My parents have visited Melbourne a total of three times in their lifetime. Two out of those three times they’ve visited “one of Melbourne’s greatest icons”. So, what tourist attraction is so great that it isn’t adequate for Mum and Dad to visit just the once and take 500 photos of, but needs to be experienced for a second time? Nope, not the SEA LIFE Melbourne Aquarium. Not the Eureka Skydeck. Not the Queen Victoria Market. Wait for it…. It’s Cooks’ Cottage in East Melbourne’s Fitzroy Gardens!
Since that first Melbourne visit four years ago, Cooks’ Cottage is the one Melbourne attraction that my lovely parents have not stopped talking about. “How wonderful this; how fascinating that,” they said on the return of their most recent visit, with their animated tourist eyes and cameras in tow.
“What makes a small, old cottage worthy of a repeat visit?” I wondered.
So in the spirit of adventure (that and I could not let another year go by being made to feel like I was missing out on Melbourne’s version of the Egyptian pyramids), I decided to go and check out this presumably gold-plated structure that must have magical fairies doing pirouettes off the roof.
What is this Cooks’ Cottage?
My assumption was that Cooks’ Cottage (note the nuanced placement of the apostrophe here, very important for later) is Captain James Cook’s former Australian abode. That is until the Australian history part of my brain woke up and reminded myself that the dates have done a little tangle dance in my head and that, of course, he never lived in Australia, he lived on the Endeavour! Glad I didn’t say that embarrassing morsel out loud.
So, what is ‘Cooks’ Cottage’ doing in Australia then? In the site’s discovery centre, you learn it’s actually a cottage that Captain Cook never lived in. His father originally built the cottage in Yorkshire, England, after Cook had left home, choosing to make his permanent address the ocean. This cottage is now in a city that Cook never visited or even had a real connection with. Except for the stretch that it was at Point Hicks – the furthest point of Victoria, about a million miles from Melbourne – that he first sighted Australian land. Yet somehow this is one of Melbourne’s greatest attractions, according to Mum and Dad?
How this English cottage made it half way around the world
No, it wasn’t A Wizard of Oz-like tornado. In actual fact, Captain Cook’s parents’ home was brought out to Australia in 1934 to commemorate the centenary of European settlement in Melbourne. Carted out in cases and barrels, it was painstakingly reconstructed one numbered brick at a time, and then styled with pre-purchased period furniture from York.
At the time, there was public concern around the fact that Australia had been sold a dummy given Captain Cook’s questionable connection. Yet, 80 years on, the City of Melbourne is no dummy, with the sounds of the cash register ringing as the tourists pay their $6.20 to walk through Cooks’ Cottage (note apostrophe again, implying it’s more than one Cook’s cottage).
Is Cooks’ Cottage worthy of a repeat visit?
For me, no. Just like I probably won’t go horse riding again, this bucket list item is well and truly ticked off, with a permanent, waterproof marker. And I feel like either my parents need to get out and travel more or stop watching so many history documentaries.
For me, the best bit was trying to find Cooks’ Cottage and roaming the lush, tropical wonderland that is Fitzroy Gardens. Aside from that, the option to don 18th century costumes as you explore the cottage is also pretty cool, in a weird inner-childhood kind of way.
Where I was expecting a history lesson injected with Red Bull, I was handed a double-sided A4 fact sheet, which told me what life was like in the 1700s and the purpose of the kitchen and herb garden.
Guiding my way through the tiny house, I met, repeatedly, with the very low ceilings. Head, meet ceiling. At my super tall height of 5”5”, the house was hardly suitable for a 6”3” navy captain. The cottage also doesn’t accommodate for a crowd bigger than 10 people. Breathe in as you clamber down those narrow stairs, which really need traffic lights and a roundabout given they can fit little more than two tourists at a time.
So the verdict is that my parents are so incredibly helpful in life, just not when it comes to travel advice. I would have preferred to spend my $6.20 on a coffee and almond croissant at the Fitzroy Gardens Visitor Information Centre’s café, but each to their own.
Cooks’ Cottage | Fitzroy Gardens, Wellington Parade, East Melbourne, Victoria
Phone: (03) 9658 9658
Price: $6.20, adult; $3.20, child (5–15 years); $4.50, concession; $17, family (two adults and two children).
Open: 9am–5pm daily, excluding Christmas Day.