Queensland's Flinders Island Group (Wurrima), including Clack Island (Ngurromo), is part of the traditional homeland of the Aba Yalgayi, a clan group of the Yiithuwarra, which is a wider tribe comprising four language groups. The un-named language that was formerly spoken on Flinders Island and Cape Melville is now spoken only by a very few older people.
The natural features of the Flinders Islands, Clack Island and the mainland are connected in a rich tapestry of Aboriginal stories and significant places. The island group is part of a cultural landscape that contributes to the identity of the Aboriginal Traditional Owners. The islands contain physical evidence of Aboriginal occupation including rock art sites, occupation and burial sites, shell middens, stone arrangements, artefact scatters, story places and other significant places, sites and areas. The rock art on Stanley, Flinders and Clack islands is of international significance; all sites constitute an irreplaceable record of Aboriginal cultures in this region. Some sites are secret; sites such as Clack Island allow no access while other sites such as the Yindayin rock art site on Stanley Island are open to the public.
Drawings found on the walls of a cave overhang on Flinders Island depict boats which are clearly reminiscent of Chinese junks. The art seems to support the theory that Chinese seafarers and concubines settled in Malaysia, India, Africa, the Americas, Australasia and across the Pacific, almost a century before the Europeans started their historic voyages of exploration. In Chinese Premier Hu Jintao's speech to Australian Parliament on 24th October 2003, he stated: "Back in the 1420's, the Expeditionary Fleets of China's Ming Dynasty reached Australian shores. For centuries, the Chinese sailed across vast seas and settled down in what they called "Southern Land", or today's Australia. They brought Chinese culture to this land and lived harmoniously with the local people, contributing their proud share to Australia's economy, society and its thriving pluralistic culture."
Gavin Menzies, a retired British submarine commander and amateur historian, and his research team are at the forefront of ongoing research into pre-Columbian Chinese exploration of the world. In his book, 1434, Menzies offers a stunning reappraisal of history, presenting compelling new evidence on the European Renaissance, tracing its roots to China. Based on years of research, Menzies argues that a Chinese fleet, official ambassadors of the emperor, arrived in Tuscany in 1434, where they met with Pope Eugenius IV in Florence. The delegation presented the pope with a wealth of knowledge, from a diverse range of fields: geography (including world maps that the author believes were passed on to Christopher Columbus), astronomy, mathematics, art, printing, architecture, steel manufacturing, civil engineering, military weaponry, surveying, cartography, genetics, and more. This gift of knowledge sparked the inventiveness of the Renaissance, including da Vinci s mechanical creations, the Copernican revolution, Galileo s discoveries, and more. From 1434 onward, Europeans embraced Chinese intellectual ideas, discoveries, and inventions - all which have formed the basis of European civilisation just as much as Greek philosophy and Roman law.
Using location photography and dramatic reconstruction, Menzies' two part documentary on DVD begins by telling the story of the known voyages of Zheng He. In the second part, the programme examines evidence that Menzies claims is proof that the Chinese discovered America long before Columbus. It was on one or a number of Zheng He's voyages that Menzies and his research team believe that Australia was discovered and explored, and that the illustrations of ships, weapons and dress illustrated in ancient cave art such as that seen on the islands of Princess Charlotte Bay are Aboriginal records of such visits.
Other rock art (top photograph) depicts what appear to be European sailing ships. As Lt. James Cook didn't come through this area in 1770, there is a question whether these artworks could be evidence of contact with earlier Portugese or even Spanish ships. It has even been suggested that one is similar in shape to the Macassan praus of Sulawesi that harvested trepang along the coast of northern Australia. There is plenty of archaeological evidence and oral history in Arnhem Land of Aboriginal contact and trade with the Macassans from about 1500 onwards, but none in this area. Alternatively, the sketches might depict European ships of the late 1800s.
"Jave la Grande's east coast" from Nicholas Vallard's atlas, 1547. This is part of an 1856 copy of one of the Dieppe Maps. Copy held by the National Library of Australia. Originally drawn in 1547 it is claimed this map shows the east coast of Australia with south orientated to the top. If it is a map of Australia's east coast, Princess Charlotte Bay may well be the indents on the coast at the bottom right hand side of the map.
