There’s some corner of an English field that is forever Australia.

This almost century-old chalk map of Oz, carved into a Wiltshire hillside, seems to validate the above variation on war poet Rupert Brooke’s most famous line. That quote, about a foreign field being forever England, and the map are almost contemporary, both dating to the First World War. But not quite: Brooke died in 1915 at the tender age of 28, while under arms (what killed him, incidentally, was not a German bullet, but a nasty mosquito bite). The map, and nearby renditions of regimental insignia, have been dated to 1917 or 1916 at the earliest.

But in spite of already surviving longer than an average human lifespan, the chalk map, above the Wiltshire village of Compton Chamberlayne, is anything but “forever”. Its immortality seems a lot more relative than Brooke’s War Sonnet No 5, from which the original line was lifted. The map of Australia, a remarkable example of curious cartography carved by homesick Australian soldiers, is in the process of grassing over. In 2001, a lack of funds forced the Fovant Badges Society to give up on the map’s upkeep and allow nature to reclaim it. True to its name, the Society concentrates on the nearby regimental badges.

Those badges and the fast fading map of Oz constitute some of the more recent examples of a mysterious British tradition of geoglyphy (i.e. producing figures by exposing chalk substratum on hillsides). This tradition might date back to the Iron Age, although some, similarly undocumented examples probably are no older than the 17th century. Famous examples include the Cerne Abbas Man (a.k.a. the Rude Giant), the Uffington Horse and the Long Man of Wilmington. Uncounted others have over the ages fallen into disrepair and have melted back into nature. The same is now happening to this strange map of Australia, apparently already losing its lettering – the name ‘Australia’ spelled across the 60 metre wide continent.

Many thanks to David Ramos for sending in this link to the Australia map at the Airminded blog, which is dedicated to all aspects of all things airborne. Here are links to the Fovant Badges Society and to the Hillfigure Homepage, which includes a list of Lost Figures. Due to image-grabbing difficulties, I’ve opted to use this image, ostensibly from a Japanese website.