Uncovering Australia’s lost history

There is evidence and rumour that suggests European contact with Australia's east coast happened before Captain Cook's arrival, as EMERITUS PROFESSOR JOHN MOLONY explains.

Evidence of European, pre-Cook contact with the Australian east coast has been in existence for decades.

In 2008, members of the ANU Emeritus Faculty formed a research group to examine this evidence in full.

Known as the East Coast Project, the group started with Captain James Cook's charting of that coast in 1770.

The vast mass of Cook's material - including a plethora of books and journals - prompted us to place particular emphasis on the description and judgment of the land and on relations with the Aborigines.

The group used journals written on the Endeavour by James Cook, Joseph Banks, Sydney Parkinson and James Matra, and referenced to the account by Abel Tasman of his voyage around southern Van Diemen's Land in 1642 and by William Dampier, who was briefly on the west coast in 1688.

The evidence for pre-European contact, which is based on numerous artefacts - ranging from the so-called Mahogany Ship near Warrnambool, Victoria, to an alleged Portuguese garden in Queensland - has proved generally unrewarding and often farfetched.