Fish and chips instead of matjes
Captain James Cook is the discoverer of Australia - the Australians carefully cherish this myth. But the historical reality is different: Almost two hundred years before the English navigator, a Dutchman was the first European to set foot on Australian soil.
This year's celebrations in Australia to mark the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the fifth continent are muted. Only a few academic conferences and small exhibitions remind us that the credit for putting Australia on the world map goes to the Dutch: probably in March 1606 the "Duyfken" under the command of Willem Janszoon reached the Australian continent.
Foundation of a global corporation
At the beginning of the 17th century, the Dutch took over the Spice Islands – roughly what is now Indonesia – from the Portuguese. The Dutch were brimming with confidence, having just successfully shaken off Spanish rule. However, because Spain was allied with Portugal, the Dutch merchants were unable to use the Portuguese ports as a transshipment point for the spices and other exotic goods from Asia that are so coveted in Europe.
The Dutch therefore began to sail to the "East Indies" themselves from 1595. They succeeded relatively quickly in breaking the Portuguese trade monopoly and replacing Portugal as a colonial power. In 1602 the many different Dutch trading companies merged into one state-owned company: the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC). So globalization is just as little new as global corporations.
At the beginning of 1606, the governors of the VOC in Batavia, today's Jakarta, commissioned Captain Janszoon to sail east with his ship "Duyfken", which was only twenty meters long, and to explore the south coast of Papua New Guinea. The VOC hoped to find new riches. When Janszoon arrived at the supposed destination of his journey in March 1606, the disappointment was great: there was no pepper bush far and wide. Not a nugget of gold anywhere. Instead of trading relations and good friendships, there were skirmishes with the Aborigines.
Janszoon did not land in Papua New Guinea, but at Cape York in northern Australia. But the Dutchman didn't know that. The sailor was therefore unaware that he was the first European to discover the legendary southern continent, the existence of which scientists have been speculating since the times of the Egyptian scholar Ptolemy. Disappointed, Janszoon sailed back to Batavia and reported to his bosses: There is nothing to be gained Down Under.
In the decades after Janszoon, more Dutch people came to Australia, which they dubbed "New Holland". Not all on purpose. Some of the merchant ships did not turn north in time enough on their journey from Holland around the Cape of Good Hope and across the Indian Ocean to Batavia on Java and ended up on Australia's west coast. Like Captain Dirk Hartog.
In October 1616 Hartog arrived on the "Eendracht" in today's Shark Bay. Unfortunately, there are no details of his trip. "His logbooks and maps are lost," laments Paul Brunton, curator of the "First Sight" exhibition in Sydney marking the 400th anniversary of the Dutch arrival in Australia. Only a pewter plate, which the captain engraved with his name and the date of his arrival (25. October 1616) at Shark Bay testifies to Hartog's discovery.
Hartog's encounter with Australia's west coast raised a big question: is it part of the legendary southern continent or is it part of Janszoons' Papua New Guinea? The Dutch outfitted expeditions. One of the most prominent expedition leaders was Abel Tasman. On his travels between 1642 and 1644, the Dutchman discovered New Zealand - which he believed to be part of Australia - and a country he christened "Van Diemen's Land" after the then Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies.
Today the country is called: Tasmania. But Tasman never set foot on the land that bears his name. "Tasman never left his ship," Brunton says, adding, "He's the only explorer to have an (Australian) state named after him. But he never set foot on Australian soil."
After Tasman's tours, Dutch interest in Australia, which had nothing to offer them, rapidly diminished. Willem de Vlamingh was the last Dutch navigator to explore the "poor country" in 1697. Vlamingh found Hartog's pewter plate, replaced it with his own plate and inscription, and took Hartog's crockery back to Holland, where it is now part of the historical treasures of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
It is unclear whether Asian seafarers reached Australia before the Dutch. "There's no evidence for that," Brunton says. Around the same time as the Dutch, however, fishermen and traders from the Malayan Makassae began to travel the west and north coasts of Australia in search of sea snails. Numerous Aboriginal cave and rock paintings tell of encounters with the Muslim Makassae.
Great Britain with beach and palm trees
More than a hundred years after the Dutch, the legendary British circumnavigator James Cook arrived on the east coast of Australia in January 1770 – roughly where Sydney is today. Australians celebrate him as the discoverer of Australia. The Dutch simply don't fit into the historical image of the "Aussies", who still see themselves as a kind of Britain with beaches and palm trees. Cook is unthinkable without the Dutch nautical charts. "If the Dutch hadn't done the groundwork, Cook wouldn't have been able to get this far," Brunton said.
From a scientific point of view, Cook and his accompanying researchers such as Joseph Banks were enthusiastic about kangaroos, Aborigines and the many unknown plants. Economically, however, as Cook also reported, the country is a loser. New Holland sank once again into European oblivion. The useless country only came back to the British mind when the war for independence in the North American colony thwarted the idea of deporting thieves and murderers to Australia to relieve the domestic prisons. Australia's white settlement began on January 26, 1788, now Australia's National Day, with the arrival of the first convoy of prisoners in Sydney, a good two hundred years after the country was discovered by the Dutch.
But the British also had great merit in discovering and exploring Australia. Cook was the first to sail and chart Australia's east coast. However, sailors like Cook and the scientific greats of his day were not sure that New Holland was a large landmass. There was speculation as to whether a kind of canal ran from the Great Australian Bight in the south to the north, dividing the country into two large islands. Only the British explorer Matthew Flinders cleared up such assumptions. In 1798 he was the first to circumnavigate Tasmania and made it clear: Tasmania is an island. Three years later, Flinders provided evidence that Australia is a continent.
"Perhaps different European countries would have colonized Australia and the continent would now consist of different states with different languages," Brunton surmises, given the continent's history of discovery. Ironically, however, the we alth of their discovery remained hidden from the trading nation of Holland. Today Australia makes big bucks from iron ore, gold and bauxite. In addition, the country has forty percent of the world's known uranium deposits, and with the global renaissance of nuclear power, the Aussies could become "uranium sheikhs".
Who knows, if history had been different, perhaps a Dutch prime minister in Australia, rather than the descendant of British immigrants John Howard, might have signed two agreements in principle with China's Prime Minister Wen Jiabao over billion-dollar uranium exports to China. By building at least forty nuclear power plants by 2020, China wants to satisfy its booming economy's growing thirst for energy and halve its dependence on coal-fired power plants from the current seventy percent.
However, during his visit to Australia a few days after Wen Jiabao, the Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenede was only able to visit exhibitions and ceremonies commemorating the Dutch feat four hundred years ago.