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

Early explorations
In 1606, the crew of Dutch VOC vessel Duyfken, under the command of captain Willem Janszoon, made landfall near Mapoon, on the Cape York Peninsula, and constituted the first recorded contact on Australian soil between the Indigenous people of Australia and Europeans.
In the following decades, Dutch seafarers such as Dirk Hartog (1616), Abel Tasman (1642) and Willem de Vlamingh (1696) further explored the Australian coast and mapped large parts of the continent.

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.”

Reminders of the shared maritime history of Australia and the Netherlands can be found all over the Australian continent, for example in geographical names such as Tasmania, Zuytdorp Cliffs, Dorre Eiland, Cape Leeuwin, Schouten Eiland, Houtman Abrolhos, Swan River and the village of Zeehan.

Some encounters with Australian shores turned out to be more faithful than others. Four Dutch VOC ships wrecked off the coast of Western Australia in the 17th and 18th century: Batavia (1629), Vergulde Draeck (1656), Zuytdorp (1712)and Zeewijk (1727),

In the 1960s the four Dutch shipwrecks were discovered and excavated just off the coast of Western Australia. The Batavia was discovered in 1963 on Morning Reef near Beacon Island. That same year the remains of the Vergulde Draeck were discovered on a reef about 12 km south of Ledge Point. The Zuytdorp was discovered in 1964 on an exposed reef between Kalbarri and Geraldton. Finally, the wreckage of the Zeewijk, scattered along Half Moon Reef, was found in 1968.

In 1972 these discoveries and consequent 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 commemoration of 400 years of our bilateral relationship in 2006, the Netherlands Government announced it would give its share of the treasure to Australia.
The official handover took place in November 2010 at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney. 

The entire collection, documented and photographed, was made available online, in the ‘ ANCODS Collection Database’.

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 whilst 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 of those booklets can be found in the Digital Library

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

Shared Cultural Heritage