Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have always been here. They were here before European sea navigators came to this land.
Navigators such as Spaniard Luis Vaez de Torres, who in 1606 sailed through the Torres Strait Islands giving them the name they bear today, or Dutch explorer Willem Janszoon, who landed on the western side of Cape York Peninsula and charted its coastline in the same year.
Or William Dampier, the first Englishman to set foot on Australia in 1688 and whose name is still honoured in Western Australia.
And most importantly, before lieutenant James Cook, the first recorded European explorer to land on the east coast of Australia in 1770 — exactly 250 years ago this year.
On his voyage of the east coast, Cook would detail his interaction with Indigenous people, describing their physical appearance and consistently seeing smoke and fires.
He knew this continent was inhabited and wrote it himself.
In his voyage, he would rename over 120 locations and landforms.
But these places already had names and they had been used for tens of thousands of years.
Here are just a few of these placenames and their stories as told to the ABC by the traditional custodians, elders and community members of these locations along with the daily entries of Cook’s journal.
The following dates are the dates on which Cook, in his journal, renamed the locations and landmarks he saw in 1770.
Known as Gulaga, the mother mountain to the Yuin people.
In his journal, Cook said this land was “inhabited” as he saw multiple fires.
“Saturday 21st winds southerly a gentle breeze and clear weather with which we coasted along shore to the northward. In the PM we saw the smook[sic] of fire in several places a certain sign that the country is inhabited.”
Go deeper: Read more about the first sighting of Cook’s Endeavour, as remembered by the Yuin people.
Cook also saw Yuin people on a New South Wales south-coast beach and noted their dark skin.
“We steered along shore NNE having a gentle breeze at SW.”
“And were so near the shore as to distinguish several people upon the sea beach they appear’d[sic] to be of a very dark or black colour but whether this was the real colour of their skins or the clothes they might have on I know not.”
Known as Balagn to the Budawang people, as told by Noel Butler.
Cape St George
Again, Cook mentions sighting several fires during this time.
“Saw several smooks[sic] along shore before dark and two or three times afire in the night.”
Known as Gamay/Kamay to the Gweagal and Bidjigal peoples of the Dharawal Eora nation.
On April 28, 1770, Cook wrote: “At this time we saw several people a shore four of whom where carrying a small boat or canoe which we imagined they were going to put into the water in order to come off to us but in this we were mistaken.”
He mentions the canoes “appeared not much unlike the small ones of New Zealand”.
On the 29th, he wrote:
“Saw as we came in on both points of the bay several of the natives and a few huts, men, women and children on the south shore abreast of the ship to which place I went in the boats in hopes of speaking with them accompanied by Mr Banks, Dr Solander and Tupaia”
“As we approached the shore they all made off except two men who seem’d[sic] resolved to oppose our landing …”
Go deeper: Read about what Dharawal and Gweagal descendants understand of the events that unfolded on the afternoon of April 29, 1770.
Tupaia was a Polynesian high priest and star navigator on board the Endeavour. He was from Raiatea, in the Society Islands.
Joseph Banks and Cook used him as cultural mediator or translator to Indigenous peoples in New Zealand and Australia.
Tupaia fell ill on the ship and died in November, 1770. As the Endeavour crew returned home to England hailed as heroes, his work was overlooked.
You can read more about Tupaia’s story here.
Cook continues to detail the encounter — from his point of view — firing at the Aboriginal people ashore.
“One of them took up a stone and threw at us which caused my firing a second musquet[sic] load with small shot and altho'[sic] some of the shot struck the man yet it had no other effect than to make him lay hold of a shield or target to defend himself.”
This bark shield pierced with a bullet hole, named the “Gweagal shield”, still sits in the British Museum today.
Go deeper: Read about the battle to return the Gweagal shield.
On this day, as Cook names what is now known as Port Jackson, he mentions sighting huts and Gadigal people in the area.
“Some that we saw had their faces and bodies painted with a sort of white paint or pigment.”
He also recounts seeing them fishing in canoes and roasting their catch on a fire on board.
Cape Three Points
Point Stephens and Port Stephens
On this day, Cook again saw fires and people. He was in Worimi country.
“We saw several smooks[sic] a little way in the country upon rise up from the flat land …”
Little Broughton Island (Outer Rock)
There are many different versions of the Three Brothers story held by other traditional owners of the Birpai nation.
One of these Three Brothers stories is shared by Birpai elder Aunty Marian Holten, who says the three brothers are known as Dooragan (the eldest son), Mooragan (the middle son) and Booragan (the youngest son).
Go deeper: Read about the creation story of the Three Brothers.
Cook names this Smoky Cape after observing bellows of smoke from the headland.
“A point or headland on which were fires that caused a great quantity of smook[sic] which occasioned my giving it the name of smooky[sic] Cape.”
