Badtjala Song

Translated by Gemma Cronin

for all Badtjala descendants

On 20 May 1770, as a gentle southerly breeze blew, the HMB Endeavour sailed along the coast of K’gari/Fraser Island. Cook observed ‘a number of Indians’ on a high bluff and so named it Indian Head. He also saw people and fires in other places nearby.1 The passage of the Endeavour was viewed by Badtjala people, who had followed the ship all the way from the island’s southern end. They passed on a rich description of the event through oral history and song. Badtjala linguist Gemma Cronin has translated the following song in modern orthography, telling of the encounter. The dangerous ‘rainbow serpent place’ refers to a shoal just north of Indian Head.2

Gabrin wuna’la yaneen, Areeram

Ngun’gu’ni wiinj gung’milung

Nyundal wun’yamba dhali dhak’kin’bah, Gebeer barine

Moomoo gumbir’l’im bundi burree, Yauwa dhan man’ngur

Yuang yangu moomoo gumbir, Billi’ngunda

Tin’gera dan’da gung’mungalum minya??

Strangers are travelling with a cloud, Areeram!!

It has fire inside, must be a bad water spirit.

It’s stupid maybe? It’s going directly to that rainbow serpent place,

This is the truth that I bring.

It is breathing smoke rhythmically from its rear, must be song men and sorcerers.

Coming up and going back with the wind at its rear, like a sand crab.

The sea carries this ship here, why??

1. J.C. Beaglehole (ed.), The Journals of Captain James Cook: The Voyage of the Endeavour 1768-1771, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1955.

2. Conversation with Gemma Cronin and ‘Corroborees of the Aborigines of Great Sandy Island’, written and translated by Edward Armitage, of Maryborough, Queensland, 1923, in F. J. Watson, Vocabularies of Four Representative Tribes of South Eastern Queensland, supplement to the Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia (Queensland), vol. XLVIII, no. 34, 1944, pp.96-97. Armitage provides an earlier translation of the song as well as another telling of Matthew Flinders’ landing on the western side of the island.


East Coast Encounter re-imagines the encounters between James Cook and his crew with Aboriginal people in 1770. The exhibition presents this shared story from various perspectives.  Cook’s voyage along the Australian east coast is a significant event in Australian history. At Bedanug, which he named Possession Island, Cook ‘took possession’ of Australia’s east coast on behalf of the British Crown. A few years later, the first British colonists arrived. James Cook is recognised as a skilled navigator and explorer whose expedition led to the founding of this nation. However, for many Indigenous Australians he has become a symbol of dispossession. East Coast Encounter presents a fresh examination of these interactions and their ongoing impact, by juxtaposing different points of view. 

The exhibition also brings these events into the present by incorporating artists’ reflections on their relevance today, as well as visits to significant encounter locations. These include Kamay/Botany Bay, the Glass House Mountains, K’gari/Fraser Island, Town of 1770, Magnetic Island, Yarrabah, the clan area of Waymburr or Cooktown and Bedanug/ Possession Island. The artists explore ideas about custodianship of country, exchange, communication and miscommunication, what it means to be ‘foreign’, and seeing through another person’s eyes.

At Kamay/Botany Bay in 1770, interactions between local people and the visitors were limited and not very successful. However at Cooktown where the British spent almost 2 months repairing the damaged Endeavour, the encounters involved curiosity and friendliness which then turned to hostility following a misunderstanding over turtles. However tensions were resolved through an important act of reconciliation on both sides, as each group tried to open up to the other’s very different customs and outlooks. In a similar way, East Coast Encounter is concerned with acknowledging diverse points of view. This shared story is re-imagined here by Australian Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists, to encourage cultural dialogue and promote reconciliatory understanding.

Project Initiator

Peter Hudson is an artist whose work is inspired by the stories, events and people who have shaped contemporary Australian history. He was the initiator of the East Coast Encounter concept and has been a passionate advocate for the project. His work is about the land and he believes that Aboriginal Australia has given him a new pair of eyes to view and better understand the Australian landscape. He has made many painting trips to Indigenous communities, particularly Gurindji country and his solo exhibitions include Wave Hill Walk-off, addressing Aboriginal land rights. Hudson’s work is held in major collections including the National Portrait Gallery and the Museums and Art Galleries of the Northern Territory.

Adric Watson

East Coast Encounter

DVD Film © The artist 2012