Did the Portuguese beat the Dutch to Australia?

A 500-year-old prayer book owned by a Portuguese nun may be evidence the Dutch were not the first Europeans to arrive in Australia.

Dutch explorer Willem Janszoon is credited with being the first European to reach Australia in 1606. However, the prayer book, which has been dated to 1580 to 1620, includes a sketch of a kangaroo or wallaby, which could throw new light on the colonisation of the continent.

The book has been acquired by New York gallery Les Enluminures and has been valued at up to $25,000. It also includes ‘two small male figures, possibly natives of Australia or elsewhere in Southeast Asia.’


If our manuscript can be dated with some certitude, this book interjects another sort of evidence to support the theory that it was the Portuguese explorers who were the first Europeans to “discover” Australia,’ the gallery says on its website.

However, Martin Woods, the National Library’s cartography expert, told the Sydney Morning Herald the image is not enough to rewrite Australia’s history books.

‘The likeness of the animal to a kangaroo or wallaby is clear enough, but then it could be another animal in south-east Asia, like any number of deer species, some of which stand on their hind legs to feed off high branches,’ Woods told the paper.

Others have also suggested the sketch shows an aardvark.

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