Captain James Cook is generally credited with the discovery of Australia in 1770 and children in schools the whole world over, are taught this little gem of untruth. In fact, if you ask most people in the street who discovered Australia, they will also tell you, without hesitation, that Captain Cook did.
However, the Dutch were quite prolific in discovering new lands before that date. William Janzsoon is thought to be the first European navigator to have visited the northern coast of Australia, back in 1606. He wasn’t the first to discover Australia either. Even the Portuguese are thought to have visited Australia before Captain Cook did.
The Chinese discovered Australia long before either of those two noteworthy adventurers. There are records that the Chinese had drawn an official map of Australia as early as 1320. Admiral Zheng He, or more commonly known as Cheng, was commander of the expeditionary fleet during China’s early Ming Dynasty. He made voyages to Southeast Asia, South Asia, the Great South Land (Australia), the Middle East, and East Africa from 1405 to 1433. His vice admirals, Hong Bao and Zhou Man, arrived in Australia in 1422. Hong visited the west coast, while Zhou landed on the east coast. The Chinese sailors were mainly after minerals such as lead, gold, silver from Queensland, and uranium in the Northern Territory. Another Chinese record, the “Atlas of Foreign Countries”, which was written in 316 A.D., describes the great south land (Australia) being inhabited by a pygmy race near Cairns, Queensland. Also during the 4th century A.D., Shih Tzu wrote of kangaroos in the Peking ZOO and others reported about Aboriginals and their use of the boomerang.
If that was the case, why was none of this information generally available to the general public? Shortly after Admiral Cheng visited these lands, the Chinese withdrew from foreign trade and diplomatic relations with other countries. They expunged all references to Admiral Cheng’s fleet and their voyages. It was not until 1904, when Liang Qichao published his “Biography of Our Homeland’s Great Navigator, Zheng He, that this new information came to light.
However, even the Chinese sailors may have been beaten to the post. A ship similar in design to a Phoenician trireme was discovered off the coast of Western Australia several years ago. The ship has been dated as belonging to an era before 2,500 years ago. There is also plenty of evidence to suggest that middle eastern traders visited the Kimberley region of Western Australia, 3000 years ago.
Of course, this pales into insignificance when you consider that the ancestors of indigenous Australians are thought to have arrived in Australia about 60,000 years ago! They are believed to have originated from New Guinea, at a time when it was joined to Australia, during a glacial period in its history.