Rupert Gerritsen

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Rupert Gerritsen

Rupert Gerritsen (1953–2013) was an Australian historian and a noted authority on Indigenous Australian prehistory. Coupled with his work on early Australian cartography, he played an influential part in re-charting Australian history prior to its settlement by the British in 1788.[1] He died in Canberra, A.C.T. on Sunday 3 November 2013.

Early years[edit]

Rupert Gerritsen was born in Geraldton,[2] Western Australia in 1953, of Dutch parents.[2] He grew up in Geraldton where he experienced first hand the excitement of the discovery of the wreck of the Batavia in 1963 and came to know some of those involved in its discovery and the discovery of other 17th and 18th century shipwrecks on the coast of Western Australia.

From 1960s through to the 1980s he was involved in radical politics and social activism and promoted social justice and empowerment.

Professionally he was engaged for many years in Western Australia and the ACT in youth work, community work and mental health, and specialise in developmental work.[3][4]

Indigenous Prehistory and Early Australian Historical Research[edit]

Although not his first work published, And Their Ghosts May Be Heard, (1994, 2nd edition in 2002),[5] is perhaps the best known. It is a detailed exploration of the fate of the Dutch mariners castaway on the Western Australian coast in the 1600s and early 1700s.

Gerritsen was involved in establishing that possibly some 16% of Nhanda, an Aboriginal language of the central west coast of Western Australia, was derived from Dutch as a result of interaction with marooned sailors.[6] This groundbreaking discovery has led to major reevaluation in the perceptions of the early prehistory in that Aboriginal Australians were not mute witnesses to the unfolding events history but active participants who embraced parts of European culture long before the British settlement of the continent.

On a more specific level, Gerritsen also researched the location where two mutineers from the Batavia mutiny, possibly Australia’s first European settlers, were marooned on 16 November 1629.[7] As a consequence of his research Gerritsen established that Hutt River, 500 kilometres north of Perth, was the site where Wouter Loos and Jan Pelgrom de Bye first set foot on mainland Australia. These discoveries wrought a complete change in the methodology of recording early Western Australian pre-history. Many subsequent scholars have embraced this new historical paradigm in their works.[8] The result is the ending of triumphal history which described the inevitability of growth of wealth and prosperity of Western Australia under the shroud of British colonialism. Such a view suppressed the inclusiveness of other voices which, through the march of time, proved to be an anathema to a multicultural society.

After the appearance of Ghosts, Gerritsen published a range of papers and monographs in diverse fields, from archaeology to historical linguistics, and another book, Australia and the Origins of Agriculture. This work put forward evidence that some Indigenous groups in Australia in traditional circumstances were engaged in food production, including agriculture, and lived in large permanent settlements.

Other Research[edit]

Gerritsen undertook research and published extensively on a diverse range of subjects. This included:

  • Identification of the oldest ceremonial object in the world, a 28,000-year-old cylcon found at Cuddie Springs.
  • Ethnographic and ethnogenic evidence of interaction between Indigenous Australians and megafauna.
  • A study of the global prehistory of water craft and island colonisation, leading to a new theory on the original colonisation of Australia.
  • Various co-authored papers on the Freycinet Map of 1811, the first full map of Australia to be published, and identifying the first world map showing a full map of Australia, published in 1810.
  • A number of papers identifying events during the Batavia Mutiny in 1629 as the first criminal prosecutions, the first military conflict and the first naval engagements in Australian history.


In recognition of his work on Australian pre-history and its Dutch influence, in 2007, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands conferred upon Gerritsen the honour of Knight of the Order of Orange-Nassau.

In August 2012 Gerritsen was awarded the Dorthy Prescott Prize for the paper, "Getting the strait facts straight", he gave at the Brisbane International Geospatial Forum.

Australia on the Map[edit]

Gerritsen was co-founder, along with Peter Reynders, of Australia on the Map: 1606–2006, and was that organisation’s National Secretary.[9] At his death he was Chair of its successor organisation, the Australia on the Map Division of the Australasian Hydrographic Society which aims to make Australians more aware of Australia's early history and heritage, beginning in 1606.[10]

Under the Australia on the Map Division of the Australasian Hydrographic Society, Gerritsen had sole or joint responsibility for a number of projects, including the "Search for the Deadwater Wreck".

