Michael Roberts,…..Being a reprint of an article with the same title printed in International Social Science Journal, 1997, vol. 49/153: pp. 373-385. This essay was written at short notice following an invitation from Michael Herzfeld.
Captain Cook in watercolour miniature from circa early 1780s
Captain Cook figures in the stories related by several Aboriginal peoples in Australia. In rare cases he has been incorporated into their sacred tales of mythic origin. Among the Aboriginal people of the Victoria River Downs (VRD) region in the Northern Temtory he is a central figure in more straightforward narratives, where he is ‘understood to be the first white fellow to invade Australia’ and where his landing points and actions at specified locations along the coast of Australia are detailed (Rose, 1992, pp. 188-89). In these stories there is frequent reference to ‘Captain Cook‘s law’ – a representation which Debbie Bird Rose understands to indicate ‘the set of rules and the structured relationships’ to which the VRD Aboriginals have been subject for some time.