Cape York



Contact at Cape Keerweer

An education resource from the Australian National Maritime Museum

The Museum acknowledges the Gadigal people of the Eora nation as the Traditional Custodians of the bamal (earth) and badu (waters) on which the museum is located and all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples throughout Australia.

We honour their continuing culture and connection to land and sea. We pay our respects to their Elders past and present, we extend that respect and recognition to all First Nations peoples.

(bamal and badu are words from the Eora language of the Sydney region and are supplied courtesy of the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council)

About this Resource

In 1606, a small Dutch ship called Duyfken made landfall on the west coast of the Cape York Peninsula in Queensland. The ship belonged to the Dutch East India Company who traded goods, such as spices and precious metals, around the world. It had sailed south from Indonesia to look for new land, resources and opportunities to trade.

Duyfken had landed on the Country of the Wik people who had lived there for millennia. The captain, Willem Janszoon (Jansz), and his crew of twenty men, were the first Europeans on record to meet the First Nations people of Australia. The contact predates James Cook’s arrival in 1770 by 164 years and is a part of our history that is often overlooked.

Illustration of the Duyfken watched by Wik people

Illustration of the Duyfken watched by Wik people.


In this Resource

The activities and resources on this page make up a unit of work, which can be adapted to suit different classrooms. Use these animations, interactive activities and videos to investigate the journeys of world explorers, and the impacts of contact between First Nations Australians and people from different continents before 1788. 

Click the menu button in the top right corner to skip to different sections.

tall ship masts and rope with blue sky and clouds

Megan Baehnisch ANMM

Introductory Classroom Discussion

Before starting this unit of work, ask students the following and discuss as a class:

  • Who were the first people to live in Australia? 
  • How long do you think they have lived here? 
  • Who are the traditional owners of the Country where your school or home is located?

Before learning about the voyage of the Duyfken, establish if students already know about any groups of people from other countries who visited Australia. 

  • Who might have visited Aboriginal people from another place?
  • Where did these people travel from? 
  • How would these people have travelled? 
  • Why did they visit?
  • When might this have happened? 
Illustraited map showing the outline of Australia

Cape York



First Nations

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples have been living in Australia for at least 65,000 years. This makes Australia a special place because it is home to the world’s oldest surviving culture. These cultures are still expressed in many ways today, through stories, art, language and traditions. There are more than 250 Indigenous groups across Australia, including approximately 800 dialects, each with their own culture, customs and laws.

Who are the Wik People?

The Wik people are First Nations Australians who have lived in Northern Queensland for tens of thousands of years. They are the traditional custodians of the land and waterways from the west coast to the centre of the Cape York Peninsula. This area extends from beaches to coastal swamps, river estuaries, mangroves, inland forests and marshy islands. There are more than five Wik languages spoken in the region. One of them, Wik-Mungan, is the only thriving Aboriginal language on the Queensland mainland spoken as a first language.

Illustration of Aboriginal people sitting on a beach


As a class, or individually, look at the Map of Indigenous Australia on the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies website. Find where the Wik people live in Queensland. 

Map of Indigenous Australia

All of these groups have their own knowledge and culture. It is very important to recognise that they are not all the same and they are all important to Australia today. 


Watch the video below featuring Matt Poll, the Manager of Indigenous Programs at the Australian National Maritime Museum. Matt talks about the Wik people and their relationship with the lands and waters.


Discussion Questions

  • How many Aboriginal language groups are there across Australia and the Torres Strait?
  • How long have the Wik people been living in Australia?
  • How did the Wik people use the land and sea? Why is the land and sea important to them?
Dark water

Did you know?

The coastlines of countries looked quite different thousands of years ago because of lower sea levels.

Countries in south-east Asia were a single landmass called Sunda. There was also no water separating mainland Australia, Tasmania and New Guinea. This landmass was called Sahul.

Additional Information - Wik Language

If you would like to know more about the Wik people, watch this video created by the Woyan-min Bio-Cultural Project and the State Library of Queensland.

SPOKEN: Wik.Thayanam.Thawan (Strong in Language)

You can also explore the full exhibition, which was at the State Library of Queensland, with this virtual tour. 

Spoken virtual tour | State Library Of Queensland


Discussion Questions

  • Why do you think some Wik languages have stopped being spoken by younger people?
  • Why do you think it is important to stop Wik languages from disappearing? 

Additional Information - Trade between the Yolgnu and Makassans

A different group of First Nations people are the Yolgnu people from north-eastern Arnhem land in the Northern Territory.

Before travellers from Europe mapped these waters, trade was common between people from this area, and fishermen from Asia. 

