Great Southern Land: The maritime exploration of Terra Australis
About this publication
Although Indigenous Australians had lived here for thousands of years, for the Europeans it was ‘Terra Australis Incognita’, the great unknown land. Early maps of the world showed a single land mass at the bottom of the world to balance, as one would with a set of scales, the land masses of the northern hemisphere.
Surrounded by an ocean barrier, the voyage from Europe to the world’s only island continent was long and often perilous. By the 16th century, however, European navigators were risking their lives and their ships to find new maritime routes to the spices and silks of Asia. At the beginning of the 17th century Dutch explorers began to uncover the secrets of the Australian continent. Willem Jansz and his crew of the Duyfken made history in 1606 by being the first recorded Europeans to set foot on Australian soil at the Pennefather River on Cape York Peninsula. Ten years later, Dirk Hartog discovered and mapped a stretch of the Western Australian coast. By 1618 the first accurate depictions of the coast of the Great Southern Land began appearing on European maps.
From that point on, for more than 250 years, Dutch, French and English navigators continued to discover, chart and expand the world’s understanding of the Australian coastline. The legacy of these intrepid explorers remains with us today, through place names such as van Diemen, d’Entrecasteaux, Cook, La Perouse, Freycinet and Bougainville, reminding us of this great age of exploration, adventure and the race to find new worlds.
Great Southern Land: The maritime exploration of Terra Australis was originally written to provide a context for the Australian Heritage Council’s assessment of coastal heritage sites. It is published as part of the Australian Government’s celebration of the 400th anniversary of Willem Jansz’s historic journey in the Duyfken. It is an absorbing story of an exciting period of discovery, and I encourage everyone to take a journey back in time, and through this book experience the exploration of our nation.
Senator the Hon. Ian Campbell
Minister for the Environment and Heritage