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Discovering spirit of Australia

By David Cusworth - posted Sunday, 12 June 2011

Who discovered Australia?

Most would say, 'Captain Cook in 1770', though others might defer to William Dampier in 1688; Englishmen both, one a naval officer the other a pirate.

Others will note that Dutchman Abel Tasman beat them to the punch, sighting Tasmania in 1642.


In fact Abel Janszoon Tasman was trumped a generation earlier by the captain of the Duyfken, Willem Janszoon Blaeu, who in 1606 sighted the north coast of the unknown south land.

All were stout Protestants in contrast to the many Catholics who first made landfall in the Americas, but they were not without a curious rival, the Portuguese Pedro Fernando de Quiros, who claimed the main island of Vanuatu for Spain, also in 1606.

Quiros claimed it at Pentecost, May 14, for the Habsburg king Phillip II in the name of La Austrialia del Espiritu Santo - not, as might be supposed, the "Southland" but the "Austrian Land" of the Holy Spirit.

Of course, wearing funny hats and hanging around in shorts are habits of both countries, Austraya and Austria. Beyond that their fates diverge.

A Habsburg ascendancy, Catholic and Spanish-speaking, might literally have put us to work for the Pacific Peso, though independence might have come sooner with the collapse of Spanish Imperialism in the 19th century when British power was on the rise.

A case of swings and roundabouts, you might say, unless you believe in Australia as the Southland of the Holy Spirit.


In 1606 the Duyfken, or dove, hovered over our Protestant origins as the Spirit moved above the deep at the Earth's creation and its symbol, a dove, flew over the deluge at the world's recreation through Noah's Flood.

Did that protective Spirit deflect Quiros, halting the Hispanic hegemony far to the east and securing the great continent for vigorous Protestant work ethic and high public morals? That might explain why many sailed near but few sighted Australia until the British were ready to claim sovereignty. Quiros' deputy, Luis Vaz de Torres, went looking for him in waters off our north coast which now bear his name, but he did not claim the land.

If the theory holds water, Australia is the last inhabited continent to know the coming of the light, as the arrival of Christian missionaries in Torres Strait is remembered, because God decided its fate.

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About the Author

David Cusworth is a Western Australian writer.

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