Saturday, July 10, 2010

Initial English Settlement, 1788–1799

The motivation behind the British settlement of Australia is often described as the establishment of a penal colony, to replace Britain’s loss of the American colonies in 1776. Certainly, many of the first Britons to reside in Australia were prisoners who had been transported to the new colony at Port Jackson for theft, prostitution, and other crimes. Nevertheless, to give primacy to this motivation is to ignore British leaders’ geopolitical impulse at that time to prevent their European rivals from expanding their own empires.

After Britain’s loss in the American War of Independence in 1781, during which France, Spain, and the other European powers had sided with the Americans as a way of weakening their British enemy, the British government under William Pitt, the younger, needed to secure Britain’s influence in Asia and the Pacific region. Certainly part of the motivation for sending Cook to claim land in the South Pacific that the Dutch had previously rejected was to prevent the French from claiming it first. One of the clearest signs that this was the impetus behind the sailing of the First Fleet to Australia in 1788 was that the governor of the new colony, Arthur Phillip, had risen to prominence in Britain as an international spy in France and South America (Clarke 2003, 44, 47).

The First Fleet, under Phillip, sailed from England in May 1787, after a drunken night of revelry of the ships’ sailors and officers, with 443 sailors, 759 convicts (191 of whom were women), 13 children of convicts, 160 marines, 51 officers, 27 wives, 19 children of free parents, and nine staff members for Governor Phillip (Clarke 2003, 49). Interestingly, among the convicts were not only people of English and Scottish nationality but also Germans, Norwegians, and both black and white Americans (Molony 2005, 33). The 11-ship contingent took just over eight months to arrive at Botany Bay on January 19–20, 1788, only to be bitterly disappointed at what they found. Instead of the green fields and forests described by Cook and Banks, the First Fleet arrived in the middle of summer, when heat and lack of rain made the entire landscape appear dry as dust and as infertile as the desert. Most distressing was the lack of freshwater. In less than a week, Phillip was forced to transfer his small colony to the slightly more promising region of Port Jackson, contemporary Sydney. On the second day of this short move, January 26, British flags and musket fire announced the establishment of Britain’s newest colony. January 26 continues to be celebrated throughout much of the country as Australia Day, except in many Aboriginal communities, where the day is marked as Invasion Day or Survival Day to denote the beginning of the disease, violence, and invasive government policies that destroyed life as they knew it.

The early years of the colony at Port Jackson were very difficult for everybody involved. The Aboriginal population, which was vastly larger than Cook and Banks had reported, began dying of introduced diseases almost immediately. The worst epidemic was smallpox, which killed an estimated 50 percent of the population in a matter of months in 1789. Despite its emergence in New South Wales at the time of settlement, the source of this epidemic was actually contact between trepangers from the Indonesian archipelago and Aboriginal people in Arnhem Land rather than the First Fleet (Hiscock 2008, 13). The convicts and soldiers of the settlement also suffered, from lack of food, clothing, and shelter and from violence at the hands of the Aboriginal people; even Governor Phillip suffered a fairly serious wound to the side from an Aboriginal spear in a formalized retaliation for some wrong (Perkins 2008, episode 1).

The worst problem faced by the colonists during the first several years of settlement was lack of food. Following the First Fleet, which lost one of its supply ships off Norfolk Island, the British sent a provision ship to provide extra food and support. Unfortunately, after loading with supplies at the Cape of Good Hope, the ship, HMS Guardian, crashed into an iceberg and was destroyed trying to return to the cape. As a result, the Second Fleet pulled into Port Jackson in June 1790 with its human cargo of 733 convicts and many hundreds of others akin to those who sailed with the First Fleet, before any additional supplies arrived to support the burgeoning colony.