As translated by linguists at the Muurrbay Aboriginal Language and Culture Co-operative, there are two Gumbaynggirr names associated with Smoky Cape: “Guuwa Miirlarl,” a noun for “special place for fog” and “Jumbulbu, guuwa” meaning “fog or mist”.
According to the Muurrbay Aboriginal Language and Culture Co-operative: “Bunyun was a hero ancestor who drove his canoe into this island, creating a split.
“As a result, Bunyun drowned.”
Arakwal Aboriginal corporation says the place we call Byron Bay is known as Cavanbah.
“Walgun headland, known as Cape Byron, is the easternmost point of mainland Australia.”
Is known as Mount Wollumbin.
NSW National Parks and Wildlife service consult with Aboriginal community representatives who are a part of the Wollumbin Consultative Group.
“The Wollumbin area has high cultural value for many Aboriginal groups in north-east New South Wales and south-east Queensland, including Nganduwal, Galibal, Gidhabul and Widjabal peoples,” the NSW Parks and Wildlife websites states.
Tweed Shire council also says: “Wollumbin has been a sacred place of great significance to the people of Bundjalung and other Aboriginal groups since time immemorial.
“Wollumbin, along with other significant sites in its surrounds, provides a traditional place of cultural law, initiation and spiritual education.”
Glenda Nalder is a descendant of the Ngugi People of Mulgumpin (Moreton Island), and is a member of the Minjerribah Moorgumpin Elders in Council.
She says Point Lookout is knows as Mulumba (this is one spelling variation).
Quandamooka songman Josh Walker also tells the story of Mooloomba (another spelling variation) used to teach lore.
Ms Nalder says this is known as Gunemba.
Glass House Bay
Glass House Mountains
Mount Tibrogargan and Beerwah, the names of which are still used today, are significantly important to the Jinibara and Kabi Kabi peoples.
Double Island Point
Break Sea Spit
Round Hill Head
Bustard Bay/Seventeen Seventy
The Gooreng Gooreng people know this country as Gooragan (sandy loam country).
Woppaburra elder Bob Muir explains the name for Great Keppel Island, known as Woppa.
“Woppaburra is our present spelling with ‘burra’ meaning people of and ‘Woppa’ the name of the island, Woppaburra meaning people of the island.”
Mr Muir says Woppaburra people have worked with the Queensland government to include the traditional names of the Keppel Islands on Google’s maps.
The small Islands are known as Konomie (North Keppel Island), Terimul (Corroboree Island,) Burye Burye (Humpy Island), Balaba (Middle Island), Mamalonbi (Miall Island) and Bankaboolare (Man and Wife Rocks), Onun (Outer Rocks) Arummi (Barren (first Lump) Island).
Shoal Water Bay
Again on this day, Cook writes “some few smooks[sic] were seen on the mainland”.
In the Whitsunday’s, home of the Ngaro people, Cook sees an outrigger canoe.
“On a Sandy beach upon one of the Islands we saw two people and a Canoe with an outrigger that appeared to be both larger and differently built to any we have seen upon the coast.”
Cape Bowling Green
Great Palm Island
Known as Bwgcolman to the Manbarra people.
Known in the Gunggandji language as Gulnyjarubay.
Known as Girrigar in the Kunganghi language, as told by Yidinji woman Henrietta Mairre.
Girrigar is located close to the Aboriginal community of Yarrabah.
In his journal, Cook wrote: “In the night we saw several fires along shore and a little before noon some people.”
The Yirrganydji traditional name is Bana Wangal, as told by Gavin Singleton, Project Manager of the Dawul Wuru Aboriginal Corporation.
Is known as Dhiidharr, as told by Guugu Yimithirr woman Alberta Hornsby.
Known as Waalumbal Birri to the Guugu Yimidhirr people. The river is life-giving and defines clan boundaries.
Is known as Dhiigurru, Ms Hornsby said, to the Dingaal people. Also spelled as Jiigurru.
Here, Cook writes: “The inhabitants of the main visit this island at some seasons of the year for we saw the ruins of several of their huts and heaps of shells.”
Sir Charles Hardy Islands
Home Islands/Cockburns Isles
The island is used by Kaurareg, Gudang Yadhaykenu, Ankamuthi and other clan groups.
For the Ankamuthi and Gudang Yadhukenu it is known as Thunadha.
In the Kuarareg language, there are two different times within the year that the island is utilised, known as Bedanug and Tuidin.
Prince Of Wales Island
Known as Muralug, this islands is the largest of the Torres Strait Islands.
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.
Walking Together is taking a look at our nation’s reconciliation journey, where we’ve been and asks the question — where do we go next?
Join us as we listen, learn and share stories from across the country, that unpack the truth telling of our history and embrace the rich culture and language of Australia’s First People.