Mark Wilson, Tupaia, Isaac & Cook: The Search for ‘The Great South Land’, Windy Hollow Books, March 2021, 32 pp., RRP $26.99 (hbk), ISBN 9781922081858
In Mark Wilson’s latest book Tupaia, Isaac & Cook – The Search for the Great Southern Land, young readers are invited to join Captain James Cook and his crew on the Endeavour as it explores the Pacific in 1769. The book explores a little known side of the journey by giving much credit for its success to a young Rai’aitean navigator named Tupaia who joined the Endeavour’s crew when it was in Tahitian waters. Tupaia was one of several indigenous people who joined Cook on his Pacific voyages — sailing with him to New Zealand and Australia and helping him to navigate and create charts and maps along the way.
Two things struck me as I read this book. One was how vibrant literary nonfiction is these days. There’s not a hint of the dry factual texts of my 1980s childhood to be found here. From an adult’s point of view, the layout, illustrations and typesetting of Tupaia, Isaac & Cook don’t feel as refined as they could be — but my young children were totally engaged with the bright and densely layered illustrations, maps and diary entries. The book has an energy about it that sucked them in. The other thing that really jumped out at me was how far we’ve come. In recent years, Captain Cook has seemed like a maligned figure — a relic that was over celebrated in the history curriculum in a more parochial Australia. So it was interesting to see him reimagined in a book that acknowledges his story but overtly challenges the whitewashed version of history in which he ‘discovered’ Australia.
As I said, this book feels a little lacking in finesse. There’s something about its mashup of elements that feels a bit disjointed at times. But what it lacks in aesthetic appeal it more than makes up for in ideas, so it is well worth a read. Hopefully, books like this one will inspire kids to continue grappling with and rewriting our history.
Reviewed by Liz Patterson