Producing food in the harsh climate around Sydney was almost as great a challenge as the lack of imported supplies. The First and Second Fleets arrived on Australia’s shores with very few agricultural implements; the first plow arrived only in 1796, eight years into the life of the colony (Clarke 2003, 52). The hoes, shovels, and axes with which the convicts tried to break the dry, dusty earth and fell the heavy eucalyptus trees were woefully inadequate to the task. Seeds carried from the Dutch colony at the Cape of Good Hope were so barren that the new colonists began to believe the Dutch had purposefully sold them shoddy goods. As a result, rationing and protecting limited food stores became a top priority for Phillip throughout his four-year tenure as the colony’s governor. It was even possible to be sentenced to hang for stealing food in these first, crucial years, though one of the first to be convicted of this crime was pardoned on condition that he become the colony’s hangman. His first act was to hang his accomplice (Clarke 2003, 54).

Once the fundamental problem of food was solved, just prior to Phillip’s departure in 1792, the New South Wales colony had to establish basic social and economic structures in a land where about 80 percent of adults were technically prisoners and thus outside the normal functioning of society. One of the most important things that all governments in the colony did was to encourage marriages among all the single people in residence, convicts or otherwise. Female convicts who received an offer of marriage were usually freed in order to take up that offer, and, after 1816, male convicts could apply to have their wives and families transported to New South Wales at no cost. If the husband was not eligible for his ticket of leave, parole, or freedom, he was “given” to his wife to serve out the end of his sentence (Hirst 2005, 109). These marriages, the authorities believed, would improve both the morality and the industriousness of the colony’s population.

Despite the emphasis on morality, one institution that had only nominal support from the colonial structure was the church. The First Fleet sailed with a chaplain, the Reverend Richard Johnson, who was “a product of the evangelical revival in England” (Clark 1995, 13), but neither Governor Phillip nor his officer corps had any real belief in the Protestant mission. Unlike the early settlements in the Pacific established by Spain, Portugal, and France, England’s Australian colony was little interested in saving souls. Ecclesiastical leaders from both the Anglican and, after 1791, the Roman Catholic traditions were welcomed in the colony, but only for the purpose of maintaining order among the convicts, if possible. References to God do not occur in any of the documents related to the founding of the colony, either those produced in England before sailing or those produced in the colony after settlement (Molony 2005, 32–33). For a large number of convicts as well, the religious hierarchy in the colony was seen as merely an extension of the British class structure that kept them poor and indentured, and most saw the priests and vicars as merely “civil servants in cassocks” (Clark 1995, 13).

Although the First Fleet is recorded to have had passengers from a variety of nationalities, the dominant majority were English, who were at least nominally Protestant. This changed in 1791, when Port Jackson received its first boatload of Irish Catholic convicts, the first of more than 26,500 convicts sent directly from Ireland to New South Wales between 1791 and 1853. While some members of this group were thieves and other common felons, a large number were actual or reputed revolutionaries who had participated in various uprisings against the British. These differences in religion and loyalty to Britain between Irish and English convicts caused considerable conflict in the colony. The major problems from the point of view of the colonial leadership in the early years, as the judge advocate David Collins wrote in his journal, were the supposed ignorance and folly of Irish convicts, who believed they could escape and walk to China, or that the French were going to arrive to liberate them, or even that Ireland had finally overthrown the British and the Irish were thus no longer bound to the terms of their sentences (O’Farrell 2000, 22–23). Rather than seeing these fantasies as the result of generations of struggle for freedom by the Irish, the British considered them further signs of Irish stupidity and superstition.

A second important structural commitment made by the colonial government was to provide land grants to officers and convict labor to work that land in order to promote self-sufficiency in food and other products. Free settlers who arrived in New South Wales were also eligible for land and convict labor. As part of this deal, Francis Grose, Phillip’s replacement prior to the arrival of the second governor, allowed convicts to be paid in rum, which motivated many of them far more than had other goods (Clark 1995, 20). As a result of their control of labor through their control of rum, the New South Wales Corps gained the nickname the Rum Corps; their later rebellion against Governor Bligh is called the Rum Rebellion for the same reason (Clarke 2003, 59).

