357 - Forever Australia - Not: Poms Let Oz Map Fade Away
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.
There’s some corner of an English field that is forever Australia.\n
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.\n
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.\n
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.\n
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.\n
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