Cook monument centrepiece of Kurnell plan

Jamie McKinnell and Jodie Stephens
The NSW and federal governments will fund a $50m redevelopment of Captain Cook's landing site

A leading historian is optimistic plans for a new monument at the Kurnell landing site of Captain James Cook will spark an honest national conversation about the shared history of indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.

The aquatic monument will be part of a redevelopment to commemorate the 250th anniversary in 2020, funded by $25 million each from the state and federal governments.

University of Sydney Professor Mark McKenna believes it's important the project is viewed in a positive light, particularly given the Kurnell community has already worked hard to acknowledge shared history.

"So often we've been unable to approach these moments - like the anniversary of Cook's landing, or January 26 - we haven't been able to find a way to work through these moments in our past without dissolving into unbridgeable chasms of differences in understanding," the historian told AAP on Saturday.

"After all we've been through, after all we know now, here's an opportunity to build on what's already happened at Kurnell."

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Treasurer Scott Morrison on Saturday released a draft master plan for consultation.

It includes a new visitor centre, cafe and exhibition space, ferry wharves at La Perouse and Kurnell, the refurbishment of an existing Captain Cook monument and a new water-based monument.

Prof McKenna, who recently penned a Quarterly Essay examining how citizens and politicians can come to terms with Australia's history, believes the state "lags behind" local communities which are coming together in a less divisive manner.

Colonial-era memorials have been divisive in recent times, with Cook statues in Sydney's CBD and Melbourne vandalised in the past year.

Prof McKenna believes existing monuments - some of which spark anger with their use of language such as describing how Cook "discovered" Australia - should be retained because they illustrate how our understanding has evolved.

"People can revile Cook, they can praise him, they can eulogise him, but we can't escape him," he said.

Mr Morrison said the redeveloped site would tell the shared stories of Australia.

"In our community we understand that this is about a meeting of two cultures, recognising the incredible individual that was James Cook and ... commemorating the resilience of indigenous Australians," he said.

Mr Turnbull said the project offered an "exciting and interesting" challenge for the design team which will aim to portray the view from both the ship and the shore.

"This is a momentous place and it's one that we need to celebrate, to understand, to interpret and reflect on as we become even closer together in this extraordinary nation of ours," he said.

Prof McKenna said one of the major obstacles for the project's success would be people jumping to conclusions and assuming things about the project.

"Generally what we have to show, as part of the journey of constitutional recognition, is being willing to listen to indigenous voices," he said.

"I think we can do that here."

The Sutherland Shire Council will on Sunday commemorate the "meeting of two cultures", as it does every year, with a ceremony in Kamay Botany Bay National Park.