A Rare Bird in the land
Exploration before modern technology was a risky business. Not only for the pockets of those funding these travels, but for the lives of those brave enough to venture into the unknown.
Willem de Vlamingh was a Dutch sea captain and whaler by trade who later joined the VOC (Dutch East India Company). His second voyage was a rescue mission to look for survivors of the Ridderschap van Holland which had been missing for two years. The Nine Year’s War with France forced him to take a route along the coast of Scotland to Tristan da Cunha and then on to the Cape of Good Hope. Here, their journey was hampered by the dreaded illness, scurvy. Finally, after many weeks of recovery they continued their journey to the East, searching for the missing ship and its crew.
On their route they stopped at the islands of Île Saint-Paul, Île Amsterdam, and one which they were the first to land on. Willem de Vlamingh named it Rottnest Island because of the creatures that resembled rats. Eventually they reached the western coast of Australia. Venturing up a river one day they spotted a black bird in the shape of a swan. A black swan? Could this be? Up until this point black swans only occurred in the imaginations of the Early Europeans as a metaphor for that which did not exist. There, on a continent far away they discovered that black swans did exist.
The black swan has become a widely recognized symbol for Western Australia. It can be found on the Western Australian flag and coat of arms, coins, logos and mascots, and of course stamps.
Even though no wreckage was ever found, nor any souls saved, the mission to rescue the Ridderschap van Holland was not a complete failure; a new island was named and a bird was discovered.