Current Research[edit]

Gerritsen was a Petherick Researcher at the National Library of Australia since April 1995.[11] and focussed his research and writing on early Australian history.

Selected publications[edit]

  • The Freycinet Map of 1811: Proceedings of the Symposium Commemorating the 200th Anniversary of the Publication of the First Map of Australia (jointly edited with Robert King and Andrew Eliason)
  • Beyond the Frontier: Explorations in Ethnohistory, 2011
  • Australia's First Criminal Prosecutions in 1629, 2011
  • Australia and the Origins of Agriculture, 2008 (online Google Books preview)
  • And Their Ghosts May Be Heard ..., 1994 and 2nd ed. 2002
  • A Further Translation of Selected Chapters of Dr Erhard Eylmann's Die Eingeborenen der Kolonie Sudaustralie (The Aborigines of the Colony of South Australia), Translated and transcribed by W.C. Gerritsen and Rupert Gerritsen, 2002
  • The Traditional Settlement Pattern in South West Victoria Reconsidered, 2000
  • Nhanda Villages of the Victoria District, Western Australia, 2002
  • An anonymous account of a journey from Augusta to the Vasse in 1833, Unpublished, 1999
  • Early Records of the Wardandi language, 1998


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b Fremantle Press Authors "G" Fremantle Press, 2011
  3. ^ Mental Health Foundation ACT Staff Mental Health Foundation ACT, 2011
  4. ^ Rupert Gerritsen Research and Consultancy Rupert Gerritsen Research and Consultancy
  5. ^ National Library of Australia National Library of Australia Catalogue
  6. ^ Anonymous 1995 ‘Example of How Not to Use Historical Sources.’ In Paper and Talk: A Manual for Reconstituting Materials in Australian Indigenous Languages from Historical Sources, edited by N. Thieberger, 146. Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press; Editor 1997 ‘Editorial.’ Australian Aboriginal Studies 1997/II: 1; Gerritsen, R. 1997 ‘The Note on Page 146 of ‘Paper and Talk’: A Response.’ Australian Aboriginal Studies 1997/II: 55-57; Blevins, J. 1998 ‘A Dutch Influence on Nhanda? Wanyjidaga innga!’ Australian Aboriginal Studies 1998/I: 43-46; Gerritsen, R. 2001 ‘A Dutch influence on Nhanda?: A Reply to Blevins.’ Australian Aboriginal Studies 2001/I: 69-73. Blevins, J. 2001 A Dutch influence on Nhanda? Malya kanangga!’ Australian Aboriginal Studies 2001/I: 74-75. Blevins, J. 2001 Nhanda: An Aboriginal Language of Western Australia: Oceanic Linguistics Special Publication No. 30. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press; Gerritsen, R. 2004 Historical problems and methodological issues regarding Nhanda, an Aboriginal language of Western Australia. Anthropological Linguistics 46(1):84-99.
  7. ^ Playford, P. E. 1959 ‘Wreck of the Zuytdorp on the Western Australian coast in 1712.’, Journal and Proceedings of the Western Australian Historical Society 5(5):37-8; Gerritsen, R. 1994 And Their Ghost May Be Heard, South Fremantle: Fremantle Arts Centre Press, pp.271-87; Playford P. E. 1996, Carpet of Silver: The Wreck of the Zuytdorp, Nedlands: University of Western Australia Press, pp.237-42; Gerritsen, R. 2007 ‘The debate over where Australia’s first European residents were marooned in 1629 – Part 1.’ Hydrographic Journal 126:20-25; Gerritsen, R. 2009 ‘The debate over where Australia’s first European residents were marooned in 1629 – Part 2.’ Hydrographic Journal 128-9:35-41.
  8. ^ Drake-Brockman, H. 1963 Voyage to Disaster, Sydney: Angus and Robertson, pp.295-300; Gerritsen, R, Slee, C. and Cramer, M. 2003/2005 The Batavia Legacy, Geraldton: Batavia Coast Maritime Heritage Association.
  9. ^ Australia on the Map Australiaon the Map: 1606-2006, Australia on the Map, a division of the Australasian Hydrographic Society, on Tuesday, 5 June 2007
  10. ^ Australia on the Map, a division of the Australasian Hydrographic Society Australia on the Map, a division of the Australasian Australasian Hydrographic Society Hydrographic Society
  11. ^ Petherick Researcher Mary Gosling, Petherick Librarian, Gateways, February 2003