Days of Yore
Saluting Australia’s Dutch roots
WEIPA, Australia _ More than 160 years before James Cook tracked Australia’s east coast, Dutch trader Willem Janszoon landed in Australia. That was in 1606. Recently, Dutch and Australian officials unveiled a memorial in this northern town of 3,000 marking it as the first recorded point of European contact with the Australian continent.
Janszoon sailed for the East Indies for a 3rd time in 1603 in “Duyfken” (Little Dove, replica shown in photo), part of a fleet of 12 trade ships. After arriving in Java, he was sent to search for other trade outlets, notably in “the great land of New Guinea and other East and Southlands.” On Feb. 26, 1606, he arrived on the western shore of Queensland’s Cape York and set out to chart 320 km of coastline. He believed it to be New Guinea. He was off by only 200 or so kilometers.
The first British foot on Australian soil belonged to William Dampier, a former pirate. On Jan. 5, 1688 his “Cygnet,” a small trading vessel, was beached on Australia’s northwest coast. Cook was the first European to explore the more habitable east coast. He reached New Zealand in 1769 and Australia the following year. The Dutch had no use for Australia then. They took the view there was nothing to be gained there. In the 17th century, that was all Dutch traders needed to know.