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What was the European Discovery of Australia? - Answers

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What was the European Discovery of Australia?

Infographic on Discovery of Australia
Infographic Shows Map of Australia Depicting the Routes of the Early European Explorers

Various studies claim that the discovery of Australia was made more than 50,000 years ago. Aborigines are believed to be the first humans to have arrived and settled there. They were divided into clans, with each clan having its own language and culture.

Aborigines: The First Human Settlers

There is no clear evidence as to how Aboriginal people reached this land. Some evidence suggests that the ancestors of the Aborigines travelled through India, New Guinea, and Timor. They may have sailed on boats before they finally set foot on the Australian soil. Hunting and gathering was the sole means for the survival of the Aborigines. Right from the design of their homes to their clothes, the Aborigines had their own laws, languages and cultures. And it was through the means of storytelling, folk songs, art etc. that the history of their tradition was passed on from one generation to another.

The Early European Explorers

In the early 1600s, the Dutch sailors, particularly led by Willem Janszoon, were the first European explorers to arrive at the coast of Cape York and several other places near the West Coast. These early explorers went in search of gold and spices. However, it did not pay off. In 1642, the Dutch East India Company, in search of fertile lands and any kind of wealth, went on for the exploration of the land in South. The Dutchman Abel Tasman is credited for having sailed from Batavia to Tasmania. He named this discovered region as ‘Van Diemen’s Land’, though being unaware of the fact that it was actually an island. During the 17th century, the land came to be known as New Holland.

Post this came William Dampier, who reportedly made his first exploration nearly 40 years after Tasman, and a century before James Cook. Consequently, Dampier is titled as being the first Englishman to have discovered Australia in 1699.

The Final Discovery

Even though Tasman made an early discovery, he missed out on chartering the continent’s east coast. Dampier gave his own outlook of the land as primitive and backward. It is British navigator and explorer Captain James Cook who is significantly credited for the discovery of Australia. Not only did he give a better documentation and picture of the voyage to the South Seas, but also promoted the idea of ‘Noble Savage’, one that had been looked down upon by Dampier during his expedition.

To this end, in 1770 James Cook led a scientific exploration to Tahiti on his ship Endeavor for certain astronomical observations. Meanwhile, he was also accompanied by various scientists, an astronomer and a group of naturalists and artists. Upon instructions from the British Admiralty, he decided to undertake the task of searching for the South Seas. Having landed on the East Coast of Australia, noticing varied types of strange plants, Cook called this place as ‘Botany Bay’. From here, Cook further continued north, traveling across the coastlines. He successfully navigated the Great Barrier Reef and covered Cape York. Finally, Cook called this newly found land as ‘New South Wales’. This discovery of New South Wales is claimed for the British under the name of King George III. Captain James Cook was considered as the greatest explorer of his times. His insightful and thoughtful expeditions fascinate the world even today.

Colonization of Australia

Following the loss of penal colonies and settlements in North America after the American Revolution in 1783, the British Empire started using Australia as an exile colony. As a result, British ships brought more than 160,000 convicts to Sydney Harbor over the next 80 years. These men and women were assigned to hard labor on various farms and construction projects, and served the objective of British colonization of Australia. With the beginning of the 19th-century, other migrants or ‘settlers’, seeking livelihood and fortune, also started arriving in Australia.

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