Old Botany Bay

by Mary Gilmore

I’m old
Botany Bay;
stiff in the joints,
little to say.

I am he
who paved the way,
that you might walk
at your ease to-day.

I was the conscript
sent to hell
to make in the desert
the living well.

I bore the heat,
I blazed the track-
furrowed and bloody
upon my back.

I split the rock;
I felled the tree:
The nation was-
Because of me!

Old Botany Bay
Taking the sun
from day to day…

shame on the mouth
that would deny
the knotted hands
that set us high!



Note: On this day (April 29) in 1770, Captain James Cook sailed into a large harbor on the coast of what would become known as Sydney, Australia; he named it Botany Bay.

This is a beloved poem about Botany Bay, you'll hear the words ‘knotted hands’ – meaning the imprisoned hands of convicts who were made to work for Australia.

Last year, the Australian government announced they were budgeting $50 million to redevelop Cook’s 1770 landing place. The plans include turning the area into a major tourist attraction and include the addition of a $3 million statue of Cook himself.

Australia Treasurer Scott Morrison said it would be "a place of commemoration, recognition, and understanding of two cultures and the incredible Captain Cook."

The redevelopment is slated to be built by 2020, in time to mark the 250th anniversary of the landing.

As featured on
The Daily Gardener podcast:

Words inspired by the garden are the sweetest, most beautiful words of all.
Mary Gilmore
Mary Gilmore


  1. mark steinhardt on January 19, 2024 at 1:48 pm

    Is it really ‘conscript’? ‘Convict’ would fit just as well, and maybe would be more appropriate. I don’t have access to an original text to check – only websites, which as we know, often copy from each other. Be grateful for clarification (we did this poem today in my poetry class).
    Thank you. Mark

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