How was Australia discovered?

There is no straightforward answer as to how Australia was discovered.

Australian Aborigines made it to Australia anywhere between 6,000 and 50,000 years ago. No written records exist, so one can only speculate on when they first arrived, and whether a land bridge existed by which they made the crossing, or whether they island-hopped from Asia.

The Asian people visited the northern coast regularly for hundreds of years before Europeans set foot on the continent, to collect sea-slugs (trepang), a valued delicacy in Asia.

It is believed that the Portuguese were the first to sight the Australian continent, quite by accident, but there are no records within Portugal itself to substantiate the claim. The source for this claim are the Dieppe Maps, which date between 1542 and 1587, and which were drawn up by a group of French cartographers using a Portuguese source. These maps name a large land mass believed to be the Australian continent as Java-la-Grande. There is some speculation that the maps, not being to scale, actually represent an exaggerated western Java, possibly even Vietnam.

Willem Jansz/Janszoon was a Dutchman who was seeking new trade routes and trade associates. He became the first recorded European to step foot on Australia's shores on the western shore of Cape York Peninsula, on 26 February 1606. However, he believed the Cape to be part of New Guinea, from whence he crossed the Arafura Sea, so he did not record Australia as being a separate, new continent.

In 1616, Dutch sea-captain Dirk Hartog sailed too far whilst trying out Henderik Brouwer's recently discovered route from the Cape of Good Hope to Batavia, via the Roaring Forties. Reaching the western coast of Australia, he landed at Cape Inscription in Shark Bay on 25 October 1616. His is the first known record of a European visiting Western Australia's shores.

The first Englishman to visit Australia was William Dampier, in 1688.

James Cook (not yet a captain) charted the eastern coast of Australia and claimed it in the name of the British in 1770, calling it New South Wales. He charted the east coast between April and August of that year. For this reason, Cook is often wrongly credited with discovering Australia.