..............those Dutch, they're crazy man.......
Tasman lands in Van Dieman's Land (1642)
The Dutch mariner and explorer Abel Janszoon Tasman (?1603-1659) undertook between 1633 and 1649 numerous trading and military voyages for the Dutch East India Company. Two of these expeditions, in 1642 and 1644, resulted in important discoveries about Australia. His journal of his 1642 voyage to Van Diemenâ€™s Land and New Zealand was first published in England in 1694. (Van Diemenâ€™s Land was the name originally given by Tasman to the land now called Tasmania.) There have been numerous biographies of Tasman and he has also been the subject of poems; the most well-known of the latter is Australian poet R. D. Fitzgeraldâ€™s â€œHeemskerck Shoalsâ€? (1949).
Tasman has often been accused of sailing right round Australia without finding it. This is not quite accurate. As Fitzgerald pointed out in his notes to â€œHeemskerck Shoalsâ€?, when the yacht Heemskerck and the flute Zeehaen set out from Batavia on their voyage of 1642, the Dutch were already well aware of the existence of New Holland (Australia), though not of its extent. The voyagers were seeking new discoveries further afield. Thus, the pilot chose a course that would avoid the continent and keep them in open sea till beyond it.
After several important discoveries including Van Diemenâ€™s Land and States Land (New Zealand), Tasman found himself caught (February 6, 1643) in a strong wind within a horseshoe-shaped reef (which was part of the Fiji Group). He escaped by shooting his ships across this reef, which he afterwards named Heemskerck Shoals. The eponymous poem gives Tasmanâ€™s thoughts after having crossed the reef. It portrays a Tasman whose adventurous spirit and thirst for knowledge make him chafe at the bureaucratic restrictions laid upon him by the company in Batavia, which was only keen on fabulous riches:
Too many councils and committees, too many
making decisions beforehand - that was no way
to run an expedition. Still that catch-penny
assembly in Batavia had last say
and first say too; and there it was all set down
what had to be done; yes, even to the way
you must keep your face, indifferent lest you betray
the excitement of gold and let its worth be shown
if an Indian brought you gold. How would they like
the faces held on a vessel trapped between wind
and a half-circle reef? [...]
What one could guess,
However, was faces round the board-room table
Growing graver and longer as the report showed less
and chiller prospect of profit. There was not much
gold for them in this trip; and that dear fable
of a rich continent was whittled back
to New Holland, known already, and a pack
of snarling reefs and jagged islands, such
as these to leeward, and that murderous coast
at least a label, States Land; and of course
there was Van Diemenâ€™s Land. Shake those from your purse
and count the pieces. Heâ€™d tell them in plain Dutch
what Abel Tasman thought of it! [...]
(from Robert D. Fitzgerald, â€œHeemskerck Shoals,â€? Voyager Poems , ed. Douglas Stewart, Brisbane: Jacaranda Press, 1960, 15-31, 15-16).
In his poem, Fitzgerald turns Tasman into a fervent lover of Van Diemenâ€™s Land, who would have liked nothing better than to settle there, sensing the possibilities of the new continent: â€œonly the south [i. e., the Great South Land = Australia] was left - where spread clean floors / for feet of the Europeanâ€? (â€œHeemskerck Shoalsâ€? 30). He already envisions the possibility of establishing a free nation there, a dream only realized by the Australian Federation in 1901. Fitzgeraldâ€™s celebrated and much anthologized poem thus turns the Dutch explorer, who more or less bypassed the continent, into an Australian founding father with a glorious vision of nationhood.