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The Great South Land

During the golden era of European colonisation, tales of a'Great South Land', a promising piece of land in the far south of the southern hemisphere, were often spread among Europeans. In the imagination of many European explorers at that time, it was a large piece of land in the south, rich in gold, gems, valuable spices and precious metals. During the 16th century when there was so much exploration and colonisation around the world, it was no surprise that many Europeans had a strong desire to make their way to this fabled land.

Australia was discovered by Europeans by accident as Europeans made their way to the Spice Islands (present-day Indonesia) to trade goods. Most of the first explorations were undertaken by Dutch explorers as they tried to establish a trading post to trade spices from the Spice Islands.

Who explored different parts of Australia first?

Willem Jansz

Willem Jansz, a Dutchman, was the first European to set his foot on The Great South Land.

In 1603, Willem Jansz sailed his ship, the'Duyfken' to the western edge of Cape York Peninsula. Jansz was the first European to make contact with the Aboriginal peoples of Australia. After his crew was killed by Aboriginal people, Jansz suggested that the land should be avoided.

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Luiz Vaez de Torres

Torres Strait was named after Luiz Vaez de Torres, a navigator from the Spanish navy. In 1607 Luiz Vaez de Torres received orders from the Viceroy of Peru to sail westward and then head 20 degrees south latitude. Torres was then to turn north to Manila, then to sail across the Indian Ocean around the Cape of Good Hope in Africa and back to Spain.

When reaching New Guinea at 21 degrees south latitude, Torres tried to pass to the north off the east coast of New Guinea. Torres was unable to follow that route, so he sailed westward along the southern coast of New Guinea. Torres then passed through the waters now known as Torres Strait which is when he saw the Torres Strait Islands.

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Dirk Hartog

Dirk Hartog discovered the west coast of Australia in 1616.

In 1616 the ship'Eendracht', captained by Dirk Hartog, was the second Dutch vessel to land on the continent. Dirk Hartog with his sailors were trying to discover a way to reduce the time it took to sail across the Indian Ocean to the Spice islands (also called the East Indies). While trying to sail from Holland to Java, Hartog overran his easterly course. He instead found the west coast of Australia near Shark Bay and landed on an island.

The island Hartog landed on is now called Dirk Hartog Island. Hartog spent three days exploring these islands and when he left, he fixed a pewter plate to a post. On the plate he had etched a record of the date of his visit.

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Francois Pelsaert

In 1629, a large trading vessel, the'Batavia', commanded by Commander Francois Pelsaert, was wrecked on Morning Reef in the Houtman Abrolhos Islands. This reef is only about 60 km off the coast of Geraldton, Western Australia. Pelsaert rowed to the mainland, in search of fresh water. Pelsaert failed to find water, so he decided to row to Batavia (Indonesia) to find a rescue ship. Travelling this way, he followed the coast for about 190 kilometres before heading north-west for Indonesia.

Abel Tasman

Abel Tasman was an experienced Dutch sea captain who discovered Tasmania in 1642. Appointed by the Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies, Tasman led an expedition to explore the world's southern regions.

The journey began in Batavia (present-day Jakarta) on 14 August 1642. On the afternoon of 24 November 1642, Tasman was excited to see a mountainous land appear on the horizon. He thought he had finally discovered The Great South Land. Tasman and his crew travelled south and charted the coast of what is today Tasmania.

Tasman named the island Van Diemen's Land after Anthony van Diemen, the Governor-General who had commissioned his voyage. Tasman claimed Van Diemen's Land for The Netherlands.

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William Dampier

William Dampier first explored the north-west coast of Australia in 1688, in the 'Cygnet', a small trading vessel. On 5 January 1688 he went ashore at Cape Leveque, near what is now Broome in Western Australia, and explored King Sound and the Bucaneer Archipelago.

Before returning to England, Dampier made another voyage of exploration to New Holland (another name for the western parts of Australia at that time) in 1699. On 1 August 1699 he reached New Holland at Shark Bay. In September 1699 Dampier discovered and named Roebuck Bay.

As the first Englishman to see Australia, Dampier was able to describe some of the flora and fauna. He was the first to report Australia's peculiar, large, hopping animals.

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