Book by Rupert Gerritsen, 2015


This book brings together a selection of stories about Australia’s early, and neglected, maritime history.

They were written by Rupert Gerritsen R.O.N. for a general audience, and their publication here celebrates his life and achievements before his untimely death in 2013.

Rupert’s mission was to help to reframe Australian maritime history from its traditional  overemphasis on Cook and Flinders. These pages remind us how heavily knowledge of Australia’s maritime history has been biased, how its multicultural dimension has largely been hidden from us,

and how this has denied us access to many fascinating stories. Rupert brings alive the contributions of the Dutch, French, Swedes and the Macassans, as well as the possibility that several other nations were involved in revealing these shores. He tells us the story of early contact from the perspective of Australia’s First Peoples. There are so many interesting challenges here to our understanding of our history.

Rupert’s perspective draws us up short. How could we possibly have believed that Cook ‘discovered’ Australia when the Dutch had mapped two thirds of the coast more than a century before he arrived?

How could we have known so little about Abel Janszoon Tasman, the man who did much of this exploration and who had a State named after him? How can it be that most Australians have no idea who Willem Janszoon was, but can tell us the first European to find America, or who was first at the South Pole? The stories in this volume help to redress that imbalance, while also entertaining the reader.

Rupert was a social activist and historian. Born into a Dutch migrant family in 1953 in Geraldton, Western Australia, he became a respected professional in youth, community and mental health work.

His other abiding interest was in indigenous Australian prehistory and in Australia’s European maritime contact history from 1606 until the early years of British colonisation, in both of which he became a noted authority. He wrote and had published a number of books and many papers in these and related fields.

Rupert’s desire to bring these fascinating events to a wider audience led him to write many short stories about various seventeenth-century maritime occurrences on the coast of New Holland involving Dutch ships. These stories, written in 2005, have been brought together in this book.

Society’s understanding of Australia’s maritime history is continually improving, so that over time some ‘facts’ may change.

In 2002, Rupert co-founded an organisation called “Australia on the Map 1606- 2006” (AOTM) to stimulate and help organise events to commemorate the four hundredth anniversary of recorded European contact with Australia. His aim was to have Australians know their recorded early history better. The commemorations were a great success, with over 150 events taking place around the nation. The culmination of these was a commemorative voyage along the west, south and east coasts of Australia and Tasmania by a Fremantle-built replica of the Duyfken, the original of which, under VOC (Dutch East India Company) Captain  Willem Janszoon, made the first known sighting of Australia by Europeans in 1606. As a result of this effort, Rupert was appointed a Knight in the Order of Orange-Nassau (R.O.N.) in 2007, for his services to Dutch-Australian relations.

After 2006, AOTM became the history and heritage division of the Australasian Hydrographic Society.

Rupert was the Chair of this division for the remainder of his life.

More information.