The Greatest Explorers in Australian History

The Greatest Explorers in Australian History

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Unlike much of the world, Australia was a place that was only discovered by Westerners relatively recently. Let’s take a look at some of the men responsible for charting this strange new world over the course of the 18th and 19th centuries.

James Cook

Of course, no list of Explorers of Australia would be complete without mention of the most famous person to land on the country’s shores – Captain Cook. Cook’s first journey took place from 1768 to 1771, and over its course he mapped New Zealand and some of Australia’s east coast. The purpose of this journey was to observe the transit of Venus across the sun. At the time, Cook was just 39, and newly-promoted to Lieutenant.

Having completed his primary objective, with limited success, Cook proceeded to open a sealed envelope containing a second batch of orders. This second batch instructed him to proceed south to chart the islands we now know to be Australia. He was the first to chart the country’s Eastern Coast, and was responsible for christening Botany Bay, after the unique plant specimens his crew documented there.

Burke and Wells

This pair of Australians were the first to cross the entire northern span of Australia on foot. They succeeded, only to die on the return journey as a result of hunger and fatigue in 1861. Neither Burke nor Wells were seasoned explorers; the former was a policeman and the second was a surveyor. Nevertheless, they were able to convince 19 other men to help with the expedition. Of these, just one made it all the way back to Melbourne alive.

The journey was driven by economics. In 1851, the discovery of gold in Victoria prompted scores of migrants to flock to the area. Melbourne swiftly expanded to become the largest city in Australia, and the second largest in the entire British Empire. Soon, a means of connecting the settlement to neighbouring Java via a telegraph network. In order to do this, however, a suitable route would need to be charted. The government put up a considerable cash reward to anyone who could find a suitable route – and the Burke and Wills expedition was organised in response. Though neither of the explorers made it to the end of the trip, both have had a considerable influence on the long-term development of the country’s infrastructure.

John Eyre

This English explorer became the first man to walk across the south coast of Australia from East to West, starting in Adelaide and finishing up in Albany. In total, the trip took more than four months, and required crossing the Nullarbor Plain, the largest exposed area of limestone bedrock on the planet. Crossing this thousand-kilometre-wide desert required considerable mental endurance on the part of Eyre, who described the plain as ‘a blot on the face of nature’. Despite this, Eyre successfully emerged on the other side in 1841. This journey was one with plenty of ups and downs – Eyre had already launched another unsuccessful trip, in which three of his horses died from dehydration. The second attempt proved more successful – he took with him three aborigine guides and a companion named John Baxter. When the conditions became especially dire, a mutiny followed – two of the aborigine murdered Baxter and made off with the party’s supplies.

Eyre continued alongside the third aborigine, whose name was Wylie. The two survived thanks to a combination of hard work and good fortune – they encountered a French whaling ship named the Mississippi, anchored in Rossiter bay (the bay was later named after the captain of the ship, an Englishman named Thomas Rossiter.) The sailors were happy to provide the explorers with the supplies they needed. After the trip, Eyre would secure for his remaining travelling companion a lucrative state pension.

Matthew Flinders

This Englishman was the first man to sail all the way around Australia, in the third of three voyages made between 1791 and 1810. The second of these voyages had provided a startling discovery – that Tasmania, was, in fact, an island. The third voyage saw Flinders map much of the country’s coastline. Flinders was also the man responsible for naming the country ‘Australia’, though he wasn’t the first person to use the term. Flinders reasoned that the current name, ‘Terra Australis’, the ‘south’ land hypothesised by Aristotle and Ptolemy, was more like to be Antarctica. Suffice to say, the name ‘Australia’ is the one that stuck.

If you’d like to emigrate to Australia, you’ll need to contend with the famous ‘points-based’ migration system. Fortunately, there are plenty of jobs in demand in Australia, which will make the transition easier.

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