Portrait of Bennelong, circa 1795 (ink on card) by Lt. George Austin Woods (19th century) (Dixson Galleries/State Library of New South Wales/The Bridgeman Art Library)

A third issue that had to be worked out for the smooth functioning of the new colony was the relationship between the settlers and the Aboriginal people. According to both his orders and, seemingly, his disposition, Governor Phillip was more humane than subsequent colonial governors. His intention, according to Manning Clark, was “to open an intercourse with the natives, and to cultivate their affections, enjoining all his subjects to live in amity and kindness with them” (1995, 12). Phillip was so taken with the civilization and striking behavior of the Indigenous people that he gave the place-name Manly to their home by the cove. At the same time, the two Aboriginal men with whom Phillip had any kind of relationship, Bennelong and Arabanoo, were both kidnapped by white soldiers and presented to him to serve as potential translators and intermediaries between their people and the governor. Arabanoo quickly succumbed to smallpox and died while being held captive, but Bennelong survived the epidemic and went on to learn English and even travel back to England with Phillip when he returned home in 1792. Upon his return to Australia, Bennelong found adjusting to the conditions of his life very difficult. While living in Sydney he was often drunk and finally he rejected white society entirely and returned to his own people and former way of life. When he died in 1813, his rejection of the white world was deemed by the Sydney Gazette to be the result of his being “naturally barbarous and ferocious . . . a thorough savage” (Perkins 2008, episode 1).

Whether or not Phillip himself sought friendly relations with the Aboriginal people is a matter for debate, but certainly not all of the governor’s charges were concerned about maintaining “amity and kindness.” Among convicts and officers, stealing Indigenous implements, canoes, and other objects became a sport. In conjunction with this theft, the realization that the settlements at Port Jackson and later Rose Hill (Parramatta) and elsewhere were going to be permanent moved a significant number of Aboriginal people to oppose them with force. From 1790 until 1802 Pemulwuy led a band of fighters from the Bidjigal tribe in the Eora Resistance, which frequently attacked settlements along the Hawkesbury River and the Port Jackson area more generally (Clarke 2003, 56; Australian Museum 2004). One of the people attacked by the fighters was Phillip’s personal gamekeeper, McIntyre, who had probably killed a number of Aboriginal people as part of his role as a hunter.

At this provocation, in 1790 Phillip sent a punitive expedition against the Aboriginal people, the first of many over the next century and a half (Australian Museum 2004). While Pemulwuy escaped capture for a dozen years, in 1802 he was killed and his head removed from his body, preserved in spirits, and sent to Joseph Banks in England for research purposes (Molony 2005, 36). For three years after his death, Pemulwuy’s son, Tedbury, continued the Eora fight against the white settlers, until he too was killed in battle (Newbury 1999, 13).

A final problem that emerged in these early days of the colony and continued for more than 100 years was that of bushrangers; Murray Johnson estimates that about 2,000 of these characters roamed the Australian countryside between 1790 and the 1920s (2007, 31). While a few of these individuals, such as Ned Kelly and Jack Donohue (of “Wild Colonial Boy” fame), have become famous for the Robin Hood– like mythology that emerged around them, many were simply thieves who preferred cattle rustling to working. During difficult economic times, bushranging was also the only choice for some individuals; the same was true for escaped convicts. The first bushranger in Australia was John “Black” Caesar, whose nickname was derived from his race as either a West Indian or a “native of Madagascar” (Johnson 2007, 32). Caesar was a convict who escaped from Port Jackson numerous times between 1790 and 1796. While on his many leaves from his captors he generally lived by stealing from settlers’ and the government’s gardens, an act that could not go unpunished. He was captured in 1796, having been mortally wounded, earning the bounty hunters a reward of five gallons of rum.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The French Explorers

The first of the large number of French explorers who landed in New Holland during the 17th–19th centuries was probably Abraham Duquesne-Guitton, who in 1687 was blown off course on his way to Siam, or Thailand, and saw land he believed to be Eendrecht Land in what is today Western Australia. In the same year, Duquesne-Guitton’s nephew, Nicolas Gedeon de Voutron, is also believed to have visited New Holland and even landed at the site of the Swan River, contemporary Perth, which he recommended to his government as a suitable location for a new colony (Tull 2000).

