One of the attractions we wanted to see was actually situated before reaching the coastal town of Cooktown. The place I am referring to is the Black Mountain [Kalkajaka, “place of the spear”] National Park. Kalkajaka is literally a disappearing mountain.
It’s steeped in myths and legends. This ominous mountain loomed over us as we entered Cooktown and is a well-revered mountain for the Kuku Yalanji people.
The Black Mountain formed about 250 million years ago when magma solidified under the Earth’s crust. Located 25 km to the south of Cooktown, this mountain is filled with gigantic boulders of grey granite, blackened by algae.
Black Mountain is also a natural wildlife park, not that we sighted much apart from a few geckoes.
Onwards we travelled via a road that is only 50 years old. Which makes the lack of development in this area quite understandable. This, in my opinion, is not a bad thing as the most memorable areas on our trip were the least developed.
Unfortunately, our only day that required an umbrella coincided with exploring around the beautiful Botanical Gardens.
What the windy and showery weather did was entice us to spend more time learning about Cooktown’s history, the following is a small snippet from that long detailed history.
Cooktown is located at the southeastern edge of the Cape York Peninsula with a population of around 2000 people. A relatively unspoilt coastal town, and one of Australia’s most historically significant townships.
History for this region dates back for many of thousands of years, Waymbuurr was the place the local Guugu Yimithirr and Kuku Yalanji people used as a meeting ground.
On 17 June 1770, Cook sailed into Waalumbaal Birri, now known as the Endeavour River.
By chance, the Endeavour beached at a sacred spot [Waymbuurr] where disputes between bordering tribes were sorted out without resorting to bloodshed. It was the law that no blood was to be deliberately spilt on this land. Had that not been so, it’s unlikely the crew would have survived, and Cook’s name might be a historical footnote.
Would Australia have the same story had Cook landed on the other shore of the Endeavour River? Perhaps a complete waste of time wondering how different our countries would be without having being colonised. Sometimes it is interesting to ponder an unanswerable question.
Later on, in 1873 Cooktown was established as the Endeavour River Port for the Palmer River Goldfields and developed almost overnight as the supply and administrative centre. Within 6 months the town had 20 restaurants, 32 stores, 6 butchers, 5 bakers, 3 tinsmiths and chemists, fancy goods shops, watchmakers, bootmakers and saddlers. Not surprisingly 65 publicans licences had been issued for the Cooktown and Palmer River district.
Further down the track, Cooktown in the early 19th century was less popular and the buildings in disrepair. During 1955, Hans Looser, originally from Germany, saw a tourist opportunity and soon brought and repaired the buildings and Cooktown’s reputation. Once again, it flourished and was shaped and influenced by other cultures. Though it still seems to me to be a sleepy, isolated coastal town with not many businesses able to employ enough residents. It does have more than it’s share of pubs. This was to be so in many of the small towns we visited. Attracting visitors by their past history.
A visit to the Cooktown Museum introduced us to The Endeavour Gallery.
Which not only explores the fight for survival Cook and his men faced on the reef. It also includes documents of the many discoveries made by the scientific team during their stay at the Endeavour River.
Integral to Australian history and identity is the interaction between Cook and the local Guugu Yimithiir people. The most extensive he experienced in Australia, and this story is told from both perspectives.
The stories weren’t new to us though still shook our head in disbelief how us humans can be capable of such barbaric behaviour. At the same time, a sad understanding of how hard it must have been for all those involved. I hope that the wrongs are continually being acknowledged and more respect is shown for one of our world’s longest surviving cultures.
What housed these collections is a stunning 19th Century convent building and the stories from those that lived and taught there are also shared. Must admit I did shudder a few times remembering “the good ole days” of convent school life.
On to a more lighter subject and one that involved sampling the local food.
We indulged in good old fish and chips, though at $59 a kilo it was slightly more upmarket than previous fish purchases. While googling as you do when visiting new places, we came across reviews about munching out on this delectable fish. It was put on the list of must do’s.
Overlooking the sea at the end of a busy thought-provoking day exploring, we licked our lips, smiled and exclaimed; “It was a lovely way to finish our day”.
Next stop and Part 3 – The Atherton Tablelands.
For more photographs check out my Instagram account – Lifeatno.22