I’M LYING PROPPED up on one elbow at Kyeemagh beach, looking out over Botany Bay. I love this utterly urban seascape; less than a kilometre away, planes taxi out to the water’s edge, turn and lumber into the air, in steady, unbroken lines. A tanker eases its way through the mouth of the bay and heads for mooring; on the north side of the bay, the red cranes of Botany docks raise their arms in salute to the Kurnell refinery across the water, not far from where the Endeavour dropped anchor in 1770.
A dry, gritty easterly is blowing up. There’s hardly anyone on the beach on this Saturday morning, but on stiller days teenage Lebanese girls swim in jeans, long sleeved tops and hijab, while family groups sit in circles in the park behind the sandhills, eating and smoking scented tobacco from a hookah. A little further inland, in the market gardens along the Cooks River canal, Chinese and Vietnamese women bend over long beds of herbs and vegetables. No doubt Sir Joseph Banks would approve if he were to amble along the canal path today; he and the Swedish naturalist Solander gathered between three and four hundred specimens of previously unknown plants during their sojourn here, and persuaded Cook to change the name of their anchorage from Stingray Harbour to Botany Bay, assuming (wrongly) that the soil must be fertile and would make good farmland.
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