Pennefather River

The Pennefather River is located on western Cape York Peninsula. It is about 11 km long and up to about 2 km wide. The mouth of the Pennefather River is an attractive area for camping and there are many white sand beaches on the coast south of the river. There are no public amenities at these locations. The basic campground for self-sufficient campers is 71 km north of Weipa, signposted off Mapoon Road. Camping and vehicle permits can be obtained from the Weipa Camping Ground. This campsite is closed during the wet season. Note: alcohol restrictions are enforced in Mapoon Shire and heavy penalties apply; check current limits before embarking.

The coasts in the Weipa area was the first stretch of Australian coastline ever discovered explored by Europeans. The Dutch explorer Willem Jansz, sailing the Duyfken in 1606, first sighted land near where Weipa stands today. The crew of the Duyfken made the first recorded contact between Aboriginal and European people at the Pennefather River about 50 km north of Weipa. The northern point of Albatross Bay is named Duyfken Point in honour of the expedition.

Visit of the Duyfken in 1606

On 18 November 1605, the Dutch exploratory vessel Duyfken under Willam Janszoon sailed from Bantam to the coast of western New Guinea. Janszoon then crossed the eastern end of theArafura Sea, without seeing the Torres Strait, into the Gulf of Carpentaria. On 26 February 1606, he made landfall at the Pennefather River on the western shore of Cape York in Queensland, near the modern town of Weipa. This is the first recorded European landfall on the Australian continent. Janszoon proceeded to chart some 320 km of the coastline, which he thought was a southerly extension of New Guinea. Janszoon named the river R. met het Bosch, but it is now known as the Pennefather River. He proceeded over Albatross Bay to Archer Bay, the confluence of the Archer and the Watson Rivers, which he named Dubbelde Rev (Dutch for double river) and then on to Dugally River, which he named the Visch (Dutch for fish).

Cape Keerweer is on the lands of the Wik-Mungkan Aboriginal people, who today live in various outstations and in the nearby Aurukun Mission station. The book Mapoon, written by members of the Wik-Mungkan people and edited by Janine Roberts, contains an account of this landing passed down in Aboriginal oral history.

The Europeans sailed along from everseas and put up a building at Cape Keerweer. A crowd of Keerweer people saw their boat sail up and went to talk with them. They said they wanted to put up a city. Well the Keerweer people said that was all right. They allowed them sink a well and put up huts. They were at first happy there and worked together. The Europeans gave them tobacco. They carried off the tobacco. They gave them flour—they threw that away. They gave them soap, and they threw away the soap. The Keerweer people kept to their own bush tucker.

According to this account, the Dutch appropriated some of the women and forced the men to hunt for them. Eventually a fight broke out leading the locals to kill some of the Dutch and burn some of their boats. The Dutch are said to have shot dead many of the Keerweer people before escaping.


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After the conflict, Janszoon retraced his route north to the north side of Vliege Bay, which Matthew Flinders called Duyfken Point in 1802. He then passed his original landfall at Pennefather River and continued to the river now called Wenlock River. This river was formerly called the Batavia River, due to an error made in the chart made by the Carstenszoon 1623 expedition. According to Carstenszoon, the Batavia River was a large river, which in 1606 "... the men of the yacht Duijfken went up with the boat, on which occasion one of them was killed by the arrows of the natives".

Janszoon then proceeded past Skardon, Vrilya Point, Crab Island, Wallis Island, Red Wallis Island to 't Hooge Eylandt ("the high island", now called Muralug Island or Prince of Wales Island, on which some of them landed. The expedition then passed Badu Island to the Vuyle Bancken, the continuous coral reefs between Mabuiag Island and New Guinea. Janszoon then sailed the south coast of New Guinea, arriving back at Bantam in June 1606. He called the land he had discovered “Nieu Zeland” after the Dutch province of Zeeland, but the name was not adopted and was later used by Abel Tasman for New Zealand.

The Duyfken was actually in Torres Strait in March 1606, a few months before Luís Vaz de Torres sailed through it. In 1607 Cornelis Matelieff de Jonge sent him to Ambon and Banda.In 1611 Janszoon returned to the Netherlands believing that the south coast of New Guinea was joined to the land along which he sailed, and Dutch maps reproduced this error for many years. Though there have been suggestions that earlier navigators from China, France, or Portugal may have discovered parts of Australia, the Duyfken is the first European vessel definitely known to have done so.

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