So we come to 1603 and a Dutchman named Willem Janszoon. In the last years before the formation of the Dutch East India Company he set sail for the East Indies as the captain of the Duyfken.
This ship was a lightly armed Barque 65 feet in length with a 110 tonne displacement and shallow draft. Her career was to be short (1595 to 1608), but noteworthy in terms of our historical journey.
By the time of Janszoon’s departure in 1603 she had already sailed twice from the Netherlands to the Dutch East Indies, been engaged in a naval battle with the Portuguese and undertaken a voyage of exploration where she got separated from the fleet, finding her way home alone in early 1603.
However, the plucky little Duyfken founder her way into the history books when Janszoon was sent to search for other outlets of trade in the East Indies. He was to sail the Duyfken beyond the ends of the known lands, to the east and south. The Duyfken’s shallow draught (some eight feet) made her perfect for coastal exploration.
So in 1605, the Duyfken sailed under the command of Willhelm Janszoon from the trading port of Bantam in modern day Indonesia towards the west coast of New Guinea. Janszoon took with him a hand picked crew for this voyage to unknown lands.
Reaching New Guinea, they encountered a densely wooded land. The dependable Duyfken followed the coast and at one point they dropped anchor in an inlet and sent a boat crew to shore to explore and forage. It was then they were attacked by natives who fired arrows relentlessly at Janszoon’s crew. In response the crew raised their muskets, fired and fell back towards their boat loosing with eight dead. Despite the set back, the Duyfken and crew pressed on along the coast. However, they ran into difficulty when they met an opposing current running from the east around the New Guinea coast, forcing them to turn south east.
Very soon they encountered a totally different landscape. For mile after mile after mile they charted a barren land, without colour and, seemingly, people.
But it is finally here, in 1606, we have our first authenticated European sighting of the Great Southern Land. Janszoon and his crew had inadvertently sailed south and were following the west coast of the Australia’s York Peninsular.
Over the following days they charted some 300 miles of coastline until running low on supplies they decided to turn about at Cape Keerweer (Cape Turnaround). They sailed back up coast reaching the mouth of the Batavia River. Again they were met with trouble. Desperate for food and supplies they sent a longboat ashore, but again they were met by local natives. This time they did not wait for an attack and fired, leading to the natives retaliating and spearing one of the oarsmen.
It was here that Janszoon, now with less than half of his original crew, decided enough was enough. They were low on supplies and the surrounding lands offered little in sustenance, but a lot of trouble. It was time to turn for home. However, they were still a long way from a friendly shore.
Despite the situation, the crew rallied under Janszoon, and headed to the closest port, that of Aru.
Finally, Europeans had made it to the shores of the Great Southern Land…and Janszoon was not finished yet…he was to return…