Despite the promise of the new continent, French exploration in the South Pacific did not expand until 1766, when Louis-Antoine de Bougainville undertook an around-the-world journey that included the Great Barrier Reef off Australia’s east coast. In 1772 de Bougainville was followed to Australia by François de Saint-Alouarn, who not only explored the west coast of New Holland but landed at Dirk Hartog Island and claimed that land for France. He left behind statements of proclamation and several coins in bottles buried on the island. France never followed up on the claim, however, and the bottles were not found until 1998 (Shark Bay World Heritage Area 2007).

The year 1772 also carried the first French ship into Australia’s eastern waters, when Marc-Joseph Marion Dufresne landed in Van Diemen’s Land. Dufresne’s sailors also had the first violent encounter with the Aboriginal Tasmanians after early friendly relations turned sour. In the ensuing volley of stones and spears from the Aboriginal people and musket balls from the French, one of Dufresne’s men was speared in the leg and an Aboriginal man lost his life, the first of thousands killed by European guns.

Dufresne was followed in 1788 by Jean-François de La Pérouse, who spent about six weeks in Botany Bay just days after most of the First Fleet had abandoned the site. A few members of Arthur Phillip’s First Fleet had, however, remained at Botany Bay, and the two rival parties spent six amiable weeks together while the French ships reprovisioned for their continuing exploration (Marchant 1967).

In 1792, under Antoine-Raymond-Joseph de Bruni d’Entrecasteaux, and in 1802 under Nicolas Baudin, the French turned their explorations south to Van Diemen’s Land. The latter mission, which had begun with two ships, Nicolas Baudin in Le Géographe and Captain Hamelin in Le Naturaliste, spent several months in 1801 along the west coast of New Holland, charting territory, gathering plant and animal specimens, and generally fulfilling the intellectual nature of their mission, as symbolized by the names of their ships. Eventually Hamelin was sent back to France and Baudin sailed in the Casuarina with Louis de Freycinet, his previous mission’s cartographer, to continue his work in the region of Van Diemen’s Land. For their part, the English feared the political motives of Baudin’s 1802 mission and quickly sent their own ship to plant the Union Jack, almost literally, under Baudin’s nose on King Island (Marchant and Reynolds 1966).

While these 19th-century expeditions from France were largely scientific in nature, the French dream of a colonial empire did not die with the Revolution in 1789–99, and in 1822 Louis-Isidore Duperrey, who had sailed with Freycinet, set off on his own mission of exploration. He called in at Sydney in 1824 but never arrived at the Swan River site he was to scope out for possible colonization. His mission did push the English, however, to lay claim to the western half of the continent, as they did on Christmas Day, 1826. The Dutch had made a prior claim to that territory, but their long neglect and failure to leave any lasting settlement left it open to the British. Another Frenchman, Hyacinthe de Bougainville, son of Louis-Antoine de Bougainville, was also sent on a political mission to New South Wales when he was directed to spy on the Sydney colony during his time there in mid-1825.

The last significant French expedition to New South Wales was in 1838, when Dumont d’Urville rejected Port Essington, near contemporary Darwin, as a possible site for a colony because of the climate, flies, mosquitoes, and ants (Dyer 2005, 17). As a result of these French expeditions to the South Pacific numerous places, especially around Tasmania, today bear French names: the Freycinet Peninsula, Bruny Island, d’Entrecasteaux Channel, Cape Naturaliste, Bonaparte Archipelago, and Archipelago of the Recherche.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The English Explorers

Although Captain James Cook is the most famous of the English sailors to have landed in Australia, he was not the first. Cook’s 1770 voyage was preceded by that of the British ship the Triall, or Tryell, which in 1622 was wrecked on rocks that were probably to the north of the Monte Bello Islands, Western Australia. A number of survivors made it to Batavia (Jakarta) and described their harrowing experience, although their directions failed to turn up the rocks that caused the wreck, or the ship itself. In 1681 the London also approached New Holland’s west coast, but there is no evidence it landed near where the captain was able to draw the Abrolhos Islands, the location where the Batavia mutineers had held their rebellion in 1629.

