ON THE TRAIL: Les Hiddins believes he may have found the site where the Dutch first landed and lived in Australia.
ON THE TRAIL: Les Hiddins believes he may have found the site where the Dutch first landed and lived in Australia. LAURA FRIEZER

Famous Aussie explorer with Gladstone man on gold theory

TANNUM Sand's Jeff Harris isn't the only one who believes there may have been Europeans on Australian soil long before the official records suggest.

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Les Hiddins, famous for his The Bush Tucker Man TV series, also believes in the existence of a 300-year-old settlement in Australia.

Hiddins is back in central Australia, walking in the footsteps of the country's earliest explorers, talking local history with Aboriginal landholders and comparing notes with scientists.

The Bush Tucker Man, 69, is knee-deep in the latest chapter of his most ambitious expedition yet.

Hiddins is stepping up a search for 300-year-old evidence, a fragment of human bone or a European-style tombstone or an artefact from a vessel, Concordia. He is hoping to prove a theory, he says he is "99.9 per cent certain", that Dutch survivors of Concordia's shipwreck off northwestern Australia walked to land near the Palmer River in the Northern Territory, 62 years before Captain James Cook landed at Botany Bay, and built a settlement that lasted generations.

He has been thinking about it since a Queensland Museum maritime archeologist, Peter Gesner, first showed him a story about a purported Dutch colony published in an 1834 edition of English newspaper The Leeds Mercury.

Today, after more than 20 trips to the Northern Territory Hiddins believes he has found the place, a few hundred kilometres south of Alice Springs.

The Leeds Mercury published an extract from the private journal of a British officer, Lieutenant Nixon, who described how his exploring party had discovered, in 1832, a white colony living in an oasis-like area in Australia's interior.

According to the extract, Nixon came across a "fair" human with the equally surprised inhabitant speaking Dutch, badly, and going on to explain that he "belonged to a small community, all as white as himself, he said about 300; that they lived in houses enclosed all together within a great wall to defend them from black men; that their fathers came there about 170 years ago, as they said from a distant land across the great sea; and that their ship broke, and 80 men and 10 of their sisters with many things were saved on shore".

"What we have to do is sharpen our pencils and use DNA and ground-penetrating radar to see what's covered up by the sands," Hiddins said.

Hedley Thomas

The Australian