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2006-01-23 00:00

  1450 - 1756 AD: For centuries, European explorers make rough charts of some of the Australian coastline leading to speculation that a "Great Southern Land" exists. This unknown land was referred to in Europe as Terra Australis Incognita. In the mid-late 15th century, Portuguese traders and explorers made numerous visits to Timor and New Guinea and often sailed into the Torres Strait. It is conceivable that they sighted Australia and may have even stepped ashore but there is no record (or no interest) of any such visits. Later, a number of Europeans did record landing on Australian shores. In June 1606, Dutch Captain William Janz in the Duyfken misses the Torres Strait and lands on a beach in Cape York only to flee after one of his men is killed by natives. In October, 1606, another Dutchman, Dirck Hartog in the Eendracht 'accidentally' lands at Shark Bay in Western Australia, having gone too far east from the Cape of Good Hope whilst trying navigate his vessel towards the East Indies. What followed was a series of similar incidents to other Dutch vessels and the Dutch were making a broken map of the West Australian coastline. By now, Terra Australis Incognita was being commonly referred to as New Holland. These discoveries prompted the Dutch govt to look closer at "Nova Holland" and in 1642 they instructed Abel Janzoon Tasman to make good use of his proximity's and map the Gulf of Carpentaria and if possible, explore Australia's northern coastline. Tasman sailed in the Heenskerck and the Zeehaen. He planned to head across the Indian Ocean until he sighted Western Australia and then head north. However, he was  blown south in the Southern Ocean until he hit the west coast of Tasmania, naming it Van Diemens Land after the Governor General of Batavia. From here, Tasman went to New Zealand before anchoring in Batavia. Tasman was later instructed to try again to explore Northern Australia and finally did so in 1644 but the voyage revealed little with Tasman giving a less than glowing report on the 'wretched naked beachcombers and wicked men". Further Dutch expeditions also gave similar reports which generally described Australia as being an arid and poor land without any fruit trees and showing no promise.

  Little interest was shown in Australia until 1688 when English privateer and adventurer, William Dampier in the Cygnet landed on the West Australian coast. Dampier and his crew stayed for weeks while they carried out  repairs on their vessel. It was the longest stopover by any European to date. Dampier's writings on the people, geography, climate, flora and fauna of Australia were published in 1697 and were to influence European perceptions of Australia for 100 years.

  By 1756, much of the Australian north , west and south coast had been mapped but the east coast was still largely a mystery. By the mid 18th century, French navigators were showing interest in Australia.

  1770: HM Bark Endeavour, captained by James Cook (ref1, ref 2, ref3) anchors in "Botany Bay". Cook, one of history's great navigators maps the east coast of Australia. He formally claims "New South Wales" for Britain. Sir Joseph Banks gave graphic and wondrous description of the flora and fauna of the aptly named, Botany Bay. For the first time, British subjects view sketches of Wattle, Kangaroo, Emu. Goanna, Koala,  Echidna and Kookaburra. The images of Kangaroo, Emu and Wattle become Australian icons.

  The name "Kangaroo" comes from the Koori community of Sydney. Legend states that when Banks asked a local aborigine to describe the leaping marsupial he received a simple answer of "I don't know what you're talking about' which sounded like "Kangaroo" - Banks made meticulous records of his discoveries.

  Sir Joseph Banks was a tall man who slept with the crew because his cabin at the stern of the Endeavour was not long enough.

  1788: Captain Arthur Phillip and  the "First Fleet". Following the American war of independence, British authorities decide on New South Wales as being ideal for the next penal colony. 11 convict ships, headed by the Sirius sail into Botany Bay only to reject it as being too sandy. Phillip ventures a few miles north and enters a massive & beautiful harbour of "1000 Coves" which he names "Port Jackson". Phillip finds a suitable settlement in "Sydney Cove". After hoisting the British Flag on January 26, Phillip becomes the first Governor of New South Wales. Its fair to say this first European colony in Australia was done so with little time to spare. As Phillip left Botany Bay in the Sirius on his way to Port Jackson, 2 French ships, the Boussole and the Astrolabe under the command of Jean-Francois de Galaup, Comte de La Perouse were entering Botany Bay. Although on "voyage of discovery" it has been speculated that the French intended to set up base at Botany Bay and claim New South Wales for France. ( Tragically, after their departure from Botany Bay, La Perouse and his crew were never heard of again and were presumed lost at sea).

  In Port Jackson, Governor Phillip went to work quickly and by July, the small settlement was beginning to take on the appearance of a township. It has been reported that Governor Phillip was very careful not to offend the local natives but Aborigine and the Settlers cultures were so different. They didn't understand each other.

  The British colonists declared that before their arrival all of the continent was "terra nullius" (uninhabited by humans). They used this as justification for taking whatever they wanted. This has resulted in over 200 years of conflict and prejudice.

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