Behind the scenes at Port Botany

One of 999 boxes being unloaded from the <em>Yang Ming Singapore</em>. Image: Andrew Frolows/ANMM.

One of 999 boxes being unloaded from the Yang Ming Singapore. Image: Andrew Frolows/ANMM.

In today’s global world you may have drunk coffee from Brazil or a smoothie containing frozen fruit from China. You could be wearing clothes made in India, watching a TV made in Japan while sitting on a sofa containing wood from Argentina on a laminate floor manufactured in Sweden. All of this has been made possible by a rectangular steel box – the humble shipping container.

It’s a wet and windy morning as the Yang Ming Singapore arrives in Sydney, ready to discharge and load almost 2,000 of the 2.3 million containers that will pass through Port Botany Container Terminal this year. Curator and project manager Dr Mary-Elizabeth Andrews takes a look on board.

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The many meanings of Australia Day – celebration, commemoration and contestation

The Founding of Australia by Captn Phillip R N 26th January 1788. Algernon Talmadge, 1937. Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

The Founding of Australia by Captn Phillip R N 26th January 1788. Algernon Talmadge, 1937. Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

The 26th of January – Australia Day – has long been associated with boats on Sydney Harbour. In 1838, to mark 50 years after the arrival of the First Fleet, a regatta was held, watched from the foreshores by ‘crowds of gaily attired people … bearing the supplies for the day’s refreshments…’ and from the crowded decks of steamers ‘decked out in their gayest colours’.

In the early 1800s, in the colony of New South Wales, 26 January was referred to as First Landing Day or Foundation Day. In a very short time, however, the day had shifted from official toasts to the king at the governor’s table to a people’s celebration.

But the history of Australia Day has taken many more twists and turns along the way. In 1938 it wasn’t thought proper to include convicts in a parade of history through the streets of Sydney. And this same parade was met with a silent group of protesters who called Australia Day a National Day of Mourning.

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Commemoration and contestation at Kurnell

1930 poster - the landing of Captain Cook at Botany Bay 1770 Australia

1930 poster – the landing of Captain Cook at Botany Bay 1770 Australia. ANMM Collection.

Last week was the 245th anniversary of the arrival of Captain James Cook and HMB Endeavour at Botany Bay, just south of Sydney. Cook and his crew spent 8 days here from 29 April 1770, their first landfall on the Australian coast.

The moment of Cook’s landing took on a great consequence for Australians ever since. For non-Indigenous Australians, from the 1820s Cook was seen as a far better set of origins than Captain Phillip and his boatloads of convicts in the First Fleet. Indeed it was Cook’s landing at Kurnell on the southern headland of Botany Bay that was the preferred moment of commemoration right through the 19th and well into the 20th century.

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Endeavour’s Botany Bay voyage: Meeting of Two Cultures Ceremony

The clouds parted as the voyage crew gathered to join the HMB Endeavour replica on Tuesday morning for a three-day return voyage to Botany Bay. The voyage was timed to coincide with the 245th Anniversary Ceremony of the landing of Captain Cook and the Endeavour crew at Kurnell in Botany Bay. The voyage crew included some new crew and some ‘repeat offenders’, as the returning voyage crew have been affectionately dubbed.

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Saltwater Boatmen – Meet Keith Vincent Smith

Keith Vincent Smith

As the museum’s conference, Nawi – exploring Australia’s indigenous watercraft nears, we will be turning your attention to the fascinating array of speakers who will be presenting on the 31 May and 1 June. Previously, I wrote about the story of Gnung-a Gnung-a, the first Aboriginal to sail across the seas to America. I enjoyed delving into part of the history of first contact and early European settlement, and Dr Keith Vincent Smith’s talk in the first session will be a welcome addition to what is shaping up to be a diverse program of events.

Keith is an independent historian and curator, whose expertise includes ethnology and the history of the Eora, the Indigenous clans of the Sydney coastal area. His talk will feature the first illustrations produced of Aboriginal watercraft at Botany Bay and cover some of the earliest moments of contact between the British and Aboriginal peoples, who had greeted the foreigners on board their nawi or stringy bark canoes.

Keith curated the exhibition, Mari Nawi – Aboriginal Odysseys 1790-1850, at the Mitchell Library in Sydney in 2010. He described this exhibition as a ‘journey across time, place and cultures.’ Already, preparations for the conference have achieved exactly that, with nawi building being undertaken on the shores of Sydney Harbour. Next week, on 30 May, past and present will come together and canoes will light up Darling Harbour marking the beginning of the conference, but more importantly, it will symbolise an Indigenous cultural tradition that began thousands of years ago.

Have a look at the program of events and register online today.