Almost 100 years prior to Cook, in 1688, the Englishman William Dampier, often described as a reluctant pirate or buccaneer but also acknowledged as a knowledgeable naturalist (Wood 1969, Kenny 1995), was sailing with a group of pirates who had snatched the Cygnet and left its captain behind on a stopover in the Pacific. After visiting Southeast Asia, the pirates needed to avoid both Dutch and English ships and thus sailed to the east of the Philippines, south into Indonesia, and finally to Timor, where they turned south and landed in Australia (Wood 1969, 220).

In 1699 after the publication of a best seller based on his first journey, Dampier set sail again for the South Pacific, this time with the backing and legitimacy of the English Admiralty and Royal Society. Scientific exploration was the raison d’être of his mission, but what exactly he was expected to achieve was left vague: “He was told to discover ‘such things’ as might tend to the good of the nation and not to annoy the King’s subjects or allies” (Kenny 1995, 23).

His new ship, the Roebuck, sailed for New Holland at the start of 1699 and landed at Shark Bay, near Dirk Hartog Island, in July. He sailed north for about 994 miles (1,600 km) over the next five weeks, exploring all along the way. The results of this journey did not add significantly to what was known about the world at the time, as remained the case until 1770 when Cook finally made his way to the east coast of Australia, but did provide important descriptions of the continent’s unfamiliar plant and animal life, as well as judgmental descriptions of Aboriginal life (see Wood 1969, 221). Upon his return to Britain, Dampier penned his second best seller, A Voyage to New Holland, in which he described not only his Australian adventures but also time spent in New Guinea, Timor, and Brazil.

For 71 years between William Dampier’s second journey to New Holland and James Cook’s historic landing on the east coast, European activity in New Holland was extremely limited. Even the Dutch sent only two expeditions, in 1705 and 1756, which resulted in almost no new information about the imposing southern continent. After their final expedition, under Lt. Jean Etienne Gonzal, the VOC gave up on their large find in the South Pacific and left it to the Aboriginal people and occasional shipwreck victims.

This changed in 1768, when the British, following their victory over France and Spain in the Seven Years’ War in 1763, began thinking about expanding their colonial holdings and their scientific knowledge in the Pacific. James Cook’s first journey to New Holland in 1770 was motivated by these twin ambitions. His publicly stated task, given by the Royal Society, was to be in Tahiti on June 3, 1769, to observe the transit of Venus across the Sun, which previous British teams had failed to do during the transit of 1761.

The Royal Society, anxious to ensure its second attempt did not fail, approached the king and government with a request for £4,000 and a ship to send a scientific expedition to the South Seas for the express purpose of observing the transit. When the king agreed to the sum, the navy provided Lieutenant James Cook, who had had significant experience in North America, to command the ship HMB Endeavour and co-observe the transit with Charles Green, a Royal Society astronomer. The expedition was to observe the transit, chart new territory, gather as many specimens from the natural world as possible, and provide drawings, journals, and maps upon their return. As such the Endeavour carried a number of the best English scientific minds of the time, including Joseph Banks, an Oxford-trained botanist and later Cook’s good friend. Cook was also secretly directed by his superior officers to search the South Seas for sites that might yield financial gain, specifically in New Zealand, which had been “discovered” by Abel Tasman in 1642.

The expedition, by most accounts, was a success. As a result of the scientific explorations of Banks, Daniel Solander, and the others, about 1,400 new plant species and 1,000 animals were taken back to London. The one fairly significant failure on the scientific front, however, was the observation of the transit of Venus: Cook and Green’s observations differed by 42 seconds (Phillips 2008).

Despite the failure of the expedition’s stated mission, when Cook, Banks, and the others returned in 1771, they received a warm welcome in London due to their other accomplishments, scientific and other-wise. In political terms, certainly the most important was the claiming for England of New Zealand in 1769 and New South Wales in 1770. In New Zealand this event happened at Mercury Bay and in Australia at Possession Island, off the Cape York Peninsula, which Cook also named. Cook had actually landed on the eastern Australian coast four times, starting with Botany Bay, before he took possession of the land for King George III in August. In addition to New South Wales, Cook provided the newly “discovered” continent with many other placenames. The first was Point Hicks on the northern Victorian coast, named for the Endeavour’s first lieutenant, Zachary Hicks, the first to see this outcropping of land.

