“Heave!” “Ready the topsail brace!”

Four hundred years ago these commands would have been bellowed in old Dutch as the little Duyfken bobbed about in the Gulf of Carpentaria on its scouting mission to the southern land.

Hang on? That’s 160 years before Captain Cook. Yes, children, throw away those text books. The Dutch discovered Australia and Captain Willem Janszoon even produced a map to prove his claim. It was called New Holland once, remember?

Standing here on the deck of the tiny Duyfken replica, barely 20m long, it’s hard to imagine this ship playing such a formative part in the discovery of Australia. Surrounded by oak, rope and sailcloth, we’re not much bigger than the orange lifeboats attached to the side of Holland America Line’s enormous Amsterdam.

Yesterday the Duyfken II has the prestigious task of escorting the massive Dutch cruise ship, the 60,000 ton, 240m ms Amsterdam out of Circular Quay as it continues its round-the-world journey with 2000 passengers and crew. In 1606, the dozen or so crew would have slept on deck with the prize spice cargo stowed carefully below. Today the Amsterdam’s guests on 10 decks are burdened with the choice of six lounges, three restaurants, two swimming pools, a health spa and fitness centre, Culinary Arts Centre, show lounge, library and internet centre, casino, tennis courts and more.

But this is no fleeting visit, the Dutch are back and according to HAL such is the demand for cruising, the Seattle-based Holland America Line will deploy two ships in Australia simultaneously for the first time in the 2011-12 season, the ms Volendam and ms Zaandam.

Next we’ll all be wearing clogs.

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