It’s an odd name for a town, but then Australia has a lot of unusual-sounding place names (see: Woolloomooloo, Wagga Wagga, Bong Bong, or Humpybong). It’s sometimes listed officially as “Seventeen Seventy,” but locals often write it as “1770”, which gives a better hint as to the history behind the strange name.
“Captain Cook Slept Here.” Well, there’s no actual sign that says that, but there may as well be. It was just off the coast here that Lieutenant James Cook, on his pioneering voyage up Australia’s east coast, ordered the HMS Endeavour be anchored overnight on May 24, 1770.
Cook, the captain of the Endeavour, was on a voyage commissioned by the British Admiralty to investigate the large, rich, and mysterious continent that was rumored to exist in the southern ocean, a place known in Britain at the time as Terra Australis (aka South Land).
Before they’d arrived here, Cook and his crew had already mapped New Zealand and become the first Europeans to have visited Australia’s east coast. They had first come ashore at Botany Bay, which they’d originally called Stingray Bay after the giant stingrays that they’d caught, some of which were so large and heavy that they had to be gutted in the water, and even after that weighed hundreds of pounds when they were finally hauled up onto the ship’s deck.1
After about ten days in Botany Bay, Cook turned the Endeavour north. Over the next two and a half weeks, they passed the entrance of Sydney Harbour but did not enter the heads, followed the coast north, keeping close enough on their port side to be able to map the coast. They passed and named the Glasshouse Mountains (on May 17), went outside the protective islands of Moreton Bay, and outside Bribie Island and Fraser Island. Just south of what is now Gladstone, they anchored the ship in a bay protected from the southerly winds by a rocky headland.
The long, sandy beaches near what would become Seventy Seventy thus became only the second place Europeans are known to have set foot on the east coast of the Australian continent. And it was the first place in what would later become the state of Queensland.
Cook, the botanist accompanying him, Joseph Banks, and Banks’s assistant went ashore for a spot of botanizing and collected thirty-three species of plants previously unknown in Europe. Other members of the crew explored the narrow channel that led to a large protected lagoon. Cook wrote in his diary that ,”In this place there is room for a few ships to lie in great security, and a small stream of fresh water.” Other crew members went ashore on a hunting expedition, coming back with a bustard. Liking the way the bird tasted for dinner, they named the bay after it (Bustard Bay).
Cook didn’t stay long; they pulled up anchor early the next morning. Two and a half weeks later, the Endeavour hit a shoal of the Great Barrier Reef and the crew spent the next week keeping the ship afloat, finally limping into a protected harbor to conduct repairs at what would later become Cooktown.
These days, Seventeen Seventy is a sleepy little fishing town–actually, not much more than a village–fronting the lagoon’s waterfront. The area was originally named Round Hill, but the name was changed in 1936. In recent years, the area has been “discovered.” People buying holiday homes to take advantage of the good fishing and unspoiled landscape have driven local property prices up. Just a few miles away on the ocean side is the bigger town of Agnes Water. Several national parks are nearby, and not far to the north, Gladstone provides a gateway to the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef. And, of course, there’s that beautiful view out over the ocean, which probably still looks quite a bit like it did when Cook saw it nearly two and half centuries ago.
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