The connection between the Netherlands and Australia has been in existence for more than 400 years, dating back to the era of the Dutch East India Company (VOC). The discovery of Australia is credited to the voyage made by Willem Janszoon in his VOC ship the Dufken in 1606, landing on the northeast coast. The Netherlands and Australia have had a close working relationship for many years in relation to their shared heritage. As of 2013, Australia has been of the priority countries for the Netherlands to work on heritage activities through the Common Cultural Heritage Policy. The CIE activities and involvement with Australian-Dutch mutual cultural heritage has predominantly been focused around 3 key areas:
1. VOC and Maritime Archaeology
2. Military Heritage & World War Two
3. Migration Heritage
These key areas relate to CIE's core themes;
VOC and Maritime Archaeology
The Netherlands are intricately entwined with the history of Australia; it was a VOC captain, Willem Janszoon who has been credited with the European discovery and exploration of the continent. Dirk Hartog was one of the earliest Dutch explorers, who landed on the coast of Western Australia and much of CIE's co-operation with Australia has centred around the leading up towards the 400 years anniversary of Hartog's exploration mission in 2016. The celebrations in 2016 will be a yearlong with many large-scale events across both the Netherlands and Australia. This event will be the third part in a string of commemorative events celebrating Dutch-Australian past history.
1606-2006: Celebration of the 400th anniversary of the first contact between Europe and Australia by Willem Janszoon on the Duyfken
1712-2012: 300th anniversary of the wrecking of the merchant ship Zuytdorp
1616-2016: First European contact made with Western Australia with Dirk Hartog.
During the 17th and 18th centuries seafaring was a dangerous business. During bad weather and rough seas many ships and men were lost to the waves. Subsequently a number of unfortunate ships travelling along the 'Brouwerroute' from the Cape of Good Hope to Batavia were wrecked near the west coast of Australia. Many of these shipwreck sites were discovered and explored during the 20th century, which has resulted in a large collection of artefacts and underwater cultural heritage being recovered.
This maritime archaeology has been and continues to be a very important element in the bilateral heritage relations between the Netherlands and Australia. During the 1950s and 1960s, four VOC wreck sites were discovered and excavated near the western Australian coast; The Batavia (1629), Vergulde Draeck (1656), Zuytdorp (1712) and the Zeewijk (1729). The Australian-Netherlands Committee on Old Dutch Shipwrecks (ANCODS) was created in 1972, to be responsible for the resulting archaeological collection. The collection comprises many important maritime artefacts including silver coins, bricks, lead ingots, cannonballs, amber and pitch, personal affects belonging to the crew e.g. navigational instruments and ornaments. Over the years this collection was scattered between different museums in both countries but has now been repatriated to Australia and reunited as one.
A further area of mutual heritage that does receive much interest from people and stakeholders in both countries, is the first contact made between the traditional landowners, the Aborigines, and the early European explorers. This is a very politically sensitive subject, but one that many people are very interested in. This could be an area in which to investigate further through our cooperation in heritage aspects.
Military History & World War Two
Throughout the Second World War (1939-1945) the Netherlands and Australia were close allies. The Netherlands was heavily involved in the fighting during the so-called 'Pacific War', which was fought in the region of the Pacific and eastern Asia during World War Two, which particularly threatened Dutch overseas colonies such as Indonesia. 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 in 1942, many soldiers and refugees fled to Australia. On the 3rd March 1942 a number of so-called 'flying boats' transporting Dutch evacuees to the port of Broome in Western Australia were bombarded by Japanese naval forces, killing many on board. The wrecks of these crafts still lie upon the seafloor today.
The role that the Dutch army played within the Pacific War is commemorated in many places in Australia, some of these historic events, battles and individuals are actually memorialised with various dedicatory stones and statues having been erected for them. There is less awareness in the Netherlands for the events during the World War taking place on this side of the world, instead the focus has tended to be more upon the occupation of the Netherlands and the European side of the battles.
Migration Heritage: Dutch Migrants in Australia
Australia has long been associated with migration heritage. Thousands of Europeans have been emigrating 'Down Under' since the 19th century. During the 1950s and 1960s alone, over 100,000 Dutch migrants left their war-torn homes in the Netherlands hoping to start a new life in Australia. During the postwar era, the Netherlands government actively encouraged emigration to relieve housing shortages and economic distress in the country. Today around 370,000 people currently living in Australia claim to be of Dutch origin.
These strong strong historical ties have resulted in many interest groups and organisations becoming involved in countless mutual cultural heritage activities. The common history and archaeological evidence has led to the bilateral agreement between the Netherlands and Australia in 1972. The aim of the CIE's work is to increase co-operation between the stakeholders and to create more synergy between the cultural heritage projects in Australia and the Netherlands. Many of the migrants and their descendants openly promote and maintain their Dutch identity, which is indeed a factor for mutual heritage and should be an area in which the Netherlands takes an active interest.