Post-Banksian perspective

Modern Australia is a cultural construct, and modern Australians are themselves social constructions – fashioned to specifications which systematically exclude the cosmologies of Australia’s First Peoples.

For many Anglo-Australians, there is a feeling that Australia begins with the arrival of Lt James Cook,  his esteemed guest, Joseph Banks, and crew on the Endeavour.

Cook is regarded, in this popular fantasy as being the ‘discover’ of Australia (ignoring even his European predecessors, not to mention long established First Peoples).

While the East Coast of Australia has been well and truly "Cooked" by the use the master mariners surname, a special role was reserved for Joseph Banks – a Gentleman and Man of Science.

His name is one of the means by which a European false consciousness has been cemented into modern Australian life, with that extra twist of respectability befitting an extremely wealthy and cultured English Gentleman.

banksia flowers small

The flowering plant here is a variety of what we know as a ‘Banksia". A Candle Banksia – it may be " … a hybrid between Banksia ericifolia and Banksia spinulosa var. collina (see ). I don’t know.

But what is really important is that I don’t know the name by which it was/is known by Australia’s First Peoples, and nor do many other modern Australians.

The following account from the main Australian broadcaster ( provides what is probably a typical ‘modern’ Anglo-Australian ‘take’:

"ABC Gardening Australia
Fact Sheet: Banksias
Presenter: Meredith Kirton, 03/11/2007

"When I think of Banksias, I think of Joseph Banks landing on the shores of Botany Bay and May Gibbs’s drawings of the big bad Banksia men in Snugglepot and Cuddlepie. They love the sand and the surf, they grow all the way out to the desert and they are tremendously hardy and resilient. They’re fantastic plants – give them a go."

Amongst the horticultural set, direct and spiritual heirs of those farming folk who sought to replace First Peoples on the land, such a statement is perfectly normal and respectable. Banks and a children’s fairy story are part of the picture – the age-old Dreaming stories of First Peoples (which would have a place of this plant) are missing – systematically excluded from consideration.

Another cultural script is the one associated with the naming of Banksia:

"Banksias are a unique feature of Australia’s natural environment.

They first became known to Europeans in 1770 when James Cook landed at Botany Bay with Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander who were astounded at the very remarkable plants they found.

Four Banksia species were collected there and another at the Endeavour River at Cooktown.

Most of the specimens which Banks and Solander collected are now in the British Museum but a few are held by the herbaria of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Sydney and Melbourne.

Banksia was given its botanical name in 1798 by the Swedish botanist, Carl Linnaeus, in honour of Joseph Banks’s discovery of the genus and his great contribution to botanical collection. "

(above from

Well, what greater honour and sign of respect than to have something new to science named after you? Ask Australia’s First Peoples.

But there are signs of change – as the Banksian perspective from Cook’s elbow on the deck of the Endeavour slowly begins to lose its hold over our intellect.


Archaeological evidence suggests that banksias or Banksia-like plants have existed for over 40 million years. The first humans to discover and make use of Banksia plants were the Australian aborigines who used the nectar from the flowers as part of their diet.

The first Europeans to observe banksias were probably Dutch explorers who made several landfalls along the West Australian coast during the 17th and early 18th centuries. No botanical collections were made, however, until the discovery of the east coast of Australia by Captain James Cook in the Endeavour in April 1770. Accompanying Cook were botanists Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander who collected many new species at Botany Bay including four which would later be included in a new genus, Banksia, named in honour of Joseph Banks’ contribution to botany. The four species collected were B.serrata, B.ericifolia, B.integrifolia and B.robur. Later, on the same voyage, Banks and Solander collected a fifth species (B.dentata) on the north Queensland coast. "


A degree of recognition but to anonymous peoples – and no original name for the plant.

The Dreaming stories and the cosmologies of First Peoples contain life’s poetry in this country we know as "Australia". These were created overs eons and represent the better part of life’s true inheritance.

Without the long established name of this plant, and the corresponding stories of where it fits into life, we are greatly diminished – and diminished in a way which no amount of science can make good.


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