When Captain James Cook sailed into Botany Bay in 1770 and saw the exotic landscape before he put his hands on his hips and proudly said, “what a fantastic spot for an airport!”
Either that or it’s owed to coincidence that thousands make their first step onto Australian soil in the exact same spot that Captain Cook did some 240 years ago. This was the Kingsford-Smith Airport, Sydney, and it was a sight for sore eyes after a fifteen hour flight, and worse, two weeks in New Zealand.
There's some speculation as to why Captain Cook gets credit for discovering Australia, especially because he didn't. Many other people did, but none of them were English, and none of them were any good at it.
The Dutchman Able Tasman, for example, was the first westerner to discover Australia—Tasmania, technically--and New Zealand too, though he never actually stepped ashore to do anything about it. In his defense though, he believed Tasmania was inhabited by giants, and later in New Zealand his welcoming party was eaten by the locals before they even got out of their boats (our New Zealand experience was as equally unpleasant).
Australia has a legacy of explorers that have found it and then, presumably, forgotten about it. The Chinese arrived in Australia in 1405 and then promptly left, never to return. The Portugese didn’t fare much better in the 16th century: they settled plenty of nearby islands but apparently didn't think Australia was worth the flag to claim it with. The Romans, great conquerors they were, didn’t even bother with the terra Australis incognita on their maps.
The trouble is that most explorers who stumbled into Australia (few, if any ever ran into it deliberately) landed on the western half, where the Great Sandy Desert drops off into the ocean, making Australia look rather uninviting. Apart from Tasman, Cook was one of the only explorers to make it around to the other, much more accommodating side of Australia where 80% of all Australians make their home.
It was the more hospitable side of the country where Katie and I ended up, though hospitable was a bit of a misnomer considering we were stuck in immigration. After nearly a hundred-year history of state-sponsored convict importation, Australia decided that it had better start controlling who and what comes through its borders which they now do to an uncanny degree. Their quarantine regulations are some of the most rigid in the world. Often times it’s hard to get a tent into Australia if it’s ever touched soil before.
The immigration standards are so tough, in fact, that in 1956 when Melbourne hosted the Olympics—the first time in history the sporting event had taken place south of the equator—athletes in the equestrian events weren’t allowed to compete. Because of an inflexible six month quarantine on all animals, all equestrian events were held 10,000 miles away in Stockholm, Sweden, five months before the Olympic torch was ever lit in Melbourne.
Here’s another one: when Australian soldiers went to fight with the British on horseback their horses were never allowed to return to the country and were left, quite tragically, on the battlefield.
More recently, in defense of Australia’s fragile ecosystem the country’s immigration department has discussed the removal of all cats, domesticated or feral, though I can’t blame them too much considering their serious rabbit problem, but more on that later.
Considering all of this, we were lucky to only have a rather grumpy immigration inspector and should have been more grateful to have only been scoffed at than turned around and sent back to, say, New Zealand for the next three weeks of our vacation. Happily, we gathered our passports and moved on.