Nicole Cama
Curatorial assistant

HMB Endeavour: Sydney to Botany Bay Voyage – Day Five

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Noon position Lat 34º00’S  Long 151º13’E
Moored in Botany Bay
Day’s run 12.5nm

To keep up with our 21st century timetable our iron stays’ls were engaged early in the afternoon for the first time since leaving Port Jackson. Our sails were handed and proved to be quite difficult to furl with the head wind that we now had and the second sitting of lunch was delayed – sail handling always comes first! We were soon under control as we approached the pilot boarding ground – 4nm off Botany Bay.

The pilot boarded with practiced grace and we made our way under his guidance into Botany Bay and onto our mooring amongst towering oil tankers and fenders the size of Endeavour’s hull. As the sun set leaving orange fire in the sky we could see Cook’s Monument on the shore, an obelisk marking the first landing place of Cook and his men.

Cook's Monument on the shores of Botany Bay

Following the traditional mess deck dinner it was time for the Sod’s Opera. First up on the bill were Mainmast with a robust performance of ‘Bound for Botany Bay’ and a wonderful German sea shanty sung impromptu by one of our voyage crew and second mate Dirk. Next up Foremast gave us a rendition of ‘My Son John’, followed by Mizzenmast with a skit called ‘Bouncy’, we’re still not quite sure what it was about! Our supernumeraries added a touch of culture and class with some exceptional oratory including a captivating telling of ‘The Man From Snowy River’. The professional crew were up next with an old favourite ‘Shores of Botany Bay’, a South Australian poem ‘The New Deck Boy’ from first mate Ben and a couple of songs from Mizzenmast topman Kyle including ‘Leave Her Johnny, Leave Her’.

Mainmast performing 'Bound for Botany Bay'

The next morning our supernumeraries were treated to a breakfast with captain Ross in the Great Cabin while everyone else ate in one sitting. After one last check of the decks for any misplaced belongings the voyage crew were ferried to shore to be a part of the Meeting of Two Cultures Ceremony held metres away from the Cook Monument to mark the 240th anniversary of his landing.

The ceremony involved the local Aboriginal Elders, the Mayor of Sutherland Shire Council with assistance from the Royal Australian Navy. Cook’s descendents also took part, helping raise the Queen Anne flag.

After the ceremony was concluded our voyage crew took the opportunity to wander through the Kurnell Discovery Centre and the surrounding bushland and park.

Voyage crew picnicing around Cook's Monument

As is customary, captain Ross presented all our voyage crew and supernumeraries with a certificate of sea time and a track chart of where the winds took us over the last five days. The voyage crew slowly thinned after many handshakes and hugs as some caught cabs and others buses and by 1500hrs the professional crew made their way back to a very quiet ship.   

All’s well.

HMB Endeavour: Sydney to Botany Bay Voyage – Day Four

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Noon position Lat 34º20’S  Long 151º25’E
Heading toward Botany Bay
Day’s run 75.9nm
Average speed 3.2kn

Everyone who is not on watch is napping during their downtime in the afternoon, many sleep on the sea chests in the mess deck others quietly fall asleep on deck as they are writing their memoirs. Suddenly, with an announcement over the PA, there are pilot whales sighted off the starboard beam and everyone rushes to the rough-tree rail to look.

There is a pod of pilot whales, perhaps even as many as seven, and it has brought back the smiles on many faces that have, up until this morning, been consumed with exhaustion and seasickness.

The ocean is calm, it is still an indescribable blue but has now softened to a gentle sway rather than the battering onslaught of the day before. There is an icy chill blowing softly over the deck and even Davey, the ship’s budgie, bunkers down in his home and burrows his beak under his wing.

Just as afternoon tea is called it is hastily retracted and instead all hands are required on deck! We are going to tack Endeavour, why? Because we can! Tacking a vessel of Endeavour’s build is extremely difficult, it involves turning 180º through the wind and waiting for it to cross the bow. You feel her slow down and as the heads’ls are let fly the wind starts to rush the length of the ship, all fifty six souls hold their breath in anticipation and then all of a sudden, with the help of many hands and skilled co-ordination from a well trained crew, we have done it, first go!

We tack ship not once but twice!

As we are all congratulating each other on a job well done the call comes that we are going to do it all again so we’re back heading in the right direction. We manage a second tack first go, as flawlessly as the last!

As the first sitting of dinner is called there is a glint of blood orange seeping between the cloud bank and the horizon onto those lucky enough to be furling the topgallants.

The night passes quietly with a wear carried out at 0230hrs with those on watch taking shelter from the cold for a hurried cuppa as they do their safety rounds.

