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Program note: Richard Charlton's "Advenures of the Duyfken"

  • program note by Richard Charlton

The Adventures of the Duyfken
(A suite for Mandolin Orchestra & Percussion)

On November 18 1605, the Dutch ship “Duyfken” under the command of Willem Janszoon, sailed from Bantam in Indonesia to the coast of western New Guinea and then crossed the eastern end of the Arafura Sea into the Gulf of Carpentaria.

Janszoon made landfall at the Pennefather River on the western shore of Cape York in Queensland and made the first recorded European charting of the Australian coastline. Finding the land swampy and the people hostile (ten of his men were killed on various shore expeditions), at Cape Keerweer (“Turn around”) he turned north and arrived back in Bantam in June of 1606.

On 18 April 2000, the replica ship “Duyfken” slipped out of Fremantle Harbour in Western Australia and set sail on an expedition to retrace the amazing voyages of the original. When the little ship came to Sydney in 2006 I went onboard while she was berthed at Darling Harbour. I was overcome with admiration for the captain and crew of this tiny vessel who sailed beyond the edge of the then, “known world”.

This little suite pays homage to the bravery and spirit of adventure of those early explorers. In the opening movement we hear the ‘carillon’ of the old church in Amsterdam where the first “Little Dove” was built. Setting out for the Dutch East India Company (VOC) on the “spice trade”, the 2nd movement is titled “Arafura Sea” and sees the little ship sailing beyond the edge of what was “known”. In the 3rd movement, the landfall at “Pennefather River” tells of a violent clash of two cultures (with disastrous results for the crew). The last movement is more light-hearted as the little ship turns for home.

The “Duyfken” has a special significance for the people of the Mapoon, Aurukun and Napranum communities, for the story of the original visit is still part of their folklore. When the replica ship arrived at Pennefather River, charged with a strong sense of past injustices, the crew were intent upon making their own statement on the beach. They came ashore bearing a message stick from the Noongah community of the Freemantle area. The message stick asked for permission to land. A white flag was placed on a pole on the beach and next to it a spear signifying that this was a peaceful visit. The crew were given permission to land and 400 years of Australian history suddenly came into focus.

The piece was commissioned by Geoffrey Barber with funds from the Australian Mandolin Music Association and was written in June 2007.


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