New Vehicles and Exploration, 2011
While the original custodians have been here for more than fifty thousand years, For the rest of the world, the great southern land was just a theory, a tantalizing mystery. The story of how the continent slowly took shape on maps of the world was a subject I was interested in and subsequently became an area of much research. Rather than re-presenting history, I wanted to live or 'perform' the evidence of my research. The center piece of this project is a model of a 17th century Dutch sailing ship. It is the evidence/result of a 'performance' over 4 months as an amateur model ship builder. It is accompanied by a suite of drawings and a painted portrait of Abel Tasman. The portrait is imagined to have been painted on board the Heemskerk. Abel has just returned to the lower decks just after realizing he had confirmed that the Great Southern land was not connected to Antarctica.
The ship model began by chance with a piece of MDF timber that had been in a freight container that was shipped to Australia from Holland. Infused in the wood itself was the same journey taken by the ships of the early Dutch explorers to this continent. I decided to make a model of one of these ships with the MDF. The journey, embedded in the material would then also be embedded in the model. I began researching ship building techniques and looking for plans for ships from the period. This research focused on Dutch ships from the 17th century. The model I built was based on Abel Tasmans 'Heemskerck' from his 1642 voyage.
Followers of Pythagoras in 5BC develop an astronomical theory of a spherical Earth revolving on its own axis and moving in an orbit. They reasoned that in order to maintain the equilibrium of the sphere, there had to be land-masses in the Southern Hemisphere, which counterbalanced the known northern land-masses.
In the 2nd century AD the mathematician, philosopher and cartographer Ptolemy sought to survey the world 'in its just proportions' – that is, to scale. He developed a method of depicting the spherical earth on a flat surface. Ptolemy's maps, based on knowledge of the day, showed the known Roman world surrounded by oceans bounded by 'unknown lands'.
Australia on the map
This continent was first settled more than 50,000 years ago but the rest of the world has only been sure of its existence for 400 years. To everyone apart from the indigenous population, Terra Australis was just a legend. As early as the 5th century AD, before the shape, dimensions and exact position of this vast southern continent were known, a zone or sometimes an imaginary coastline began to appear on maps of the world. Early maps show a vast mega-continent, Terra Australis Incognita — an "unknown land of the South" stretching from the equator to the south pole.
Australia on the map 2
In March 1606, the Dutch navigator Willem Janszoon aboard the Duyfken (Little Dove) made the first documented and undisputed European sighting of and landing on Australia. Records from this voyage include the first charts to record part of the actual Australian coastline. After this, Dutch navigators explored the continent extensively in the 17th century. As early as the mid-17th century roughly half of the continent was accurately charted and began appearing on maps of the world, often marked as "New Holland" on account of the voyages of these Dutch explorers.
Abel Tasman's voyage of 1642 was significant for being the first recorded European encounter with Tasmania and New Zealand and for proving on the way that Terra Australis was not connected to Antarctica. In 1644 Tasman returned to the continent and charted a vast stretch of the coastline from the top of Cape York Peninsula, across Arnhem land and down the west coast to Shark Bay.
The first recorded European sighting of the coastline of my home state was made by the crew of the Gulden Zeepaert (Golden Seahorse) in 1627. Its Captain, François Thyssen, charted 1800 km of the southern coastline. The Seahorse sailed from the south-west tip of the continent deep into the Great Australian Bight, to a group of islands just west of present day Ceduna that they called the Nuyts Archipelago.