2020 Excellence in Visual Digital Storytelling, Small Newsroom finalist

Explorer, navigator, coloniser

Revisit Captain Cook’s legacy with the click of a mouse

About the Project

English explorer Captain James Cook arrived in the Pacific 250 years ago, triggering British colonisation of the region. The Conversation Australia asked researchers to reflect on what happened and how it shapes us today.

This interactive allows users to explore Cook’s journey through the Pacific, his interactions with Indigenous peoples and how that journey led to Australia becoming a penal colony 18 years later.

Multimedia Editor Wes Mountain built the interactive using Hype, weaving imagery collected from researchers, curators and archive collections together with quotes from academics casting a new light on Cook’s voyages and their enduring impact.

The interactive tells the story – from Cook receiving secret orders from the Royal Navy to “with the consent of the Natives take Possession” of the country, to how Polynesian navigators (all but erased from the traditional narrative) helped Cook’s ship make it through dangerous waters, to early encounters with Maori and Aboriginal people that began almost immediately with musket fire from the ship’s crew and/or Cook himself, to where we are today.

The interactive traces a path from the early voyage to colonisation to decimation of Indigenous populations through conflict, disease and policies of assimilation.

The Conversation editorial team, which included Sunanda Creagh and Justin Bergman, worked closely with Indigenous academics, community members and curators to centre Indigenous experiences in the narrative and ask readers to think carefully about how these early encounters continue to impact First Nations peoples today.

Other features worth noting:

  • -We purchased Indigenous artist Jeffrey Samuels’ work “Great Spirit and Rainbow Serpent” and made it the feature artwork and motif for the interactive
  • We asked readers to reflect on what they were taught about Captain Cook in school, and ask academic experts to test this narrative against the historical record
  • We asked Indigenous and non-Indigenous community members and researchers to review the interactive before publishing to ensure it was accurate
  • Most pages feature pull-quotes from and links to corresponding articles, to draw attention to the wider body of essays commissioned for this project.

It is difficult to overestimate how important the figure of Captain Cook has been in the story that mainstream Australia has told itself over the last 200 years (but particularly over the last 50 years). Our project aimed to ask Australians to reflect more deeply on this contested figure, what he represents (and for whom) and the wider legacy of his journeys.