Explore this additional activity to learn about this trade between Northern coastal Aboriginal communities and Makassan (or Macassan) fishermen from Indonesia. The Makassans visited to trade trepang (sea cucumbers), which were popular as a food and medicine in places like China.

Makassan Trade

Bark painted with coloured ochres showing figures exchanging goods

Detail from The Makassans - The Muldi.  


Paddy Wainburranga Fordham. Licenced by Copyright Agency, 2021 for use by the Museum.


In the late 1500s and early 1600s, people living in Europe were becoming increasingly interested in the rest of the world. Of particular interest were raw materials such as precious metals, new foods like sugar, tea and spices, as well as manufactured goods, such as fabrics and pottery.

All of these products were seen as popular and valuable. This meant they could sell for very high prices. Some spices like nutmeg were worth their weight in gold!

The people who transported these goods from Asia to Europe went on this dangerous journey because they wanted to get rich. Ships were a great form of transport as their cargo holds could carry much more than other forms of land transport at the time, such as horses and camels. Ships could also travel over oceans to find new and rare resources in faraway lands.

Illustration showing trade goods such as food and weapons

The Dutch East India Company

The Dutch East India Company, also known as the VOC (from the name in Dutch, Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie), was a large, wealthy company from north-western Europe, in a country we now call The Netherlands.

The company was established in 1602 and shipped goods between Asia and Europe for almost 200 years. These journeys were long, sometimes lasting years, so ships stopped at ports along the way to trade, rest and replenish supplies.

This was the Age of Discovery. A time when seafarers were sailing to different parts of the world for the first time. They were looking for new territory and resources, making maps and gathering scientific knowledge. They set up colonies that had negative impacts on the rights, freedom and cultures of Indigenous peoples around the world.

Illustration showing cago in a ship hold


In small groups, students explore the interactive map to learn more about the Dutch East India Company’s history and trading routes.

Interactive timeline map


  • The timeline at the bottom of the screen shows how these trade routes changed over time. These trading routes change from green (new trade) to white (trade stable) to red (trade in decline)
  • You can click on a place to learn more about it. 
  • You can also click on the goods traded by the VOC in the top right corner to discover why each resource was valuable, how it was used and where it came from.
Photo of side of tall ship with ropes and painted stripes

The Duyfken

The Duyfken (meaning ‘Little Dove’ in Dutch) was a ship built in around 1595 in The Netherlands. It was a small wooden ship that was designed to be fast and agile, able to help in maritime battles, transport cargo for trade and undertake voyages of exploration.


At the time, ships travelled from The Netherlands in fleets, small groups of ships that could help protect each other. This was because people from European countries fought to gain control of valuable trading routes. The Duyfken sailed in Dutch fleets, fought in battles, and sometimes made voyages on its own.

Illustration of a harbour with a wharf and a boat and a city silhouetted in the background

Unfortunately, the original Duyfken no longer exists and we don’t have any plans or drawings of it. However, in the late 1990s, a replica was built in Fremantle, Western Australia using traditional Dutch ship building techniques and other historical sources. The Duyfken replica is now at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney.

Photo onboard tall ship Duyfken with the Maritime Museum building in the background

Onboard of the replica Duyfken sailing toward the Australian National Maritime Museum. 


Megan Baehnisch, ANMM.


Explore this virtual tour to get a feel for what life was like on board the Duyfken over 400 years ago. 

Explore the Duyfken 


  • Click on the thick arrows to move between different sections of the ship.
  • To quickly rotate around a space, click, hold and move the mouse at the same time, or hold down the touch pad on your laptop and swipe your finger.
  • Hover over the small arrows at the edges of the screen to slowly rotate around a space.
  • Jump between rooms by clicking on the diagram in the bottom right corner of the screen.
  • Click on the dots to learn more about an object.


Discussion Questions

  • How did the ship move and how was it steered?
  • People didn’t have modern technology like mobile phones or GPS to help them navigate. How do you think sailors found their way?
  • Where were valuable resources stored on the ship?
  • Who were the most important people on the ship? Did you find where they slept?

Extension Activity

The Duyfken is about 25m long and 6m at the widest point. A ship of this size would have had approximately 20 sailors on board.

In your playground, measure out the size of the Duyfken. Compare it to the size of: 

  • HMB Endeavour (the ship Captain Cook sailed up Australia’s East Coast) (33m long and almost 9m wide)
  • A bus (12m long and 2.5m wide)
  • A modern Boeing 747 Jet Aeroplane (70m long and 6m wide, with a wingspan of approximately 60m)

How would you feel being in each of these spaces with 20 other people for an hour? Or a day? Or even a year?

