Why May is a significant month in AustraliaMay 15, 2014

Between the fifteenth and eighteenth century, the great powers of Europe sent her best ships to the open sea, searching for lands they would colonise. Adventure was behind those ventures, as these fellows were fascinated, even tantalised, by tales of mystical lands and unimagined gold. One of those places was Terra Australis, no different from El Dorado as far as legends were concerned. It was first believed to be a landmass as huge as North America, until Matthew Flinders circumnavigated Australia and concluded that there could be no other Terra Australis than Australia.

James Cook, captain in the Royal Navy, was credited, along his crew, as the first Europeans to make contact with the eastern coastline of Australia. His, along with Flinders's, were momentous episodes in the European exploration of Australia. But there were others who were part of this exciting period in Australian history. By some coincidence, they all happened during the month of May.

What if another Portuguese discovered Australia. Portugal and Spain were the first kingdoms to navigate unchartered seas in search of new lands. Christopher Columbus found the Americas, while Ferdinand Magellan made it past the Western Hemisphere and into the Orient. Pedro Fernandes de Queirós, another young Portuguese navigator in service of the Spanish crown, was thought to be the first European to have seen this island continent. It was during the month of May in 1606, when he sighted Terra Australis. He named it La Austrialia del Espiritu Santo, in honour of Margaret of Austria, the Queen of Spain during that time. But historians believed it was Vanuatu, an isle one thousand seven hundred fifty kilometers east of northern Australia, that the Portuguese saw. But in the nineteenth century, Catholic Australians theorised that Queirós did discovered Australia, ahead of Willem Janszoon and Abel Tasman, both Dutch seafarers, and Cook. In fact, they believed that his so-called New Jerusalem was located near Gladstone, Queensland. There was no substantiated proof after this was said.

A shipwreck like no other. On May 25, 1622, Tyrall, a ship owned by the British East India Company, was wrecked on the Tryall Rocks, a reef off the coast of northwestern Australia. Under the command of John Brooke, the crew were the first Englishmen to sight or land in Australia. This was the continent's oldest known shipwreck, taking place four years after Janszoon and his crew landed near North West Cape.

Make way to the first settlers. Arthur Phillip would lead eleven ships to Australia, departing on May 13, 1787. It would take them eight months to arrive in Botany Bay, making them the first British settlers in Australia, nearly two decades after Cook, aboard the HMS Endeavour, chartered the eastern coastline of New South Wales, claiming it for the British crown. Though the Dutch have been there first, with Janszoon on the helm followed by Tasman, they found the landscape inhospitable, with little to offer. Great Britain saw it differently. It didn't take long for Australia to be part of the British Empire.

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