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250 years since Endeavour sailed past the Mid North Coast

The view from atop North Brother mountain in the Dooragan National Park, overlooking the Camden Haven.
The view from atop North Brother mountain in the Dooragan National Park, overlooking the Camden Haven.

THIS week marked the 250th anniversary of Captain James Cook sailing the Endeavour along the Mid North Coast as a part of his first journey to discover the Great South Land in 1770.

It was on this voyage Cook cast his eye on the traditional lands occupied by the Birpai people and the Three Brothers mountains of the Camden Haven - North Brother, Middle Brother and South Brother.

Cook sailed north, charting Australia's eastern coastline, claiming the land for Great Britain on 22nd August 1770.

It is one of the significant moments in the nation's story of colonisation and a story that is only part-told without acknowledging the impacts on our indigenous communities and their traditional place.

On 12 May, 1770, James Cook as he sailed the coastline now known as Port Macquarie-Hastings, wrote:

"In the PM as we run along shore we saw several smooks a little way inland from the sea and one upon the top of a hill which was the first we have seen upon elevated ground since we have been upon the coast. At sun set... three remarkable large high hills lying contiguous to each other and not far from the shore bore NNW. As these hills bore some resemblance to each other we call'd them the Three Brothers."

Cook was joined on that voyage by botanist 25-year-old Joseph Banks and botanical illustrator Sydney Parkinson.

Captain Cook remains a divisive figure when debating the truth about Australian history.

Captain Cook remains a divisive figure when debating the truth about Australian history.

Days after, Cook sailed further north along what is now known as the Macleay coast.

Smoky Cape, situated east of South West Rocks and within the Hat Head National Park, caught the attention of Cook who noted the presence of smoke and fire.

"When he was sailing past he made a note in his log that there was a lot of smoke in the area that appeared to come from inland and that's why he gave it the name Smoky Cape," Macleay River historical society President Phil Lee said.

"Smoky Cape was a ceremonial ground for the Aborigines with carved trees a feature throughout the area.

"One of those trees has since been taken down and is now in the Australian Museum.

"Because Cook didn't go to shore he wouldn't have known what the smoke could've been from whether it have been bushfire or ceremonial fire."

The National Museum has partnered with the ABC in an ABC iview series featuring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people sharing the original names of the places Captain Cook renamed on his voyage of the east coast.

The 'This Place' project invites Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to create short videos about the significance of place names and share the stories behind them.

The tale of the Three Brothers mountains dates back long before Cook's version was penned, with traditional creation stories passed down by Birpai elders over many generations.

The Dooragan national park is named after the youngest of three brothers in the Birpai tribe who were killed and buried where the mountains stand, one of the Dreamtime stories says.

It is just one of the many place name stories told as a part of the project.

Language skills: Rhonda Radley says the revitalisation of her language is restoring her cultural pride.

Language skills: Rhonda Radley says the revitalisation of her language is restoring her cultural pride.

Today, the focus has shifted on recognising the first and traditional stories of Port Macquarie (traditional name, Guruk) and the Hastings region through education to align the millenia-old history of our nation closer to the truth.

Charles Sturt University (CSU) offers Indigenous Australian Studies at its Port Macquarie campus where lecturer, Birpai woman Arly Mehan, nurtures the revitalisation of the Gathang language and cultural practices by promoting the use of decolonisation tools to build resilience and visually assert Aboriginal existence and identity.

In Australia, there are only about 120 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages still spoken of the estimated original 250 languages, and approximately 90 per cent are at risk of being lost.

The language was spoken by three Indigenous groups on the NSW Mid-North Coast - Birrbay, Warrimay and Guringay - before the last fluent speaker died in the 1960s.

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