Illustration of a tall ship with white sails at sea

Cape York



Cape Keerweer

The meeting of the Wik people and the crew of the Duyfken in 1606 is the earliest recorded contact between Australia's First Nations people, and people from Europe.



As a class, watch this animation to see what happened when the Dutch ship Duyfken met the Wik people at Cape Keerweer.


Discussion Questions

  • How long ago did Duyfken arrive in Australia? What was special about this event?
  • Why do you think the Dutch didn’t know where Australia was? 
  • What did Captain Janszoon and his crew do when they travelled along the coast?
  • Was the initial meeting friendly or hostile?
Dark water

Did you know?

Historians know this happened from two types of sources – First Nations oral traditions and written Dutch records. 

  • The story of the encounter has been passed down through generations of Wik people. 
  • While Janszoon’s original logbook has never been found, other Dutch sailors from the time wrote about what happened in their diaries.

The Dutch Perspective

The lands in the southern hemisphere were a long way from home for the crew of the Dutch East India Company. In the early 1600s, the Dutch forcefully established new headquarters called Batavia, now called Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia. This base gave them political and economic control of the region, which meant better access to valuable resources in Asia and opportunities for further exploration.

Watch this video and think about the Dutch perspective on the events at Cape Keerweer.

Matt Poll, Manager of Indigenous Programs at the Australian National Maritime Museum, tells us about the Dutch sailors onboard the Duyfken and why they might have travelled south.  


Discussion Questions

  • Why do you think Duyfken sailed to Australia?
  • What resources do you think the Dutch were hoping to find?
  • Why do you think the Dutch didn’t know the difference between New Guinea and Australia?
  • Why do you think we don’t know all the details about the voyage?

Willem Janszoon was the captain of Duyfken. He was in charge of sailing the ship and making sure that everyone on board stayed safe.



Watch the story from the captain's perspective. 

While this animation isn’t the real Willem Janszoon, nor are they his exact words, this is what he might have looked like and diaries from his colleagues give us a sense of what he may have thought.

Illustration of sailor with navy blue uniform and a ship with night sky and starts in the background


Discussion Questions

  • What was the environment like? How do you think we know this?
  • What did the crew do along the coast?
  • What do you think Janszoon would have reported back to the Dutch East India company in Batavia?

Clash of Cultures

The Dutch were a colonial power that dominated parts of the world for two centuries. This means they set up colonies in places that were already home to First Nations peoples. First Nations people around the world were often treated unfairly or hurt by colonial powers from Europe, such as the Dutch.

Illustration showing silhouettes of people fighting with a sunset in the background


Watch this video in which Matt Poll, the Manager of Indigenous Programs at the Australian National Maritime Museum, talks about the conflict between the Wik and Dutch people. 


Discussion Questions

  • Tentative means you aren’t certain of something. Why do you think the Dutch crew and Wik people would have been tentative when they first met?
  • Why do you think there was a fight?
  • What impact do you think this had on the Wik people and the Dutch?

Cape York



What Happened Next

Following the voyage of the Duyfken, Dutch sailors listened to Janszoon’s warning and did not visit Wik country for many years.

There was however a change in the trade route, as sailors discovered it was quicker to sail across the Indian Ocean before turning North in order to get to places like Indonesia, instead of traveling along the coast of Africa and Asia. This led to Dutch sailors encountering and mapping the Western and Northern coast of “New Holland”, starting with Dirk Hartog in 1616. 

The East coast of Australia was then charted in 1770 by Captain James Cook and his crew onboard the HMB Endeavour. This event led to the English colonisation of Sydney 18 years later with the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788. 

Find out more about these events with more animations, interactives and online games from the Museum. 

Silhouette of sailor holding telescope
Dirk Hartog: A Chance Encounter
Illustrations of Captain cook and tall ship Endeavour
The Story of HMB Endeavour
Screenshot of endeavour deck
Virtual Endeavour


Reconciliation is when people who have had a conflict or disagreement try to understand each other and respect their differences.

Sometimes, reconciliation is needed when a group of people has been treated unfairly or hurt by another group, such as in some countries where the government mistreated the First Nations people.

In 2000, the replica Duyfken visited the Wik people in the Cape York Peninsula. What do you think happened on this occasion? Did you find any signs of reconciliation on the virtual tour of the ship?



Draw or write a message to show what reconciliation means to you.

Explain what your message means.

Photograph of a boomerang on a wooden wall

Boomerang onboard Duyfken.