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Australia's history is paradoxical. It has some of the oldest rocks on earth, yet its recorded history is relatively brief, usually measured from the first British colony established at what is now the city of Sydney in 1788. Yes, the Dutch and French had landed at a number of sites on the continent before this, but their visits didn't result in any long-term settlements. Also, as I noted in an earlier column (Flannery, 2011), the British pirate William Dampier landed on the west coast of Australia in 1699. When I was there last summer, I visited one of those landing sites, Shark Bay, which according to Alex George (1999) is almost as wild now as it was 400 years ago. One of the thrills of my trip to Western Australia was seeing Dampiera alata in bloom with its beautiful blue flowers (Scott & Negus, 2005). This is one of several plants named for this naturalist who brought plant, insect, and bird specimens back to England. As far as the natural history and, especially, the botany of Australia are concerned, the French actually did more of the early work than the British. And the Dutch were a formidable enough presence that the continent was referred to as "New Holland," even after British colonization began. The name "Australia" wasn't widely used until the British naval officer Matthew Flinders argued for its adoption after he had mapped the coastline while circumnavigating the continent. As I mentioned last month (Flannery, 2012), the botanist Robert Brown was a member of Flinders's party; a number of other British biologists also arrived in Australia on navy ships. The most notable is Charles Darwin on the Beagle, which sailed into Sydney Harbor in January 1836, more than 4 years after leaving England.

Science & Nature
February 1
National Association of Biology Teachers
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