A replica of Captain James Cook’s ship HMB Endeavour, during his first voyage to Australia. Cook’s home harbor of Whitby, Yorkshire, England. (George Green/Shutterstock)

In addition to the vast number of scientific specimens and amount of knowledge they gathered, Cook and his crew provided the backdrop for Britain’s later colonization of its new possession. It was actually the ship’s head botanist, Banks, who in 1779 suggested to the Pitt government in London that Botany Bay might be a suitable place to deposit criminals who had been sentenced to transportation. The American colonies had been used for that purpose for many decades; about 50,000 people were sent there between 1650 and 1775 (Morgan and Rushton 2004). For a few years after the American Revolution stopped this practice, convicted felons in England served their sentences in the hulls of prison ships, until transportation began anew in 1788, commencing a whole new chapter in Australian history.

Before this initial settlement, however, in 1772 Cook and Captain Tobias Furneaux sailed again for the southern ocean to continue English exploration of the new continent. Although Cook never returned to Australian waters, Furneaux, in the HMS Adventure, used the opportunity to survey Van Diemen’s Land. While he explored much of the region, he was badly mistaken in his report to Cook that Van Diemen’s Land was connected to the New South Wales mainland. Cook had no reason to doubt his second in command and thus never returned to the region to investigate it for himself.

The last important English explorer of Australia’s unknown coastlines was Matthew Flinders. Together with his childhood friend Dr. George Bass and William Martin, Flinders began in 1795 by exploring the intricate coastline around Port Jackson in their tiny, six-foot boat, the Tom Thumb. Their expertise led the second governor of the new colony, John Hunter, to provide them with a real ship in which to clarify the status of Van Diemen’s Land as an island or peninsula. The three explorers returned to Port Jackson in 1798 having circumnavigated the island and thus were able to confirm its separation from the mainland. After journeying to England to gain support for his plan to circumnavigate Terra Australis, in 1801–02 Flinders was the first to chart the entire southern coast of the continent, from Cape Leeuwin in the far southwest, across the Bight, into Port Phillip Bay in Victoria, and north to Port Jackson. In July 1802 Flinders began his 11-month journey around the continent, which he called Australia, thus proving to all that New Holland and New South Wales were the same landmass. Unfortunately, after completing this journey, Flinders never returned to Australia again. On his way back to England he was held prisoner in Mauritius from December 1803 through June 1810 because of the Napoleonic Wars between Britain and France and died at the age of 40 after completing his massive work, A Voyage to Terra Australis, published just one day before his death in July 1814 (Cooper 1966).

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Dutch Explorers - Australia

In 1606 the Dutch sailor Willem Janszoon (sometimes abbreviated to Jansz) became the first European to document the existence of Australia. Between that first sighting and 1756, 19 Dutch ships were sent to Australia during the course of eight separate expeditions and a further 23 ships approached the continent while maneuvering to or from the Dutch colonies in the Indonesian archipelago (Sheehan 2008).

These expeditions were part of the larger mercantile and military exploits of the Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, or United (Dutch) East India Company (VOC). The background for this exploration was geopolitical in nature. The 80 years’ war between Protestant Holland and Roman Catholic Spain and Portugal meant that the Dutch lost access to the exotic spices sold in the markets at Lisbon. Their answer to this problem was to seek their own path to the spice islands, resulting in their 1595 mission around the Cape of Good Hope and the eventual establishment of the very successful Dutch colony in what is today Indonesia.

One of the ships on that first mission in 1595 was the Duyfken, or “Little Dove,” which was to make history just seven years later as the first fully documented European ship to call in on the Australian continent, probably at the Pennefather River on the west coast of the Cape York Peninsula. The Duyfken on this fateful trip was captained by Willem Janszoon. His mission, when he set sail under a VOC flag from Bantam in West Java, was to find out whether great wealth in gold was actually to be found in New Guinea, as persistent rumors maintained (Kenny 1995). Besides gold he would also have been seeking other salable commodities, from spices to fur.

