Cooktown Museum: Maritime Room | Interpretation and design for an exhibit celebrating the maritime history of Far North Queensland.

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In 2018 the National Trust of Australia, Queensland (NTAQ) engaged Relative Creative to design and lead community engagement with local Bama (Guugu Yimidhirr) as part of their broader project to redevelop James Cook Museum for the 21st Century. As the project progressed we were engaged further to develop place identity and a brand strategy for the museum, as well as the design and interpretation of the museum’s exhibits. Installation of some museum exhibits, along with the museum’s rebranding to Cooktown Museum, commenced at the end of 2021, with ongoing design of additonal museum exhibits.

Opportunity for futures

An important and significant part of the Cooktown Museum project was to consider new, exciting and respectful ways to reimagine the way Aboriginal cultures, with a specific focus on the Guugu Yimidhirr nation, are understood and experienced in and around the building and grounds.

Our approach

The Maritime Room explores the maritime history of Cooktown and surrounds, conceptualised and developed following years of close collaboration with Bama-ngay (local Aboriginal people) and other locals passionate about Cooktown’s maritime history. The development of the interpretation in the Maritime Room was supported by Richard Ferguson, Cultural Heritage Consultant and Beverly Grant.


A focus of this room is the weaving of European histories of exploration with the historic presence of the Makkasans, maritime exploits of First Nations peoples, and Cooktown’s history as a port town. This approach captured a more nuanced history in contrast to the one of discovery and terra nullius often presented in Cook-centred narratives.


Visitors experience the exhibit in four parts of the exhibit: a journey from voyages and trade pre-dating Cook, the 48 days the HMB Endeavour crew spent ashore, the story of Reconciliation Rocks, and Cooktown’s transformation as a port town. Within this space visitors can also get up close to traditional canoes, the May-Belle and the anchor and canon from the HMB Endeavour. The room is capped off with interpretation that celebrates First Nations Innovation and Science, emphasised with connections back to Guugu Yimidhirr culture and knowledge.


We commend the National Trust of Australia, Queensland for providing the space, funds and continued trust to make this project possible and are grateful to all of the locals who have contributed their knowledge and lived experience to the project, notably Aunty Alberta Hornsby and Harold Ludwick.

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