THE AUSTRALIAN MARITIME CONTACT PERIOD is a most exciting but not well known period, starting in 1606, when the first European mariners sailed into Australian water, recording their observations of this land and the residents they encountered. Every Australian should know the name of Willem Janszoon and his ship Duyfken, the first recorded ship and crew to chart an Australian coast as well as the first to meet with Aboriginal people. All Australians should also know the name of Louis Vaez de Torres and his ships San Pedro and Los Tres Reyes that sailed through Torres Strait later in 1606. Both Janszoon and Torres made the world aware of our northern coast, even though they did not realize the extent of the land they had stumbled upon.
Although 1606 marks the beginning of Australian written history another 52 European ships from a number of nations would make contact and add to the mapping of our coasts by 1770. Most of these were merchant ships, 41 of them from the (Netherlands) United East Indies Company (VOC) and included the ships Zeehaen and Heemskerk of Abel Janszoon Tasman’s 1642 first voyage to our land. He established in 1644 that our continent was an island with a north, west and south coast and, logically, an east coast. An Australian state has been named after him. Tasman has this in common with Queen Victoria. The names of most of these early mariners, their ships, what they observed, and when, are certainly well recorded. Consequently names like Dirck Hartog, Pieter Nuyts, Willem De Vlamingh, Francisco Pelsaert must be considered important ones in Australia’s history.
The subsequent charting of much of our east coast was carried out in 1770 by Englishman Captain James Cook in his ship Endeavour. Cook confirmed that Tasman had been correct in his conclusion that Australia was an island continent . Cook relied on the accumulated knowledge contained in the maps and journals of earlier mariners to find the east coast. Subsequently the final outline of the coast of Australia, including the realisation that Tasmania was a separate island, was detailed at the beginning of the Colonial Era by mariners such as Bass, Flinders and Baudin, the first two of these sailing from their ‘home’ base Sydney, Baudin from France.