Although the north coast of Australia may have been visited earlier by Macassan traders sailing from modern-day Indonesia, the period 1600–1800 sees the first encounters between European explorers and traders and the Aboriginal peoples of Australia. In 1606, the Dutch make the first known European landfall in Australia on the Cape York Peninsula. Between 1623 and 1636, the Dutch explore the north coast of Australia and become the earliest known Europeans to reach (and name) Arnhem Land, one of the most prolific centers of Aboriginal art. In Arnhem Land itself, as well as in other regions, Australia’s rich traditions of Aboriginal rock art continue to develop and thrive, as yet little disturbed by outside influences.
In 1770, the English explorer James Cook sails along the east coast of Australia and claims it for the British crown. Cook also collects a small number of Aboriginal weapons and other utensils, which become the first Aboriginal objects to enter European collections. Following Cook’s initial exploration, the British establish the first permanent settlement in New South Wales in 1788. Arthur Phillip, the colony’s first governor, reports seeing Aboriginal rock art in the form of engravings of “men, shields and fish roughly cut into the rocks.”
The Dutch vessel Duyfken sails into the Gulf of Carpentaria and makes the first European landfall in Australia on the Cape York Peninsula.
Dutch traders encounter and explore the west coast of Australia.
Dutch ships explore the north coast of Australia.
English explorer James Cook charts the east coast of Australia and claims it for Britain, an act of possession that he justifies by the seventeenth-century legal concept of terra nullius (“no man’s land” or “empty land”), broadly defined as an absence of “civilization.”
The British choose Botany Bay south of present-day Sydney as a penal colony.
The first British colony is established in New South Wales, led by Captain Arthur Phillip. The colonists consist of about 700 convicts (sentenced to “transportation”) and some 250 officers to guard them. Initially, they settle at Botany Bay, then move north to Port Jackson, later called Sydney. The dispossession of Aboriginal peoples begins as European settlers spread inland and along the coast.
Smallpox begins to decimate the Aboriginal population, following the path of colonial settlement.
Pemulwuy, the first of the Aboriginal resistance fighters, spears Governor Phillip’s gamekeeper and Phillip orders the first punitive expedition. Pemulwuy leads the Aboriginal resistance in the Sydney area in a guerrilla campaign lasting several years. He is captured and executed in 1802, but his son Tedbury continues his resistance.
The Black War begins, a six-year battle waged by Aborigines against white settlement in the Hawkesbury and Parramatta areas of New South Wales.
“Australia, 1600–1800 A.D.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/ht/?period=09®ion=oca (October 2003)