The Vallard map, with part of it rotated at 90 degrees, and the claimed locations by Peter Trickett in Beyond Capricorn
The notion that the artwork depicts Portugese or Spanish ships lends support to the theory that Portuguese or Spanish navigators visited Australia's east coast over a century before the first recorded visit by James Cook in 1770. The theory suggests that the continent called Jave la Grande, which uniquely appears on a series of 16th-century French world maps, the Dieppe school of maps, represents Australia. These maps are believed to have been based on early Portuguese charts and journals which were never widely distributed.
As the greater part of Australia was within Spanish territory during the 16th century, any voyage into it by the Portuguese would undoubtedly have had to have been an undercover operation and therefore would have been kept very secret. Being Portuguese, the journals of such voyages would have ended up in the Portuguese Navy's repository in the Case De India, in Lisbon. Unfortunately, this building and its contents were destroyed in an earthquake which flattened part of Lisbon in 1755. All maps and journals of voyages stored there were lost, leaving many unanswered questions, such as how much, if any, of the Dieppe maps depicting Jave la Grande were sourced from Portugese records that were destroyed in the earthquake. These would have included those of Cristovas de Mendonca, an explorer who is known to have gone in search of Jave la Grande.
De Mendonca, a senior officer in the Portuguese Navy who was stationed in Goa, was given the task of captaining a fleet of three caravels in 1521. Some time in that year, Mendonca proceeded to Pedir in Sumatra, and then east to Malacca before heading off into the great unknown. What happened to Mendonca after leaving Malacca is shrouded in mystery. All the official records say is that only one of Mendonca's three vessels returned to Pedir some 18 months after its departure. What happened to the other two ships is not known.
De Mendonca's name does not appear again until 1525, when he is reported to have been in Portugal. During the next few years, he is known to have made a number of trips to Dieppe, France, presumably to sell his charts to the cartographers there. It can only be assumed that one such cartographer bought his charts and from it created the Dauphin map (below), which is similar to the Vallard map.
The extent of the eastern section of coastline on the Dieppe maps suggests that the Portuguese navigator travelled the whole of the western seaboard from Cape York to Bass Strait and beyond, naming many of the bays that James Cook named 248 years later. On this map, an island called Iihas de Magna is where Lord Howe Island is, an indentation called 'Bay Neufre' is where Broken Bay is, 'Cap de Fremos' corresponds with Cape Howe appears and where Port Phillip Bay is, the map shows a sizable bay called 'Bay Gouffre'. The place where Cook's Endeavour ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef is marked on the Dieppe maps as 'Coste Dangereuse', and shows a reef or shoals some distance off shore up and down the coast which follows the line of the Great Barrier Reef.
Cooktown Harbour is shown as 'Baye Perdue'. But the most interestingly named coastal feature on the Dauphin maps, and one which raises the biggest question mark about whether or not Cook was the first European to navigate the east coast of Australia, is in the vicinity of modern day Sydney. A coastal indent is marked as 'Baye de Herbes' - or translated into English, 'Bay of Botany' - on the Dieppe maps. The corresponding bay was marked "Botany Bay" by Cook on his chart.
At the age of 30, Portugese navigator Pedro Fernandez De Quiros (born 1565) had sailed as chief pilot with Spanish explorer Alvaro de Mendana, in order to colonize the Solomon Islands, which Mendana had previously discovered. By 1600 De Quiros had come to believe that he was divinely chosen as the one to bring the inhabitants of the southern land into the 'true fold' of the Holy Catholic church. Three years later De Quiros obtained royal approval to search for the southern land and set sail for Callao, Peru on 21st December 1605 in the service of the King of Spain. De Quiros sailed west until he reached a fertile island in May 1606 that he named Austrialia del Espiritu Santo.
Until recent times the opinion generally prevailed that the Island of Santo - the chief island of the New Hebrides - was the Great Land discovered by De Quiros, and that Espiritu Santo's Big Bay was where De Quiros set up camp. A map drawn by cartographer Don Diego de Prado of 'The Great Bay of St Philip and St James in Espiritu Santo', published in 1608, is a reasonably accurate representation of Big Bay, however most descriptions of the locality found in many narratives of the expedition are inconsistent with the Island of Santo and its Big Bay. On the other hand these descriptions are found to support the claim of Port Curtis, Gladstone and the adjoining Queensland coast, being where De Quiros landed and claimed his discovery for the King of Spain. If De Quiros had actually landed on Queensland soil, the vessels depicted in the rock art of the Flinders Group might well have been his.