The First Australian

Conrad Dixon describes how, in the service of the Dutch East India Company, Pelsaert of Antwerp was the first European to spend some time on shore.

Who discovered Australia? The textbook answer might well be that the discoverer was Abel Tasman who made voyages round part of the continent in 1642-44 and landed on the large island south of the Bass Strait that now bears his name, while Captain James Cook is credited with opening up the more fertile south-eastern quarter of the country to settlement in the following century. Neither Tasman nor Cook, however, can be numbered among the earliest claimants.

What should we accept as the test of discovery? My view is that the title should go to the individual who sleeps on the mainland of newly-discovered territory, notes the fauna, flora and climate and leaves a credible written record for posterity. If we accept these criteria there can only be one answer: Australia was discovered by Francisco Pelsaert who spent the night of June 15th/16th, 1629, in uneasy slumber on the hard earth a few miles north of Point Cloates in Western Australia.

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