PHIL BROWN

The Courier-Mail - QWeekend - - ARTS -

Next to Lieu­tenant James Cook, the most in­flu­en­tial man on the En­deav­our’s his­toric voy­age to the Pa­cific from 1768 to 1771 was the wealthy nat­u­ral­ist Joseph Banks.

I’m as full of ad­mi­ra­tion for Banks and as I am for the mas­ter nav­i­ga­tor in com­mand of that jour­ney, Cook, al­though I’m ac­tu­ally full of ad­mi­ra­tion for any poor bug­ger who sailed on HMB En­deav­our. It would have been pretty damn un­com­fort­able at the best of times.

If you have ever set foot on the replica HMB En­deav­our, which is usu­ally docked at the Aus­tralian Mar­itime Mu­seum in Syd­ney, you will know how pokey the orig­i­nal must have been be­low decks. The replica is a splen­did ves­sel and I have been aboard it when it has vis­ited Bris­bane, which it does oc­ca­sion­ally. (Ex­pect it to visit again this sum­mer.) It is sturdy and sea­wor­thy. In fact, every year it goes on voy­ages around Aus­tralia’s coast­line and you can pay for the priv­i­lege of be­com­ing part of the crew, which in­volves quite a bit of hard yakka, I be­lieve; learn­ing the ropes, as it were, lit­er­ally.

I have toyed with the idea of sail­ing on HMB En­deav­our, but not as a mem­ber of the crew. There is an­other level of par­tic­i­pa­tion more suited to my dis­po­si­tion.

If you pre­fer a more leisurely pace you can sign on as what they call a su­per­nu­mer­ary. You pay about $200 a day for that priv­i­lege and can lounge in your bunk or stroll the deck to your heart’s con­tent (al­though I’m told most su­per­nu­mer­aries – four per voy­age – tend to muck in with ev­ery­one else). I’m not sure I would and I don’t think Banks (the orig­i­nal su­per­nu­mer­ary) would have, either. Be­sides, on the way home from Aus­tralia he would have been too busy cat­e­goris­ing all the spec­i­mens he had col­lected. Banks and his small team re­turned to Eng­land with an un­prece­dented col­lec­tion of arte­facts and spec­i­mens of birds, fish and other an­i­mals as well as thou­sands of plants, most seen for the first time in Europe.

You can ogle th­ese arte­facts and other items from the com­fort of your couch while brows­ing through the pages of a hand­some new book on Banks. En­deav­our­ing Banks: Ex­plor­ing Col­lec­tions From the En­deav­our Voy­age by Neil Cham­bers (New South Pub­lish­ing, $85) fea­tures a fore­word by Sir David At­ten­bor­ough. It is a stun­ning tome, and by look­ing at the ob­jects from var­i­ous mu­se­ums and col­lec­tions the au­thor gives us a fas­ci­nat­ing in­sight into that im­por­tant voy­age and the re­mark­able Banks.

Banks was born into a well-to-do but un­ti­tled fam­ily, was a keen nat­u­ral­ist and pa­tron of sci­ence who got him­self in­cluded in Cook’s ex­pe­di­tion and vis­ited Tahiti, New Zealand and the east coast of Aus­tralia, com­ing ashore here in 1770.

This book fea­tures an ar­ray of items, spec­i­mens and works of art, in­clud­ing one com­mis­sioned by Banks on his re­turn to Eng­land. I re­fer to the 1772 work, A Por­trait of Kon­gouro From

New Hol­land, by Ge­orge Stubbs. This is a con­tentious paint­ing and is still in Eng­land, de­spite our ef­forts to buy it for the Na­tional Gallery of Aus­tralia. (Co­in­ci­den­tally, it was At­ten­bor­ough who ral­lied the Poms to keep us from get­ting it.)

Stubbs was given a dried pelt by Banks and he re-cre­ated what he thought a kan­ga­roo would look like from that – and did a pretty good job. I reckon we should have the art­work here and I think Banks would have agreed. We su­per­nu­mer­aries have to stick to­gether.

Don’t miss Phil Brown’s arts cov­er­age week­days on The Courier-Mail web­site

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