Honey, I Melted Australia!

How do you map a half-discovered country? You make up the other half!

This is what happens when you put your Australia too close to the heater — it melts. No, I'm not buying you a new one!

On this map, Australia's western half is fairly recognisable, but the other half is almost literally dripping off the page. What did it do to deserve such treatment?

We're all familiar with what Australia should look like, or course — that strangely animalistic shape: half dog's head, half cat's head. But this map dates from the time when the island-continent was still only half-discovered. The dog's head half, to be precise.

By the mid-18th century, Dutch explorers had charted Australia's western coastline, naming the unexplored hinterland "New Holland." They named a smaller island, further to the east, "New Zealand," after another part of their distant homeland. In between, they landed on a piece of real estate they called Van Diemen's Land, known to us as Tasmania. 

With much else in between and around still unknown, what was the point of making a map of the region? The point, in short, was about the itch to make a profit as least as much as about the urge to discover.


Europe's maritime empires — the world powers of the day — were engaged in a race for discovery of, dominion over, and ultimately profit from as-yet-unknown lands. The Spice Islands, to the north of New Holland, (and now known as the Moluccas) had been a source of fabulous wealth since the 16th century. Who knew what riches these strange new lands might hold? 

So spare a thought for Jacques-Nicolas Bellin, the French cartographer who made this map in 1753, with innumerable merchant-adventurers looking over his shoulder. With very little to go on, he filled in the blanks on the map as well as he could. All things considered, he could have done a lot worse than this melted Australia.

Bellin had a few certainties from which to start. Some places were well-attested and located. A few survive to this day. For example, Terre de Leuvin, named after the Dutch ship Leeuwin. There's still a Cape Leeuwin in the area. Further east, Terre de Nuits does not refer to a "land of nights," but is named after Pieter Nuyts, who visited the area in 1627 on his way from the Netherlands to Formosa (now Taiwan). A local nature reserve is still called Nuytsland. In the north, Terre d'Arnhem, Australia's western hump, is still referred to as Arnhem Land today. 

Other names have fallen in disuse. Terre de Wit, named after Gerrit Frederikszoon de Witt, captain of the Vianen, who sighted this land in early 1628. Bellin literally translates the captain's surname, naming the land Terre Blanche, "White Land," or, perhaps more appropriately, "Blank Land." 

Even blanker was the land east of Terre de Nuits. Along the coast, Bellin has inserted the legend, Ceci est conjecturale: "This is conjectural." It almost sounds like a foreshadowing of René Magritte's famous slogan, under that painted pipe: Ceci n'est pas une pipe

Appropriately featureless, the Conjectural Coast, dotted to indicate its hypotheticality, bends south to connect with Terre Van Diemen, discovered in 1642 by Abel Tasman, and decked out with a bit more detail.

We now know that Van Diemen's Land, aka Tasmania, is an island, but Bellin did not. He meekly added another caveat to New Holland's undiscovered eastern coast: Je suppose que la Terre de Diemen peut venir se joindre avec la Terre du S. Esprit, mais sans preuves: "I suppose Van Diemen's Land could be joined with the Land of the Holy Ghost (Cape York), but I don't have any proof." 

Bellin even seems to have entertained the possibility that Cape York was connected to New Guinea, but the map hedges its bets: Both land masses are coloured differently, even though a dotted line seems to link them to each other.

New Zealand is another combination of full, detailed lines and dotted, smooth lines. The legend reads: "This coast was discovered by Abel Tasmand (sic) in 1642, and named by him New Zealand; it could be a part of a great antipodean continent, on the opposite side of the world to Europe."

At that time, people still assumed that the world's continents were somehow in balance, and that the European land mass required an opposite land mass in the corresponding place in the southern hemisphere (see also #104).

Stupid, right? But just imagine: Which half of what you know to be true will be proved wrong in 263 years' time?


Dog/cat map of Australia found here on Twitter. Bellin map found here at The Map House.

Strange Maps #764

Got a strange map? Let me know at strangemaps@gmail.com.

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Why Epicurean ideas suit the challenges of modern secular life

Sure, Epicureans focused on seeking pleasure – but they also did so much more.

Antonio Masiello/Getty Images
Culture & Religion

'The pursuit of Happiness' is a famous phrase in a famous document, the United States Declaration of Independence (1776). But few know that its author was inspired by an ancient Greek philosopher, Epicurus. Thomas Jefferson considered himself an Epicurean. He probably found the phrase in John Locke, who, like Thomas Hobbes, David Hume and Adam Smith, had also been influenced by Epicurus.

