Next Monday marks the 249th anniversary of James Cook becoming the first European to reach the east coast of Australia - on April 29, 1770.
In January, Prime Minister Morrison promised more than $12 million for projects to mark the 250th anniversary next year. More than half the funds would go to building a replica of Cook's Endeavour and having it circumnavigate the continent (something Cook never did).
Conveniently, the site of Cook's landfall, at Kurnell on Botany Bay, is right in the PM's own electorate (Cook), where many of the anniversary festivities will be held.
James Cook is rightly acknowledged as the greatest navigator and explorer ever: intrepid, innovative, relentless. In the Olympics of voyaging, daylight separates him from the silver medallist.
Predictably, Cook is not universally revered in many of the places he visited. As we speak, the citizens of the Cook Islands are seeking a new name for their nation, complaining that they've endured a brand identity imposed on them, apparently, by a couple of Russian map-makers, keen to honour Cook.
Cook wears the odium for his discoveries having led those who followed him to wreak destruction and lasting misery on indigenous civilisations in many of the countries of our far-flung Oceanic neighbourhood. And ours.
He wrote this of the Indigenous people he encountered in Australia:
"... they live in a Tranquility which is not disturb'd by the Inequality of Condition: the Earth and sea of their own accord furnishes them with all things necessary for life ... they sleep as sound in a small hovel or even in the open as the King in His Pallace on a Bed of down."
Within two decades of Cook's brief visit the lives of indigenous Australians would no longer be "not disturb'd by the Inequality of Condition". Many of them, today, remain the least "equal" people in Australian society. Some still sleep in small hovels or in the open. The earth and sea no longer "furnishes" them with all things necessary for life - in some cases, nothing and nobody does.
James Cook, himself, shouldn't be held accountable for this or demonised by history. If he hadn't come to the east coast of Australia when he did, some other European would have done so, soon after. It's often forgotten that in 1788 the French explorer Lapérouse arrived in Botany Bay only a matter of days after Arthur Phillip's First Fleet. He left empty-handed, six weeks later.
Cook's landing at Botany Bay was the only time he came ashore, voluntarily, at least. Later, on the way up the east coast, Endeavour hit a reef and was forced ashore for repairs, near what is now Cooktown in Far North Queensland.
Repairs, mapping, and "territory claiming" complete, Cook cut through the Torres Strait and next made landfall in Batavia (Indonesia), as opposed to the much-ballyhooed circumnavigation to be "recreated" next year.
Let us mark Cook's arrival here, by all means, but don't rub it in, spending $12 million, especially on the recreation of a voyage (around Australia) which he never made. As a nation, we haven't yet quite agreed on what Australia Day (the anniversary of Phillip landing in Sydney Cove in 1788) should mean to us. Don't throw another divisive date into the mix.
And ask if PM Morrison's enthusiasm for it would be as great if, back in 1770, Cook had sailed into Port Phillip Bay and up the Maribyrnong River, landing in what is now Bill Shorten's electorate in the gritty inner north-west of Melbourne.
- Freelance writer Richard Whitington is a former executive recruiter, communications consultant and Whitlam government staffer.