Cancel culture comes for Captain Cook’s Cottage
The writing is on the wall for Captain Cook’s Cottage in Melbourne’s Fitzroy Gardens.
And I’m not referring to the graffiti that was applied to its historic facades in 2013: “Cappy Cook was a crook killer liar theif (sic)” — or again in 2014: “26th Jan Australia’s shame’’.
No, this time the Melbourne City Council is apparently taking aim at the well-loved, 18th-century tourism landmark.
Dismantled and transported to Melbourne in 1934 to give locals a sense of the homestead where Captain James Cook would have visited his family in between epic ocean voyages, the cottage’s future is now “under a cloud”. The Herald Sun reports:
The two-storey home has stood in the gardens, complete with an original fireplace, period furnishing and English-style garden in the 90 years since its reconstruction.
But it’s believed that falling patronage, exacerbated by pandemic restrictions and fewer overseas tourists, has prompted the review at Town Hall, although any decision is likely to be months away.
The cottage, described by the council website as an “historic oddity’’, was once a regular destination for Melbourne schoolchildren but has dropped in popularity.
It’s also believed doubts exist about the appropriateness of its colonial connections and its place in modern Melbourne.
Cancel culture strikes again.
Captain Cook's Cottage in the Melbourne's Fitzroy Gardens
Passing the buck
Aware they are skating on thin ice with the public, political figures in Melbourne have been strategically obtuse about the rumour.
Victoria’s Deputy Premier, Jacinta Allan, refused to comment on the future of the cottage, saying it was a matter for the local council.
“That’s the responsibility of Melbourne City Council and something that they need to consider,” Ms Allan told the Herald Sun.
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Melbourne Deputy Lord Mayor Nick Reece told Sky News host Paul Murray, “I’m not aware of any plans for the closing of Captain Cook’s cottage.”
Not satisfied with this answer, Murray asked Reece whether he’d personally vote to “keep it open to the public”.
The Deputy Lord Mayor was evasive.
“Well, I went there as a kid. It’s ah… a popular drawcard as far as I know. Umm… I mean, look, I don’t want to say how I’d vote on this if it ever came before council because I haven’t seen what all the evidence says…”
So let’s look at the evidence.
Captain James Cook’s 18th-century voyages marked a turning point in maritime history and vastly expanded human knowledge about the world.
Cook was instrumental in advancing astronomy, cartography and natural history. His voyages are credited with mapping vast regions of the Pacific Ocean previously unknown to Europeans. His accurate charts and navigation techniques greatly improved maritime safety and opened up new trade routes.
Despite the claims of his ignorant naysayers, Cook advocated for peaceful interactions with Indigenous people wherever he went. His journals reveal compassion, understanding and respect for the cultures and societies of the Pacific Islands, and proved invaluable to generations of ethnographers and anthropologists.
In an insightful profile on Cook for Spiked, Michael Crowley summarised:
Cook’s achievements ought to speak for themselves. He mapped more of the globe and sailed further south than anyone before him. When other mariners perished in the abyss of oceans, Cook could pinpoint his location to within a mile. He even pioneered a cure for scurvy that saved countless lives and increased the longevity of voyages.
He was also one of the very few men from the lower classes to rise to senior rank in the Royal Navy. Men followed Cook to the ends of the Earth and beyond…
It is much easier to sling mud at heroic figures like James Cook than contribute to humanity as they did, or seek to imitate a fraction of their brilliance.
Indeed, perhaps it is a subconscious jealousy that animates the excesses of woke cancel culture against men like Cook.
As Crowley lamented, “James Cook and his achievements have fallen foul of the inane culture wars, and he finds himself out of favour, traduced.”
But even the shrieking banshees of the inner cities, the woke vandals, or a city council scheming to dismantle his legacy brick-by-brick cannot erase Cook’s greatest achievement:
At a time when we find ourselves threatened by forces we do not fully comprehend, Cook and his crew can serve as an inspiration, a reminder of the resilience, of the insatiable curiosity of humanity. He embodies a spirit — beyond talk of colonialism and national pride — an indefatigable spirit of mankind that is fearless and optimistic, a belief that we can find answers and prevail.
Kurt Mahlburg is a writer and author, and an emerging Australian voice on culture and the Christian faith. He has a passion for both the philosophical and the personal, drawing on his background as a graduate architect, a primary school teacher, a missionary, and a young adult pastor.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
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