Mapping Australia: Heritage

Mapping Australia: Heritage

An introduction to the past that connect Australia and the Netherlands.

The connection between the Netherlands and Australia goes back more than 400 years. Following the 2006 celebration of the 400th anniversary of the first contact, there was another quad-centenary in 2016 - in 1616 the Dutch East India Company (VOC) sailor Dirk Hartog anchored his ship on the west coast of Australia, the first European to set foot on Western Australian soil. Furthermore, 2012 marked the 300th anniversary of the wrecking of the merchant ship the Zuytdorp (1712-2012), off the Western Australian coast. The strong historical ties between Australia and the Netherlands have resulted in many interest groups and countless shared cultural heritage activities.

Within the framework of the Shared Cultural Heritage programme, the Dutch Diplomatic missions in Australia focus on the so-called 4 M’s: Maritime, Migrant, Military and Mercantile heritage.

A Shared History of Australia and the Netherlands

Shared Maritime Heritage
In 1606, the crew of Dutch VOC vessel Duyfken, under the command of captain Willem Janszoon, made landfall near Mapoon, on the Cape York Peninsula. This constituted the first recorded contact on Australian soil between the Indigenous people of Australia and Europeans. In the following decades, Dutch seafarers such as Dirk Hartog (1616), Abel Tasman (1642) and Willem de Vlamingh (1696) further explored the Australian coast and mapped large parts of the continent. Reminders of the shared maritime history of Australia and the Netherlands can be found all over the Australian continent, for example in geographical names such as Tasmania, Zuytdorp Cliffs, Dorre Eiland, Cape Leeuwin, Schouten Eiland, Houtman Abrolhos, Swan River and the village of Zeehan.

Four Dutch VOC ships wrecked off the coast of Western Australia in the 17th and 18th century: Batavia (1629), Vergulde Draeck (1656), Zuytdorp (1712) and Zeewijk (1727). In the 1960s, the four Dutch shipwrecks were discovered and excavated just off the coast of Western Australia. The Batavia was discovered in 1963 on Morning Reef near Beacon Island. That same year the remains of the Vergulde Draeck were located on a reef about 12 km south of Ledge Point. The Zuytdorpwas was discovered in 1964 on an exposed reef between Kalbarri and Geraldton. Finally, the wreckage of the Zeewijk, scattered along Half Moon Reef, was found in 1968.

In 1972 these discoveries and consequent excavations led to the ‘Agreement between the Netherlands and Australia Concerning Old Dutch Shipwrecks’ (ANCODS). Under this agreement the wrecks and artefacts belonging to them were divided between Australia and the Netherlands. On the occasion of the commemoration of 400 years of the bilateral relationship in 2006, the Netherlands Government announced it would give its share of to Australia. The official handover took place in November 2010 at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney.

Shared Migrant and Mercantile Heritage
The close ties that the Netherlands has developed with Australia also abound through the history of migration in the 20th century. Many Dutch migrants moved to Australia after World War II, when the Dutch government actively encouraged emigration to relieve housing shortages and economic distress. Many of these migrants contributed to the Australian economy as entrepreneurs and manufacturers, setting up businesses and consequently leaving traces of mercantile heritage. The Dutch were called the 'invisible migrants' as they integrated well into Australian society. The Australian Census 2016 recorded 70,165 Netherlands-born people in Australia whilst 339,549 of the respondents claimed Dutch ancestry.

Shared Military Heritage
During World War II, the Netherlands and Australia were close allies. As part of the allied opposition to Japan, the Royal Netherlands and East Indies Forces operated from Australia. After the Netherlands East Indies (Indonesia) fell to the Japanese, both soldiers and refugees fled to Australia. On 3 March 1942 a number of ‘flying boats’ that flew Dutch evacuees to the port of Broome, Western Australia, were bombarded by Japanese naval forces and many of them were killed. The wrecks of the aircrafts are still in the sea. In March 2017 the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the strafing of Broome was held in Western Australia.