Thursday, March 09, 2006


Portugal 'did not discover Australia'


Herald Sun
By Denis Peters
March 08, 2006

THE tantalising and thriving theory that the Portuguese may have discovered Australia in the 16th century finds no fertile ground with historian Michael Pearson.

In his government-commissioned book on the maritime exploration of Terra Australis – Great Southern Land – Dr Pearson says there is simply no evidence.

If the Portuguese mariner Cristovao de Mendonca reached what we now know as Australia, it was kept so quiet that the discovery played no part in the story of the continent's discovery, Dr Pearson said.

"I'm an archaeologist so I'm a sceptic by profession," Dr Pearson said at the book's launch today.

"I say, show me the evidence."

Dr Pearson, an adjunct professor of cultural heritage management at Canberra University said: "There are certainly possibilities, always, of earlier discovery, but until I actually see some evidence which is convincing, I'll say that's an interesting story but I'm not going to go there."

Great Southern Land delves into the theories that are most celebrated around Warrnambool, Victoria, where it is said the so-called Mahogany Ship, a wreck sighted by European settlers, might have been Portuguese.

"It's a fascinating debate and there's a lot of evidence put forward but (there's) a lot of counter-evidence as well," Dr Pearson said.

The book says the Portuguese discovery theory was based on the so-called Dieppe maps in Europe.

"Whether the Dieppe maps demonstrate a detailed mapping of the coastline by the Portuguese remains an unproven and, on the balance of probability, an unlikely proposition."

Dr Pearson said that the early documented maritime visits, starting with Dutchman Willem Janz in 1606, were still of great interest.

"Think back to 1606 – Elizabeth 1 was still on the throne of Britain, Shakespeare was still writing plays and Galileo was still doing science," he said.

"So it's a long period of time. There were 40 Dutch navigators who reached Australia's coast before Captain Cook got here.

"Then after Cook (there was) a lot of Royal Navy exploration of our coasts.

"It's a very long history and a very exciting one."

Federal Environment Minister Ian Campbell said the Government would fund $495,000 for a campaign this year to mark the significant heritage places around the coastline.

"Australia's 25,000km coastline is rich in natural, historic and indigenous heritage treasures, yet its heritage values are not widely known," he said.

"Throughout 2006, the Australian Government will support a number of coastal and maritime heritage initiatives as well as a range of coastal and maritime national heritage list nominations, and funding for eligible projects with a coastal and maritime focus."


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