Wearing ship on our approach to Botany Bay

A crisp cool morning becomes hurried when sail handling gets in the way of routine (as it so often does!) and happy hour is delayed until after we’ve worn ship. We are now heading towards Botany Bay.

It has been 240 years since Cook first entered Botany Bay and we are now following in his wake in a replica of the little collier that made a place in history for herself and Cook for their relentless tenacity.

All’s well.

HMB Endeavour: Sydney to Botany Bay Voyage – Day Three

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Noon position Lat 34º11’S  Long 151º44.1’E
30nm off the Eastern Seaboard
Day’s run 61.1nm
Average speed 2.5kn

After leaving the heads close hauled on a port tack and heading east out to the blue yonder, the rolly polly nature of the sea took it’s toll early on and a large number of the voyage crew were scattered on deck clinging to happy buckets.

With a fortifying lunch of soup in most of the crew’s bellies, which involved a few circus skills keeping it balanced on the plate, the happy, laughing faces began to sink into the blank dread of seasickness.

The afternoon passed quietly with little sail handling being done, just trimming here and there. As the voyage crew are lulled into a tired stupor, first mate Ben’s voice is heard over the PA “Dolphins on the port bow!” As everyone rushes to see the spectacle the dolphins have decided to move to the starboard bow where they proceed to frolic and play for a long while. Some are even caught doing multiple back flips high out of the water – show offs!

Dolphins off the port bow!

The night was cool and clear, all those on watch rugged up so they didn’t feel the chill. During sunset and sunrise there are no lights permitted on deck so it takes time for your eyes to adjust after coming up from below. Tonight, however, proved to be quite different from the other nights this sailing season, we had a nearly full moon to light our way! The moonlight was so bright that it even cast shadows on the deck.

As the new day was dawning we wore ship to start heading back towards the coast and our voyage crew wake to a much calmer and gentler sea, even the safety lines have now been taken down. Most have even recovered enough to indulge in catering officer Abi’s ‘amazing porridge’, as the menu board describes it.

Ross gives a lecture using the deck as a chalkboard

After a very thorough ‘Happy Hour’ – cleaning stations – the voyage crew are treated to a lecture in the waist from captain Ross on sail handling and 18th Century sailing vessels.

All’s well.

HMB Endeavour: Sydney to Botany Bay Voyage – Day Two

Monday, 26 April 2010

Noon position Lat 33º50’S  Long 151º20’E
Leaving Port Jackson
Day’s run 6nm

Familiarisation tours of the ship are finished and it is now time to start on all the tough stuff. ‘Up and overs’ begin for foremast as the other watches go through safety briefs, some helm instruction and some basic line handling.

Voyage crew are instructed on what they will be doing during the voyage

Cook’s mate Jade finds a possie up on deck in the sun and begins scrubbing potatoes for dinner. As the day goes on everyone gets a chance to do their up and over and most make it to the fighting top.

'Up and Overs'

After the first sitting of dinner, as foremast are being instructed on how to sling and get in their hammocks, there is a ruckus heard on the mess deck as first mate Ben with foremast upperyardy Darbey help foremast topman Tom celebrate his birthday in true shipboard fashion. It’s a wise crew member who keeps his birthday quiet!

As the morning dawns with icy crispness our voyage crew’s education continues as they go through their bracing stations before everyone is sent aloft to unfurl tops’ls and a course!

Unfurling ready to sail out of the heads

The safety lines on deck make their first appearance this sailing season a sign of the weather we have to look forward to! Our safety lines criss-cross over the deck and allow our fifty six souls to be clipped on using the lanyards on their harnesses and they can safely go about their work on deck. We are away from the mooring by 1040hrs and start setting sails as we head to the mouth of the harbour.

The smells of lunch are wafting up on deck from the galley fans and everybody’s bellies are rumbling as a police helicopter takes a nice close look at the ship disturbing our peace and quiet.

All’s well.

HMB Endeavour: Sydney to Botany Bay Voyage – Day One

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Noon position Lat 33º51’S  Long 151º14’E
Port Jackson, Athol Bight mooring
Day’s run 3nm

A damp and sombre morning greeted all those who arrived on North Wharf to embark on our final voyage of 2010. The voyage holds a lot of significance as it will culminate with the 240th anniversary since Cook first landed in Botany Bay on the 28th April 1770. With today being ANZAC day our thoughts are with all those who sacrificed their lives to help this country be what it is today, our ensign flying at half mast in respect.

Familiarisation begins as soon as the voyage crew step aboard

The information that the voyage crew will have to absorb today is mind-boggling and it begins before we even leave the wharf with the first of several safety briefings. Their tutelage continues during our short motor over to our mooring in Athol Bight and as we are secured to the buoy lunch is called. 

All’s well.