In April 1770, Lieutenant James Cook sailed from New Zealand with the intention of landing on the coast of Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania). The great navigator completely missed the coastline mapped by Abel Tasman 130 years before and instead made landfall on the Australian mainland, claiming the ‘entire east coast of New Holland’ as British territory on 22 August. Despite Cook’s secret instructions from the Admiralty to, ‘…with the Consent of the Natives … take possession in the Name of the King of Great Britain’, no such consent was obtained from the many nations of First People whose lands were annexed. Cook finally found Van Diemen’s Land on his third voyage, seven years later.
Too Many Cooks is an innovative project centred on an online exhibition that gathers responses by Indigenous and other artists over the past fifty years to the contested visual narratives of Australia’s history. Too Many Cooks celebrates connection to Country and culture, while interrogating Anglo-centric origin mythologies of Australia with a dramatic selection of artworks and archival material from the University of Tasmania’s Cultural Collections. Together with loans from internationally renowned artists, private collections and the Allport Museum and Art Gallery, this material underlines the importance of visual art in informing and reflecting social processes that define Australia’s cultural and political identity.
The visit by Cook is still commonly recognised as the ‘discovery’ of Australia, and the arrival of the British First Fleet in January 1788 as the ‘founding of modern Australia’. Like Cook’s disregard for his Admiralty instructions, both these events effectively ignored the prior occupation and sovereignty of Australia’s First People, instead imposing the doctrine of terra nullius, or ‘empty land’. Despite the Mabo Decision of the High Court of Australia, vestiges of terra nullius remain deeply embedded in Australia’s attitude to Aboriginal people and their rights, ensuring that Cook’s legacy lives on.
In 2020, to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Cook’s visit to Australia, extensive plans were put in place by government; with significant expenditure on redevelopment of Cook memorials, commemorative voyages around Australia and other public celebrations. Against this background, Australian Indigenous and other artists continue to produce creative works that maintain attention on unresolved social issues such as Black Deaths in Custody, and to emphasise the strength and continuity of Aboriginal culture and the ongoing struggle for justice.
Too Many Cooks acknowledges the essential importance of art in social history by incorporating a lasting learning resource. This includes a Welcome to Country at the site of Cook’s first landing in Tasmania, a 360-degree virtual gallery tour and curatorial floor talk, and 3D interactive visualisations of exquisite cultural objects. A diversity of educational resources offers insight on the science and art of European encounter with Indigenous Australia, and the life and death of Captain James Cook.
Curated by Professor Greg Lehman and Rachael Rose
We may be temporarily closed, but you can still enjoy the Too Many Cooks exhibition from your home! Visit our website.
Plimsoll Gallery, University of Tasmania
Centre for The Arts, Hunter Street, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia