Cook’s tour ‘ignores Dutch’ history

Gavin BoxGeraldton Guardian
Dr Howard Gray with a portrait of Frederik de Houtman from 1617. The picture was taken in November during Dr Gray's visit to the Netherlands to research his biography of Houtman, Spice At Any Price.
Camera IconDr Howard Gray with a portrait of Frederik de Houtman from 1617. The picture was taken in November during Dr Gray's visit to the Netherlands to research his biography of Houtman, Spice At Any Price.

Geraldton will play host to the Endeavour replica next year as part of $48.7 million commemorations to mark the 250th anniversary of James Cook’s discovery of the east coast of Australia.

But while the visit has been welcomed, questions have been asked about why Geraldton and WA’s rich history with the Dutch has been ignored.

In July this year, Batavia Coast Maritime Heritage Association will hold a festival commemorating 400 years since explorers Frederick de Houtman and Jacob d’Edel discovered the Abrolhos Islands and South West of Australia in 1619, 150 years before Cook discovered the east coast.

The Balayi Open Your Eyes Houtman 400 festival would also recognise Aboriginal history, dating back tens of thousands of years.

Yet it is struggling to get financial backing.

Balayi is Yamaji for “open your eyes” — a play on the Portuguese word abrolhos which means “keep your eyes open”.

Association chairman and historian Howard Gray said the Geraldton and Rockingham festival would include a travelling exhibition they hoped to take to the Netherlands, depending on funding.

“We need half a million dollars to do it properly, but we’re struggling to probably get half of that,” he said.

Portrait of James Cook (1728-1779).
Camera IconPortrait of James Cook (1728-1779). Credit: Getty Images

Dr Gray is surprised at the lack of recognition for Australia’s Dutch heritage, noting the replica Duyfken ship based in Perth is struggling for survival and could do with just a few hundred thousand dollars to keep operating.

“It’s fantastic they’re coming and that we’re included, but I would really love to see more recognition and financial support for us on the west coast,” he said.

“So much earlier history is unrecognised and uncelebrated — and some of that money could have set some balance to the story.

“We have amazing history on the west coast.

“Lt Cook — he was a lieutenant at the time of the discovery — was a terrific explorer.

“I take nothing away from his achievements.

“But it would be terrific if we could have some balance put into it.

“We look forward to sharing our story with the east coast when they come to tell us their story next year.”

Tourism Geraldton convenor Trish Palmonari said once dates were finalised, the organisation would work in advance to create packages for tourists to explore the region.

She said the organisation wanted to actively pursue tourism opportunities for Geraldton based on the Batavia story.

Geraldton Mayor Shane Van Styn said the visit was a great opportunity to highlight the wider and longer history of European and indigenous culture in the Mid West and WA.’

The Endeavour replica’s Australian voyage will cost taxpayers $6.7 million.

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