First European ship to reach Australia
A small Dutch ship called the Duyfken entered the pages of Australian history when it became the first European vessel to make a recorded visit to the south land’s shore in 1606.
During this journey, the ship’s captain, Willem Janszoon, and his crew also became the first Europeans to walk on Australian soil and the first to encounter Australian Aborigines. Althogh relations started well, bloody conflict ensued and lives were lost on both sides.
Janszoon mapped about 300km of the Cape York Peninsula’s western coast and in doing so became the first European to start mapping Australia’s coastline.
He was also the first of a small group of Dutch East India employees to map nearly three quarters of Australia’s coastline by the year 1644.
A voyage of discovery
Duyfken started its historic voyage from Banda, Indonesia, on 18 November 1605, sailing east along New Guinea’s south coast before heading south into the middle of the Arafura Sea and then south east.
When Janszoon and his crew next saw land, they would become known as the first known Europeans to sight Australian shores. They anchored at Pennefather River, about 150km south of Cape York, before landing and becoming the first Europeans to walk on Australian soil.
From Pennefather River, Janszoon took the Duyfken south for about 150km to Cape Keerweer (‘Turnabout’), south of Albatross Bay.
The Wik-Mungkan people
At Cape Keerweer, Janszoon and the crew became the first Europeans to make recorded contact with Australian Aborigines, specifically the Wik-Mungkan people.
According to the tribe’s oral history – some of which was committed to a book entitled Mapoon – a crowd of Keerweer people attempted to communicate with the white visitors.
The Dutch indicated they wanted to build a structure. The Wik-Mungkan didn’t object so the crew erected huts and sank a well.
The two peoples worked well together at first. The Europeans gave the locals tobacco, flour and soap. They were happy to receive the tobacco, but were unfamiliar with the flour and soap and threw away.
According to this account, the Dutch took some of the women and forced the men to hunt for them. Eventually a fight broke out, leading the locals to kill some of the Dutch and burn some of their boats. The Dutch are said to have shot dead many of the Wik-Mungkan people before escaping.
After the conflict, Janszoon took the Duyfken back north, mapping the coastline past their original landfall at Pennefather River and all the way to the tip of the Cape York Peninsula.
After leaving the mainland, he kept the Duyfken on a northerly course, sailing past what is now known as Prince of Wales Island and Badu Island, which lies in the middle of Torres Strait.
Not far north of Badu Island, Janszoon’s northerly path was blocked by a vast area of coral reefs he referred to as Vuyle Bancken.
Four hundred years later, Peter Manthorpe, who skippered the Duyfken REPLICA on a re-enactment voyage, wrote of the Vuyle Bancken:
”As he (Janszoon) sailed north, he eventually ran into a vast patch of shallow water devoid of any significant land to take a bearing of, which is marked ‘Vuyle Bancken’ on his chart. I understand this translates as it sounds: Vile Banks. He must have had some miserable days there. On our modern chart the same area is blank of all soundings and the legend reads: ‘Unsurveyed. Mariners attempting to enter this area should proceed with extreme caution as unidentified shoals, reefs and other navigation hazards may exist.’ When (the original) Duyfken encountered these treacherous waters, it marked the end of her voyage of discovery”.
Janszoon then turned the Duyfken west, touching on the south coast of New Guinea before arriving back in Banda in June 1606 via the Aru and Kai Islands.