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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Kangaroo drawing could change Australian history

Does this look like a kangaroo to you?

It certainly does to me.

Trouble is, it is in a 16th century Portuguese manuscript, confounding all conventional understanding of the European discovery of Australia.

Sophie Tedmanson reports.

The Dutch ship Duyfken, which landed in Australia in 1606, was thought to been the first European ship to dock on the mainland. However the discovery of the long-lost manuscript has led historians to believe that images of kangaroos had been circulating for decades before then.

The 16th century drawing was proof that the artist had either been in Australia or heard reports about the country and its native animals from other western European travellers, according to Les Enluminures researcher Laura Light.

‘A kangaroo or a wallaby in a manuscript dated this early is proof that the artist of this manuscript had either been in Australia, or even more interestingly, that travellers' reports and drawings of the interesting animals found in this new world were already available in Portugal,’ Ms Light told the Sydney Morning Herald.

Portugal was extremely secretive about her trade routes during this period, explaining why their presence there wasn't widely known.’

The manuscript also features of male figures adorned in tribal dress, baring naked torsos and crowns of leaves in the text, which Ms Light said could depict Aborigines.

The pocket-sized manuscript contains text and music for a liturgical procession. It is inscribed with the name Caterina de Carvalho, who is believed to be a nun from Caldas da Rainha in western Portugal.

Dutch explorer Willem Janszoon has long been credited with being the first European to discover Australia when he docked the Duyfken at the mouth of the Pennefather River on the Cape York Peninsula in Queensland in 1606.

Some historians, including author Peter Trickett, have long debated that the coast of Australia was actually first mapped by a Portuguese maritime expedition nearly a century before the Dutch landing.

‘It is not surprising at all that an image of a kangaroo would have turned up in Portugal at some point in the latter part of the 16th century. It could be that someone in the Portuguese exhibition had this manuscript in their possession,’ Mr Trickett told the paper.

Other historians theorised that the drawing could be the result of expeditions made by Portuguese explorer Jorge de Menezes to New Guinea – which has similar flora and fauna to northern Queensland where the Duyfken landed – in 1526.

National Library of Australia curator of maps Martin Woods said the kangaroo-like image was not proof enough to rewrite history as it could actually depict a number of other animals from south-east Asia.

‘People will continue to look, but for now, unfortunately the appearance of a long-eared big-footed animal in a manuscript doesn't really add much,’ he told the paper.

The Les Enluminures gallery will exhibit the manuscript - valued at $US15,000 ($16,600) - as part of a new exhibition Sacred Song: Chanting the Bible in the Middle Ages and Renaissance.

Since this news was posted, the manuscript, called "Processional (Monastic Use, perhaps Cistercian," was sold.


Dale said...

Interesting question.

On the other hand, the Portuguese were in Africa from the 15th century, and this could also be taken for an African springhaas (Pedetes capensis).

Let's hope the new owner doesn't find out it was done in biro!

Joan Druett said...

LOL :) Actually, I agree with Woods (and you) that it is not necessarily a kangaroo. And the dates span Dutch encounters with Australians, the Duyfken being only one of several questing vessels.