Botany Bay: A Book and Exhibition

Botany Bay: A Book and Exhibition

We were thrilled last Thursday night to host the book & exhibition launch of Botany Bay by Sydney based photographer Andrew Cowen in our gallery space. This sensational body of work explores the relationship between landscape & history in Botany Bay & is on show until May 29th. Signed limited edition copies of Botany Bay also available for perusal & purchase in our art department.

The arrival at Botany Bay in 1770 of Captain James Cook on the British ship the Endeavour marked the starting point of the British colonisation of Australia. While the city of Sydney was finally located at Sydney Harbour, it is Botany Bay that remains the site that is historically associated with the beginning of the British penal colony in Australia.


Aboard the Endeavour was botanist Joseph Banks. Banks was collecting plant species in the South Pacific for what would become Banks’ Florilegium – a book of botanical illustrations. There was no photographic means of making visual recordings at this time so Banks travelled with a team of assistants and artists who spent their day collecting plant species. They later made drawings and paintings of the collected objects. Banks’ ambition for the Florilegium was both scientific and artistic.  It was to provide a rigorous record of the collected species and to create something beautiful.  At this time the relationship between art and science was more harmonious. The creation of the record of plant species was similar to the process of mapping and naming in that it laid claim to the area. In this way, to study something and to create an image of it becomes a way of owning it.

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The area was given the name Botany Bay by Captain James Cook after he observed the quantity of plant species Banks had collected. This name refers not only to the botany but also to the process of collection and to the botanist, Banks. The Banksia, the suburbs Bankstown and Banksmeadow are all named after Joseph Banks.

Banks was an influential figure in British political life and it was on Banks’ suggestion that the first Australian penal colony was founded at Botany Bay. The name Botany Bay became synonymous with the system of transporting convicts to the penal colony in Australia.


The First Fleet arrived at Botany Bay in 1788 to begin the penal colony. For Aboriginal communities who had lived continuously in this area for thousands of years this was a catastrophic invasion. The fallout from this cultural clash remains unresolved.

Today at Botany Bay there is a curious environment where natural elements sit uneasily with the built environment.

Modest recreational activities like swimming and fishing are dwarfed by the industrial activity of the airport, the container terminal and the oil refinery. Even the botany has become a strange mix of natural and introduced species. The presence of the airport, with its runways reaching out into the bay, provides a continual reenactment of this first arrival.

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Andrew Cowen grew up in Adelaide, South Australia. He studied Fine Art at the North Adelaide School of Art and completed a Bachelor of Design at the University of South Australia before permanently relocating to Sydney. He currently works on both commercial and personal projects.

This is an associated exhibition of Head On Photo Festival 2017. For the full Head On program visit:


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