There is a long history of contact between Holland and Australia. In early 1606, William Jansz of Amsterdam, captain of the Duyfken (Little Dove) landed on Cape York Peninsula. A number of Dutch ships sank off the Western Australian coast in the 1600s and survivors reportedly established relationships with local Aborigines. By 1644, Abel Tasman had completed a partial circumnavigation of Australia which revealed, for the first time, the size of the continent. The resulting incomplete map of New Holland was not superseded until the arrival of Captain Cook in 1770.
During the 1850s gold rushes Dutch merchant ships continued to visit Australia but immigration of the Netherlands-born remained negligible. Until 1947, when the Census recorded 2,174 Netherlands born, the number of people arriving from the Netherlands were offset by a large proportion of departures of Netherlands-born from Australia. This trend has continued to the present day, apart from a period of high migration during the 1950s and 1960s.
After the Second World War, many Dutch people suffered severe economic and social dislocation in Holland. With an already high population density, a relatively small land area and the highest birth rate in Europe, the Netherlands faced a severe housing crisis and rising unemployment, due mainly to the mechanisation of agriculture. Dutch authorities actively supported emigration as a partial solutionm to the problem of overcrowding.
Meanwhile, immigration policy change meant that Australia was looking for acceptable migrants from non-British sources. The hard working rural Dutch, with their linguistic and cultural affinities with the Australian population, were seen to be ideal immigrants. Both the Australian and Netherlands Governments contributed to the cost of passage, while the Australian Government accepted the responsibility for assisting settlement. As a result, during the 1950s Australia was the destination of 30 per cent of Dutch emigrants and the Netherlands-born became numerically the second largest non-British group. Their numbers peaked in 1961 at 102,134.