Describe the setting in “Botany Bay.” How does Sakr use this setting to explore Australian identity?

Omar Sakr's poem “Botany Bay” presents a relaxed setting on the grassy and sandy spaces near Australia's Botany Bay, where people from many cultures have gathered together to enjoy a nice day. The poem nods toward Australia's expanding diversity that blends Western heritage with other, newer cultures.

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Omar Sakr's poem "Botany Bay" describes a modern Australian scene, in which two men kneel upon a "grassy plain" which overlooks Botany Bay. They are facing the East, or in the direction of Mecca, and they are praying.

It is clear that the two men are Muslims. Sakr uses the Botany Bay setting to demonstrate the changing nature of Australian identity. He alludes to the arrival of Captain Cook, who brought Western culture to Australia, but also refers to an array of foods from cultures who have more recently arrived in Australia. Not only simply the land of "fish and chips," this modern Australia is a place where Muslims can peacefully pray at Botany Bay and where Italian and Asian food is also enjoyed.

Sakr questions what Cook would have thought of this new Australian, where the very sky is "hijabbed," or veiled. The choice of wording here draws a clear connection between the arrival of Muslims in Australia and the way in which the landscape and atmosphere of Australia have changed. However, by alluding to Captain Cook, he is reminding the reader that the English-based, Western culture which first sprung up in modern Australia was the aftermath of "invasion," too. Australia is a nation of immigrants, and just as Captain Cook and his sailors made a significant change to the country, more recent immigrants are doing the same, but in gentler and less violent ways.

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To discuss how the setting in Omar Sakr's poem “Botany Bay” explores Australian identity, focus on the meaning of Botany Bay itself. In the first stanza, Sakr directs the reader to two men praying on a grassy plain that overlooks Botany Bay. In 1770, Captain James Cook landed on Botany Bay. He began to map out and explore the land mass that’d become known as Australia. Cook was working for the British and King George III, who wanted Cook to claim the territory for the British Empire.

Of course, Cook did not really discover Australia. There were people already living there. By setting his poem around Botany Bay, Sakr is possibly trying to comment on the fact that Australia’s identity comes from colonialism and conquest. The parts of the poem that point to general aspects of Australian identity, like the steaming fish and chips, aren’t necessarily natural to Australia. They reflect the culture that was brought over from the West. In this sense, the speaker, with his Arab identity, shouldn’t be considered an outsider or a foreigner anymore than other Australians. Instead, he's part of a melting pot of cultures which have blended together over the years to become something greater.

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The setting in Omar Sakr's poem "Botany Bay" is the "grassy plain" which overlooks the eponymous bay. Botany Bay is close to Sydney, on the south-east coast of Australia, and it is famous as the place where James Cook and the HMS Endeavour first landed in 1770.

In the poem, there are children playing on the "grassy plain," and we can infer that it is very hot because the children are "squinting / in the heat." We are also told that where the "grassy plain" meets the water it becomes "pebbled cliffs and sand." Across the plain there wafts the smell of "fish and chips steam[ing] in the sun." Overall the setting is described as a peaceful, beautiful, rather idyllic place.

There is a bridge from the "grassy plain" to "Captain Cook's museum," and the museum "looks both close / and awful in the distance." It is this aspect of the setting (the museum) which prompts the speaker to consider Australian identity. The museum has been erected to mark the arrival of Captain James Cook and the speaker refers to this arrival as "the invasion." The choice of this word immediately suggests that Australia, at least from the speaker's point of view, has forged for itself a proud identity, independent of the British colonization which followed James Cook's "invasion."

As the speaker imagines what James Cook might have thought about Botany Bay today, he envisions the bay, and thus, by extension, Australian identity, as multicultural, independent and free. The multicultural aspect of the setting is implied by references to the different types of food ("fish and chips … pide, eggs, / cucumber and focaccia") being enjoyed by the people on the plain, and also by the adjective "hijabbed" used to describe the sky. The freedom that the speaker associates with the bay is implied by that fact that he is lying idly on the grass, looking up at the sky, and it is implied also by the aforementioned children who are playing freely on the plain.

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The poem “Botany Bay” by Omar Sakr presents a busy scene on a grassy and sandy area overlooking Australia's Botany Bay. Two men are praying near the sea. Children run around playing their games. Seagulls look (and fight) for food. Couples sit on blankets on the sand or walk hand in hand. Food is plentiful, everything from fish and chips to focaccia. The speaker's aunt points out a museum dedicated to Captain Cook. As the speaker looks into the hazy distance, he sees a bridge. Then he lies on the grass, looking up at the sky, lost in his daydreams. He notices his grandmother, too, sitting nearby rocking.

This scene suggests the diversity that is now a part of Australian identity. The poet hints that the people gathered in this area of grass and sand are diverse. The men are praying facing East as Muslims do. The speaker's grandmother does not join in the formal prayers but wears her faith on her face. The speaker's reference to the “hijabbed sky” suggests that he and his family are also Muslim.

Further, some people sharing an afternoon together eat the traditional British-style fish and chips. Others, like the speaker's family, feast on different fare that matches their culture. The reference to Captain Cook's museum reminds the reader of Western culture, preserved, studied, and appreciated. Yet the speaker wonders what Captain Cook would make of the scene before him, a scene comprised of many people from different cultures all gathered together to enjoy a lovely afternoon at Botany Bay.

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