There is a magnificence about tall ships, the grande dames of the nautical world, who parade the oceans like haughty queens, their sails imbuing them a whimsical air of majesty and romance.

In Australia, arguably, the most famous is HMB Endeavour, the full scale replica of the original ship in which Captain Cook landed at Botany Bay and went on to chart the continent’s east coast.

Berthed at the Australian National Maritime Museum, when she weighs anchor, with her 28 sails and 30kms of rigging, she always steals the limelight from her less prosaic cousins who ply the harbour’s waters.

Recently arrived back from her first international voyage in 13 years — an 11 day sail from Noumea to Sydney, under the command of Captain John Dikkenberg — she is currently being prepared for her pivotal role in an education and reconciliation initiative, Encounters 2020, marking 250 years since Captain Cook navigated our Eastern seaboard.

On board from Noumea were 16 professional crew, 36 sail trainees and four other passengers, who had paid for their passage. But life on board is no cruise ship.

Most berths are hammocks and trainees have to muck in, climb the masts, clean and keep watch and learn about the rigging, the 750 wooden blocks and pulleys, and the masts and spars that carry approximately 10,000 sq feet (93 square metres) of canvas. And they can spend hours high above the deck, setting the sails.

But for Nicole Fogerty, 27, from Albury, who was a trainee on the journey, climbing the rigging and gazing out over thousands of square kilometres of royal blue ocean, the wind in her hair, was only part of the attraction of sailing the Endeavour. The camaraderie, forged from hours of night-time watches and living cheek by jowl with shipmates, was unique. So, too, were her first four days, blighted by acute seasickness which she managed to eventually overcome enough to be a functioning member of the crew.

“For days you wouldn’t see another living thing, apart from flying fish or the odd bird and there were more stars than I have ever seen before, with bioluminescence in the water at night,” she said.

LONG WAY TO THE TOP

Joining the ship complete with a fear of heights, her favourite part by the end of the voyage was climbing aloft to furl and unfurl sails. “From up there you realise how big the ocean is, and really, the world. It felt like a proper adventure.”

Amelia Stone, 29, from the Fleurieu Peninsula in South Australia, needs no convincing when it comes to tall ships. She serves as a topman on Endeavour and was part of the Noumea voyage.

“I have always loved the traditional sailing ships and keeping that alive,” she said. “There’s a lot of sailing now that happens that is very mechanical, whereas we just use ourselves, so you have to really rely on people to get in and help. It’s a lot of fun.

“One of my favourite things is being surrounded 360 degrees by water. It’s magic seeing (tall ships) under full sail with nothing else around and in the middle of nowhere. Just magical.”

Her colleague, Natalie Moore, 38, from Melbourne, was third mate on board, the medical officer and in charge of the rescue boat and rescue equipment.

She has long loved the ocean, parlaying a “hobby, to a passion to a profession”.

“It’s just about being out at sea,” she said. “The sunrises and sunsets, but the rough weather, too. You are seeing things other people never will and there is a peace in that,” she says.

But for all her regal presence, Endeavour is a ship that elicits strong emotions — leaving some in awe at her magnificence but others angered by what she represents for them.

MORE ENDEAVOUR NEWS:

Captain Cook initiative to ‘heal’ divisions

What Endeavour means for Indigenous Australians

While Cook and his crew were undoubtedly at the vanguard of 18th century exploration and scientific research, their arrival changed this country irrevocably.

For indigenous communities, the Endeavour symbolises the loss of country and culture, the day the white man came to Australia and she represents the worst of what changed their way of being forever.

But now, Endeavour, for all her baggage, is being used as a lightning rod, a rallying point, in the next stage of Australia’s reconciliation journey, as part of a series of exhibitions, educational projects and outreach programs in a major, national initiative, Encounters 2020, marking the 250th anniversary next year since Cook’s arrival in Australia.

JOURNEY OF LEARNING

Devised by the Australian National Maritime Museum and with federal government backing, the program aims to both commemorate Cook’s voyage while highlighting its impact on our indigenous peoples, and enabling their voice. Although she is, on one hand, a point of contention, she will also help us learn about ourselves as Australians.

The ANMM acknowledges that so strong are the feelings about the Endeavour, the circumnavigation has the potential to light the blue touch paper in community relations. But central to their program is the intertwining, for the first time, of both histories — that of Cook and that of the traditional owners — providing both ‘the view from the ship and the view from the shore’.

At the program’s launch this week, Ken Wyatt, Minister for Indigenous Affairs, spoke to the duality of Endeavour’s involvement in the anniversary, saying: “Cook’s visit in 1770 is not viewed by all Australians in the same way.”

“For some, it represents a unique and important scientific journey of discovery and, for some, the legacy of the voyage symbolises loss of country, language and culture. It is important that messages reflect both perspectives.

“Both are not a contested history — it is a shared history of our nation’s point in time from which we emerge on a journey that realised the way in which we live today. Truth telling to me is not a contest. It is an acceptance that there can be shared stories in both indigenous and non-indigenous communities.

“It’s about acknowledging that there are events in which our shared history that have resulted in different experiences that have built the capacities and the changes that evolve from the period.”

He said that he hoped healing would come from the program, as Australians learn more about their shared history. “Healing that results from acts of truth-telling cannot be quantified. And can lead to significant moments of reconciliation into the future,” he said. “Marking 250 years since Captain James Cook’s first Pacific voyage will allow all Australians to reflect on, discuss and re-evaluate, the lasting impact that this has had on us all.”

Accompanied by a travelling exhibition which will set up in each of the ports the ship visits during the 14-month voyage around Australia’s 19,000 kms of coastline, as well as major exhibitions at the ANMM, organisers hope that art and understanding will meld to help tell Australia’s story. Members of the public will be able to buy a place on board and be part of the project.

Addressing the balance

Indigenous filmmaker Alison Page said of Encounters 2020: “Up to now we’ve primarily looked at Cook’s voyage from one point of view and now, for the first time, we’re adding the stories of Australia’s first people to that narrative. Australia is one of the few countries in the world that doesn’t know its origin story. That’s because a critical piece of the puzzle has always been missing. We’ve been silent on our indigenous history. And now with this 250 year commemoration we’ve got the chance to address that oversight and find a genuine narrative balance between the ship and the shore.”

You can find out more about joining the crew of HMB Endeavour on Encounters 2020 here.

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