass House Mountains, Double Island Point, Wide Bay, Hervey Bay and Cape York Peninsula ( after his mate, the Duke of York).
On August 22, 1770, at Possession Island, Cook laid claim to eastern Australia on behalf of King George III, calling it New South Wales. At the time, Cook’s presence and actions went largely unnoticed by the tens of thousands of inhabitants which made up Queensland’s then 200-odd Aboriginal nations. They had coexisted in the vast northern tropical region ever since their ancestors had made the journey from South East Asia across Torres Strait, more than 50,000 years before Cook had made landfall.
It was the beginning of Queensland’s European history which, politics of possession aside, has since spawned a rich vein of big and small museums scattered across the state.
For those interested in history, both natural and cultural, Queensland’s towns and hinterland have a lot to offer. Here are some suggestions to get you started on the road to discovery.
Located in Cooktown, 324km north of Cairns, the museum is housed in a 19th century convent. The original anchor and cannon from the Endeavour, jettisoned from the ship in 1770 but retrieved in the early 1970s, are on display and in the Endeavour Gallery where visitors can learn the story of Cook and his crew. The museum also features personal stories and items from the town’s early residents. In the nearby Sir Joseph Banks Garden, you will find 170 plant species identified by the botanist during his journey of discovery.
Out in the central west of the state at Longreach, this iconic museum of corrugated iron, timber and stone takes visitors on a journey into the Outback past, covering the exploits and history of explorers, stock workers, pastoralists and Aborigines. The five themed galleries house a collection of more than 1200 items which help depict the lives of the early settlers.
The Queensland and Northern Territory Air Service, which would later become known as QANTAS, was conceived in Cloncurry, born in Winton and came to fruition in Longreach where a hangar and the first purpose-built landing strip was constructed in the early 1920s. The museum is full of interesting facts, figures and travel trivia, flight simulators and flying hardware, including the highlight, a retired QANTAS 747 aircraft.
The evolution of air travel was closely linked to the opening up of Queensland and this is one of the more interesting small museums dedicated to its history. More noted for its rum than its aircraft, Bundaberg, at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef is the birthplace of aviator Bert Hinkler. At the age of 21, Hinkler went to the UK, and in chasing his dream of flight, became the first pilot to make a solo flight from England to Australia, following it up with the world’s first solo flight across the South Atlantic.
A museum dedicated to Australia’s first stagecoach company, which provided transport to the gold mines. The museum, home to an impressive collection of 47 carriages, is the perfect place to learn about the life and times of the early colonial settlers, bushrangers, floods, forest fires, and the pivotal relationship between horse and man.
Ipswich is where Queensland’s rail system was conceived and it is now the home of an interactive, innovative museum which offers an interesting and fun look at railway construction, maintenance and technology. Along with a range of displays and workshops featuring blacksmithing, carpentry, painting and metal working, you will also see the A10 No. 6 locomotive, built by Neilson and Co of Glasgow in 1865, the oldest steam engine still operating in Australia.
Mackay lays claim to being the early home of one of Australia’s most famous operatic sopranos of the late 20th century, Dame Nellie Melba. A young Nellie Melba spent a few years living in Mackay, in the Whitsundays region, and visitors can explore the original 1882 home in which she lived.
An open and interactive museum where you can see dinosaur bones found in the region, learn about the history of the digs and see animated recreations of the Banjo and Matilda dinosaurs. You can also explore walking trails. The museum site covers 1800 hectares on a large mesa about 20km from Winton. Lark Quarry, 110km south of Winton, is the site of the world’s only known fossil record of a dinosaur stampede.
HM Bark Endeavour – Wikimedia Creative Commons
A10 no. 6 on the Main Line to Toowoomba – Wikimedia Creative Commons
All other photos from Tourism Queensland