The Great Australian Inland Sea
If other continents have large inland river systems, why wouldn’t Australia?
From a young age, Frank was fascinated by maps and atlases, and the stories they contained. Finding his birthplace on the map in the endpapers of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings only increased his interest in the mystery and message of maps.
While pursuing a career in journalism, Frank started a blog called Strange Maps, as a repository for the weird and wonderful cartography he found hidden in books, posing as everyday objects and (of course) floating around the Internet.
"Each map tells a story, but the stories told by your standard atlas for school or reference are limited and literal: they show only the most practical side of the world, its geography and its political divisions. Strange Maps aims to collect and comment on maps that do everything but that - maps that show the world from a different angle".
A remit that wide allows for a steady, varied diet of maps: Frank has been writing about strange maps since 2006, published a book on the subject in 2009 and joined Big Think in 2010. Readers send in new material daily, and he keeps bumping in to cartography that is delightfully obscure, amazingly beautiful, shockingly partisan, and more.
The Americas have the Mississippi and the Amazon, Africa has the Nile and Asia has the Ganges and the Mekong, among others. So why wouldn’t Australia have a large river system – or an inland sea?
Early surveyors of the unexplored centre and west of Australia, fanning out from the earlier settled east, kept on the lookout for Australia’s Amazon, or at least a large body of water, possibly connected to the outside ocean.
In 1827, former East India Company officer Thomas J. Maslen published this map of that inland sea in his book The Friend of Australia, which provided instructions for surveying and exploring the island-continent’s interior.
In retrospect, those instructions aren’t very useful; Maslen extrapolated the Macquarie and Castlereagh Rivers as headwaters of a huge river flowing across Australia into the Indian Ocean at Australia’s nort-west coast. This river separated a northern land-mass (labelled ‘Australindia’) from a southern one (named ‘Anglicana’).
It took a few more decades for the explorers to realise that Australia’s interior is extremely hot, dry, waterless and deadly. In the mid-nineteenth century, the ‘Dead Heart of Australia’ became part of the explorers’ and settlers’ vocabulary.
Map found here on a gorgeous blog called Bibliodyssey, devoted to “books, illustrations, science, history, visual materia obscura, eclectic bookart”, which includes some very curious maps, such as this one.
Strange Maps #140
Got a strange map? Let me know at email@example.com.
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