Although neither Janszoon nor other VOC sailors found much to recommend the Australian continent, which they called New Holland, they soon charted a significant amount of the coastline: 11,713 miles (18,850 km), or 52.5 percent of the continent, from as far south as Nuyts Archipelago on the Great Australian Bight, along the western and northern coasts to western Cape York. In 1642 they also claimed Tasmania, which they called Van Diemen’s Land in honor of the VOC governor-general who had commissioned Abel Tasman’s expedition. The landing party placed the flag of the prince of Orange on the shore but saw no indigenous Tasmanians. Tasman was vague about the borders of his country’s new colony, but for nearly two centuries the prior Dutch exploration of west Australia, still called New Holland, was respected by the other European powers, which turned their attention to the relatively unexplored east coast.

Although Tasman failed to make contact with the Aboriginal people, certainly other Dutch explorers did have interactions with them, of both a positive and a negative nature. Reports vary, but it can be stated with relative certainty that at least one Dutchman was killed when Janszoon’s crew went ashore at the Wenlock River on the Cape York Peninsula. Jan Carstenszoon, who landed on Australia’s west coast in 1623, even offered financial incentives to his crew for the capture of Aboriginal people, and a number of them were taken back to Dutch headquarters in Batavia (Jakarta) and Ambon, where their trail disappears. In 1629 the Dutch ship Batavia was wrecked off the west coast and two of the survivors were banished to the mainland for mutiny. The two were provided with food, guns, and a number of trade goods such as mirrors and beads and told to “learn what they could about the country” as the first recorded European inhabitants of Australia/New Holland (Kenny 1995, 26). They were never seen by Europeans again but must have interacted in some way with the local population.

European Exploration and Early Settlement (1606–1850)

The European “discovery” of Australia and the entire South Pacific region was part of the much larger process of European exploration and colonization throughout the world that began with Bartolomeu Diaz’s Portuguese expedition to the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of Africa in the 1480s and continues today in French New Caledonia and elsewhere. The earliest explorers were the Portuguese and Spanish, who were driven by the twin motivations of “God and gold” to seek new routes to the East and to expand the boundaries of the known world.

Despite the importance of Spain and Portugal in the Age of Exploration, there is only circumstantial evidence that explorers from those countries sailed as far south as Australia during this period. The one exception to this is Portuguese sailor Luis Váez de Torres, who sailed from Peru under the Spanish flag with Pedro Fernández de Quiros, European discoverer of the Solomon Islands. On their 1606 expedition Torres’s ship became separated from the others and wound up sailing through the strait between Australia and New Guinea only a short time after Janszoon’s historic landing on Cape York (Kenny 1995). There is little doubt that Torres saw the mainland, but he seems to have mistaken it for yet another island and failed to go ashore or report to the Spanish the existence of the legendary southern continent. Nonetheless, his charts did later end up in the library of Captain James Cook, who persisted in his long and difficult journey through the Great Barrier Reef in the hope that the information was accurate and that he could sail to the west between Australia and New Guinea. Today the strait explored by Torres bears his name in honor of his early achievement.

Language - Aboriginal culture

A third feature of Aboriginal culture that is evident today and indicative of great changes over the tens of thousands of years of Aboriginal residence in Australia is the clustering of all Aboriginal languages into two large groups, Pama-Nyungan and non-Pama-Nyungan, which is sometimes also called Arafuran (Clendon 2006). The former family includes the languages spoken in nine-tenths of the country’s geographic territory, from the rain forests of Queensland to the temperate regions of Western Australia and Victoria, including most of the arid center of the country. The latter category, however, contains 90 percent of the continent’s precolonial language diversity in just 10 percent of its territory (see map on page 14). Many theories have been put forward to explain both the prevalence of Pama-Nyungan throughout the continent, despite its relatively young age, estimated at about 5,000 years (O’Grady and Hale 2004, 91), and the great diversity of the non- Pama-Nyungan languages. Some of these theories include the separation of these two groups in antiquity and subsequent differentiation over time; others posit that an incoming migratory group introduced dingoes, new stone tool technology, and Pama-Nyungan languages several thousand years ago (Mulvaney and Kamminga 1999, 73–74). It is more likely, according to O’Grady and Hale, that a single population spread their language across nine tenths of the continent as a result of an unknown internal factor. Some hypotheses concerning this spread include innovations in intellectual property such as songlines, kinship structures, and art styles; developments in material culture; or natural causes (O’Grady and Hale 2004, 92).

