Because of the random and casual nature of these visits, no one knows when Australia first fell under a European gaze. The earliest recorded visit was in 1606, when a party of Dutch sailors under a Willen Jansz, or Janszoon, stepped briefly ashore in the far north (and as hastily retreated under a hail of Aboriginal spears), but it is evident that others had been there earlier still. A pair of Portuguese cannons, dating from no later than 1525, were found in 1916 at a place called Carronade Island on the north-west coast. Whoever left them would have been among the first Europeans to stray this far from home, but of this epochal visit not a thing is known. Even more intriguing is a map, drawn by a Portuguese hand and dating from roughly the same period, that shows not only a large land mass where Australia stands, but an apparent familiarity with the jogs and indentations of Australia's east coast - something supposedly not seen by outsiders for another two and a half centuries.
So when in April 1770 Lieutenant James Cook and his crew aboard HMS Endeavour sighted the south-east corner of Australia and followed the coast 1,800 miles north to Cape York, it wasn't so much a discovery as a confirmation.
Down Under, Bill Bryson