Dutch-Australian Cultural Heritage

The historical ties that bind the Netherlands and Australia date back to the early 17th century, when Dutch VOC ships were the first Europeans to map and chart the coastline of the Australian continent.

Maritime, Migrant, Military and Mercantile heritage

The Dutch Diplomatic missions in Australia commit themselves to the sustainable preservation and promotion of Dutch-Australian heritage, gathered together as the so-called 4 M’s: Maritime, Migrant, Military and Mercantile heritage.

The embassy's Shared Cultural Heritage programme is part of the International Cultural Policy Framework for 2017-2020, see Beleidskader Internationaal Cultuurbeleid 2017-2020 (in Dutch).

Shared Maritime Heritage

Dutch seafarers Willem Janszoon was the first European to make a recorded landfall on Australian soil in 1606. In the following years, Dutch seafarers such as Dirk Hartog (1616), Abel Tasman (1644) and Willem de Vlamingh (1696) further explored the Australian coast and mapped large parts of the continent.

Some encounters turned out to be more faithful than others. Along with the wrecks of the Batavia, Vergulde Draeck, Zuytdorp and Zeewijk, the reminders of the shared maritime history of Australia and The Netherlands are scattered all over the Australian continent, as is shown by the many Dutch names on the map of Australia; Tasmania, Zuytdorp Cliffs, Dorre Eiland, Cape Leeuwin, Schouten Eiland, Houtman Abrolhos, Swan River and the village of Zeehan.

None other than Captain Cook himself confirmed the importance of the early explorations of the Australian continent by the Dutch. On 22 August 1770 he wrote in his journal: “I therefore may find no more upon the Eastern coast of New Holland and on the Western side I can make no new discovery, the honour of which belongs to the Dutch navigators.”


In the 1950s and 1960s four wrecks of the Dutch East India Company were discovered and excavated just off the Western Australian coast: Batavia, Vergulde Draeck, Zuytdorp and Zeewijk. In 1972 these excavations led to the ‘Agreement between the Netherlands and Australia Concerning Old Dutch Shipwrecks’ (ANCODS). Under this agreement the wrecks and artefacts belonging to them were divided between Australia and the Netherlands. On the occasion of the 400 years of bilateral relationship between Australia and the Netherlands, the Netherlands gave its share of the treasure to Australia. The relics were repatriated to Australia in November 2010. In 2011 the entire collection, documented and photographed, was made available online, in the ‘ ANCODS Collection Database’.

South Land to New Holland

The online exhibition 'South Land to New Holland: Dutch Charting of Australia 1606–1756' celebrates early Dutch exploration of the Australian coast, drawing on the rare maps and other resources from the collections of Australia's National, State and Territory libraries.

Shared Migrant and Mercantile Heritage

The close ties that the Netherlands has developed with Australia also abound through the history of migration in the 20th century. Many Dutch migrants moved to Australia after World War II, when the Netherlands government actively encouraged emigration to relieve housing shortages and economic distress. Many of these migrants contributed to the Australian economy as entrepreneurs and manufacturers,  setting up businesses and consequently leaving traces of mercantile heritage. The Dutch were called the invisible migrants as they integrated so well into the Australian society.
The Australian Census 2016 recorded 70,165 Netherlands-born people in Australia, wile 339,549 of the respondents claimed Dutch ancestry.

Shared Military Heritage

During World War II, the Netherlands and Australia were close allies. As part of the allied opposition to Japan, the Royal Netherlands and East Indies Forces operated from Australia. After the Netherlands East Indies (Indonesia) fell to the Japanese, both soldiers and refugees fled to Australia. On 3 March 1942 a number of ‘flying boats’ that flew Dutch evacuees to the port of Broome, Western Australia, were bombarded by Japanese naval forces and many of them were killed. The wrecks of the aircrafts are still in the sea. In March 2017 the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the strafing of Broome was held in Western Australia.

Allies in adversity, Australia and the Dutch in the Pacific War

For more information, please visit the website of the Australian War Memorial, where the online exhibition Allies in Adversity focuses on on the Dutch–Australian experience of the war in the Pacific, 1941–45.

Shared Cultural Heritage | publications

Over the past years, the Netherlands Embassy has been involved in the publishing of several booklets on Dutch-Australian Cultural Heritage. Topics include the Japanese Air Raid on Broome, the wrecking of the Zuytdorp, the first contact established between Indigenous Australians and Europeans by the Duyfken, Dirk Hartog, stories about the Early Encounters with Australian shores and Jan Vennik: The Dutchman at Eureka.

More information and downloadable versions can be found in the Digital Library

For further questions, please contact the Embassy via can-pcz@minbuza.nl

Shared Cultural Heritage