About the project

Australian history has overwhelmingly focused on British ‘discovery’, exploration and settler colonialism, despite the visitations by European and Asian agents of imperial and commercial interests over many centuries previously. Before the British arrival, Australia had been known as New Holland until the mid-nineteenth century, and the encounters were so engrained into culture that the word for ‘whitefellas’ by Aboriginal people in Northern Australia is ‘Balanda’, derived from ‘Hollander’.

The Global Encounters & First Nations Peoples: 1000 Years of Australian History project aims to radically shift Australia’s historical awareness by concentrating on the dynamic history of encounter between First Nations peoples and ‘outsiders’ over the millennium. Drawing on rich European archives comprised of over 400 years of records, it will offer an important counter-narrative on multiple sites of interaction. With a methodology designed to profile Indigenous agency, the project will demonstrate how ‘salt-water people' responded to intrusions into their territory from sea voyagers from Europe and Southeast Asia. The eighteenth century British arrival will be placed in the context of a global tradition of dynamic interaction and transaction with a deep history of at least 1000 years.

This project represents an important intervention into the debate about history and national identity, and directly addresses the urgent need for a more balanced understanding of Australian history.


Global Encounters will work with both European language materials (Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese and French), and First Nation textual sources (oral histories, material culture, and other traditional and non-traditional archival sources) to build a massive interactive and translated database. This will synthesise materials from Australian and European institutions for the first time in this context.

Global Encounters will produce and disseminate new and powerful understandings of First Nations and outsider encounters, from the ninth century when the notion of an unknown southern land became popularised in maps across Europe and the Middle East, to the nineteenth century when the Australian coastline was finally fully charted and most of the 150-plus coastal First Nations had some degree of encounter. The project’s dual foci will analyse how various First Nations and outsider languages and cultures produced accounts of voyaging and descriptions of the other.

The project will develop through a team that is genuinely international, multilingual, and interdisciplinary, and will ultimately transform understandings of Australia’s role in the history of global expansion. From the west coast, to evidence of Polynesian Pacific expansion off the east coast, to the nexus of the Yolngu-Makassan-Filipino-Chinese trepang trade network in the north, all will emerge as part of a new, multifaceted and deeply extended national story.


The Global Encounters project aims to:

  1. Compare and contrast First Nations textual records of encounters with outsiders through the perspective of First Nations peoples (‘inside looking out’).
    • A comprehensive analysis will be undertaken of Indigenous knowledge traditions surrounding the arrival of people from the sea.
    • Oral traditions and narratives about encounters from linguistically and culturally diverse First Nations will be examined from across the Australian mainland, Tasmania and Torres Strait.
    • Linguistic and material culture evidence for contact will be synthesised, and using demographic modelling, disease and disease impact will be mapped as an independent source of foreign intrusion.
  2. Compare and contrast outsider records of Australian encounters (‘outside looking in’), through the perspective of agents of European Empire, Northern and South-east Asian commercial interests, and Melanesian mariners.
    • This project will extensively consult European records, from Dutch, French, Spanish and Portuguese voyagers from the sixteenth century onwards, alongside the Makassan-Chinese maritime economic network and new evidence of Melanesian encounter.
    • Maps, ships records, archival records and museum collections relevant to encounters on the Australian coastline will be analysed and collated.
  3. Synthesise and analyse all encounters.
    • Key questions will be asked of the collection, including, what sort of interactions took place, how these were recorded, and what role Australia played in the history of globalisation.
    • The role of Terra Australis in the ancient imaginary will be considered, bookended by the British settler-colonial deployment of the concept of Terra Nullius.
    • Although scholars have previously studied aspects of European-Indigenous and Makassan-Indigenous encounters, these have generally relied on only one nation or language group at a time. This project is the first to synthesise and analyse all encounters and will do so through the rich temporal lens of a millennium.

Research will be conducted in the following places:

The Netherlands - Dutch East India Company (VOC, Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie) archive (the Hague); The Amsterdam Centre for the Study of the Golden Age; Maritime History and Maritime Heritage.

South Africa - Cape Town Archives Repository (Cape Town)

Spain - Archive of Indias (Seville); Archivo General de Simancas in Ciudad Real; National Historical Archive (Madrid); Arxiu Històric - Cambra Oficial de Comerç, Indústria i Navegació de Barcelona (Barcelona)

Portugal - Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal (Lisbon)

France - Musée national de la Marine (Paris)

UK - British Museum and British Library (London)

Southeast Asian archives and Museums will also be investigated for archival holdings related to this project. Monash University’s Malaysia campus will provide a useful base for this aspect of the research. Key institutions to be consulted include:

Malaysia - National Archives of Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur); Muzium Negara (Kuala Lumpur); Muzium Samudera (Malacca City).

Indonesia - Arsip Nasional Republik Indonesia (Jakarta); Museum Nasional (Jakarta); Museum Bahari (Penjaringan); Balla Lompoa Museum (Sulawesi); UPTD Museum Negeri Propinsi Sulawesi (Manado).

Singapore - National Archives of Singapore

Relevant materials are housed in Australia at the National Library (NLA), the Western Australian Museum (Maritime and Ship Wrecks Gallery), and the South Australian Museum. Archival and heritage agencies in each state holding ‘grey literature’ including cultural heritage assessment and impact studies will also be accessed.