As is evident from these few select cultural features and historical trends, even prior to the colonial period in Australia the continent housed a dynamic, diverse population that over many millennia had continually adapted to climate and social change. The Aboriginal Australians living in the far north of the country had also adapted to a trading regime, with fishermen and traders visiting their territory from the islands of contemporary Indonesia. Although the exact date of their first landing in Australia is unknown, the early 15th century is posited as the most probable time when fishermen from the north first arrived in large numbers. Macassan hunters of trepang began to interact with Aboriginal Australians two centuries later. The Chinese may also have landed in the far north, although it is possible that the Ming dynasty statue found near Darwin was carried by Macassans rather than Chinese sailors themselves.

Religion - Australian Aboriginal religion

Dreaming stories form the basis of Australian Aboriginal religion. They provide explanations for how and why the world is the way it is, which usually relate to the actions of ancestors who created the world. The world depicted in these stories is much more complex than that of most Westerners, for whom the natural and supernatural, past and present, sacred and profane are separate. For Aboriginal Australians, these planes of existence are intertwined. Ancient ancestors created the world and everything in it, including rocks, lakes, animals, humans, the wind, and rain, but are also active in the present. Their past actions cannot be separated from present actions, especially in ritual, which remakes the world each time it is undertaken. The song lines or footprints of these ancient ancestors continue to cross the Australian continent and carry information back and forth from one community to another. Sacred spaces along these lines coexist with everyday or profane spaces, often materialized in rocks, rivers, and other geological features. Because of this continual sacred presence and the association in English with sleeping, many Aboriginal people prefer not to use the term Dreaming to refer to their religious beliefs but instead rely on the term used in their own language. Anthropologists sometimes use “the everywhen” to refer to the context of Dreaming stories in order to indicate their timelessness (Bourke, Bourke, and Edwards 1998, 79).

As is the case with specific kinship structures, Aboriginal religion is another area of indigenous culture in which 19th-century concepts and ideas may not represent beliefs and practices that are as ancient as the Aboriginal population in Australia as a whole. As mentioned, there is little evidence for the rock art that depicts Dreaming stories in Australia prior to the post-LGM period. The archaeologist Bruno David takes this argument even further, claiming that modern Dreaming did not emerge until between 3500 and 1400 BP (2002, 209). He reminds us that “modern Dreaming stories cannot be used as evidence for the Dreaming’s great antiquity, despite the possibility that a story’s contents may represent traces of particular historical events passed down in folk memory” (2002, 91). That said, there is solid archaeological evidence that Dreaming has been the basis of Aboriginal Australian religion for several thousand years, affecting both belief and practice through the present.

Another feature of Aboriginal religion is the sacred or totemic nature of certain plants, animals, geographic features, and other aspects of nature, including the Moon. Each clan not only is represented by its totem but is said to embody and be descended from it. For example, members of the kangaroo clan are believed to have had the same ancestor as contemporary kangaroos; the same is true of the spinifex clan, witchety grub clan, and so on. As a result, these animals and plants are sacred to their particular groups, who must not hunt or eat them or use them for other profane purposes.

As do other religions, Aboriginal religion has a body of myth contained in its creation stories, rules and prohibitions to follow, and a series of rituals that bring the myths to life. Religious rituals, regardless of the tradition in which they originate, are about regularly enacting the sacred moments of the believers’ history. For example, Christians partake in communion to reenact the last supper, when the apostles gave life to Jesus despite the sacrifice of his body on Earth. Aboriginal rituals likewise reenact the most important moments in the lives of their sacred ancestors as a way of connecting past and present. Rituals also provide moments for younger Aboriginal people to learn from their elders the words to songs, the moves to dances, the beat to songs, and the power of the ancestors in the past and present world.