The Discoverers

The notion of Terra Australis across the known world, gains credibility between 90 – 168AD when Ptolemy, speculates that the Indian Ocean is enclosed to the south by land.  He writes that land in the north, is balanced by the lands in the South.

Pedro Ferndandez de Quirso a Portuguese

1603 – 1606 Pedro Ferndandez de Quirso a Portuguese navigator under King Phillip III of Spain leads an expedition of discovery reaching the islands of Vanuatu and names them La Australia del Espiritu Santo, honouring the King’s Austrian heritage.




Anthony Van Diemen

1642 – 1644 Abel Tasman under the orders of the Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies Company, Anthony Van Diemen is sent to map an area called ‘New Holland’ now known as the State of Western Australia, the location of many Dutch shipwrecks.  He misses the mainland and lands on the island at the most southeastern of the continent and titles the island Van Diemen’s Land, a name adopted by the British 70 years later that is now known as the State of Tasmania.


William Dampier


1688 William Dampier a buccaneer and navigator beaches on the northwest Australian coast known as the land of New Holland.  He landed ashore to speak with the natives who did not engage.



Navigator, said to be Willem de Vlamingh
62.6 x 50.2cm

1697 Willem de Vlamingh, a Dutch sailor names the Swan River now Perth Western Australia while exploring, after seeing a black swan at the head of the River’s entrance.

1720’s fisherman and traders form the island of Sulawesi (Indonesia) begin large-scale fishing voyages to parts of the Northern Australian coast.  Setting up camp for months they establish and maintain relations with the indigenous exchanging commodities such as cloth, tobacco, knives, rice and alcohol.

1768 Scottish author John Callender publishes Terra Australis Incognita urging the British to explore the ‘unknown continent’.

Captain James Cook

1768 James Cook is appointed to command HM Bark Endeavour to observe the transit of Venus of Tahiti and then to search for the ‘Great South Land’. He made three voyages across the Pacific Oceans mapping lands from New Zealand to Hawaii. He reached the south eastern coast on 19 April  1770 and made his first encounter with the Indigenous (Aboriginal) Gadigal tribe around Botany Bay (Sydney).  He headed north to modern Queensland docking in current Cooktown and ran into trouble on the Great Barrier reef.  He voyaged further north to Torres Strait and away from New Holland without annexing the continent.

Captain Matthew Flinders

1791 to 1810 Captain Matthew Flinders an English navigator and cartographer led the second circumnavigation of New Holland making three voyages between 1791 and 1810.  On his third voyage he circumnavigated the mainland of what was to be called Australia accompanied by Aboriginal man Bungaree. He recorded details of his voyages in a book and atlas named A Voyage to Terra Australis, within his book was the rationale for naming the continent Australia, later adopted by Governor Macquarie.