Greg Bray, columnist for the Gladstone Observer. Photo Brenda Strong/The Observer
Greg Bray, columnist for the Gladstone Observer. Photo Brenda Strong/The Observer Brenda Strong GLA170212GREG

Why does the leader always go first?

FOLKS, on this day in 1770 a small row boat skidded to a halt on the sands of Botany Bay, and Lt James Cook said, "You go first Isaac." So, midshipman, Isaac Smith (Cook's cousin-in-law), leapt over the side and disappeared into history as Cook got the credit for being the first Englishman to step foot on to Australian soil... sand.

Now, I'm not taking anything away from James Cook, because he was a remarkable man, and I'm still greatly inspired by his courage, skill and determination, but I've often wondered why he felt it necessary to be in the initial landing party in the first place? It's the same whenever I watch old episodes of Star Trek. Why would the first group beamed down to some strange planet consist of the ship's captain, his second-in-command, the only doctor aboard and a couple of nameless extras who usually get zapped as soon as they land?

What if they all got toasted? How was the ship, and the remaining crew, supposed to get back home?

Frankly, if I'd been in Cookie's shoes, my leading landing party would have consisted of some junior clerks, the dishwasher, anyone deathly ill and the oldest member of the crew, to make first contact with any heavily armed folk milling about on the beach, while I waited safely aboard ship to see if they came back full of holes.

Possibly, the British Admiralty (and Starfleet Command) expected their chief officers to be the first ashore but, seriously, what could the captain do that couldn't be done by someone, well, slightly more expendable?

Anyway, whatever the reason, Cook's diaries often record his being among the first to splash down onto some foreign shore to meet and greet the startled natives. Jim was extremely keen to befriend them, no matter how many times he was attacked by people who earnestly wanted him, and his crew, to row back to their ship and go far, far away.

Fortunately, Cook was made of sterner stuff and thoroughly deserves his place in the annals of history, along with Isaac Smith's tiny footnote.



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