Nowadays, educated English-speaking urbanites might call you an epicure if you complain to a waiter about over-salted soup, and stoical if you don't. In the popular mind, an epicure fine-tunes pleasure, consuming beautifully, while a stoic lives a life of virtue, pleasure sublimated for good. But this doesn't do justice to Epicurus, who came closest of all the ancient philosophers to understanding the challenges of modern secular life.

Epicureanism competed with Stoicism to dominate Greek and Roman culture. Born in 341 BCE, only six years after Plato's death, Epicurus came of age at a good time to achieve influence. He was 18 when Alexander the Great died at the tail end of classical Greece – identified through its collection of independent city-states – and the emergence of the dynastic rule that spread across the Persian Empire. Zeno, who founded Stoicism in Cyprus and later taught it in Athens, lived during the same period. Later, the Roman Stoic Seneca both critiqued Epicurus and quoted him favourably.

Today, these two great contesting philosophies of ancient times have been reduced to attitudes about comfort and pleasure – will you send back the soup or not? That very misunderstanding tells me that Epicurean ideas won, hands down, though bowdlerised, without the full logic of the philosophy. Epicureans were concerned with how people felt. The Stoics focused on a hierarchy of value. If the Stoics had won, stoical would now mean noble and an epicure would be trivial.

Epicureans did focus on seeking pleasure – but they did so much more. They talked as much about reducing pain – and even more about being rational. They were interested in intelligent living, an idea that has evolved in our day to mean knowledgeable consumption. But equating knowing what will make you happiest with knowing the best wine means Epicurus is misunderstood.

The rationality he wedded to democracy relied on science. We now know Epicurus mainly through a poem, De rerum natura, or 'On the Nature of Things', a 7,400 line exposition by the Roman philosopher Lucretius, who lived c250 years after Epicurus. The poem was circulated only among a small number of people of letters until it was said to be rediscovered in the 15th century, when it radically challenged Christianity.

Its principles read as astonishingly modern, down to the physics. In six books, Lucretius states that everything is made of invisible particles, space and time are infinite, nature is an endless experiment, human society began as a battle to survive, there is no afterlife, religions are cruel delusions, and the universe has no clear purpose. The world is material – with a smidgen of free will. How should we live? Rationally, by dropping illusion. False ideas largely make us unhappy. If we minimise the pain they cause, we maximise our pleasure.

Secular moderns are so Epicurean that we might not hear this thunderclap. He didn't stress perfectionism or fine discriminations in pleasure – sending back the soup. He understood what the Buddhists call samsara, the suffering of endless craving. Pleasures are poisoned when we require that they do not end. So, for example, it is natural to enjoy sex, but sex will make you unhappy if you hope to possess your lover for all time.

Epicurus also seems uncannily modern in his attitude to parenting. Children are likely to bring at least as much pain as pleasure, he noted, so you might want to skip it. Modern couples who choose to be 'child-free' fit within the largely Epicurean culture we have today. Does it make sense to tell people to pursue their happiness and then expect them to take on decades of responsibility for other humans? Well, maybe, if you seek meaning. Our idea of meaning is something like the virtue embraced by the Stoics, who claimed it would bring you happiness.

Both the Stoics and the Epicureans understood that some good things are better than others. Thus you necessarily run into choices, and the need to forgo one good to protect or gain another. When you make those choices wisely, you'll be happier. But the Stoics think you'll be acting in line with a grand plan by a just grand designer, and the Epicureans don't.

As secular moderns, we pursue short-term happiness and achieve deeper pleasure in work well done. We seek the esteem of peers. It all makes sense in the light of science, which has documented that happiness for most of us arises from social ties – not the perfect rose garden or a closet of haute couture. Epicurus would not only appreciate the science, but was a big fan of friendship.

The Stoics and Epicureans diverge when it comes to politics. Epicurus thought politics brought only frustration. The Stoics believed that you should engage in politics as virtuously as you can. Here in the US where I live, half the country refrains from voting in non-presidential years, which seems Epicurean at heart.

Yet Epicurus was a democrat. In a garden on the outskirts of Athens, he set up a school scandalously open to women and slaves – a practice that his contemporaries saw as proof of his depravity. When Jefferson advocated education for American slaves, he might have had Epicurus in mind.

I imagine Epicurus would see far more consumption than necessary in my own American life and too little self-discipline. Above all, he wanted us to take responsibility for our choices. Here he is in his Letter to Menoeceus:

For it is not drinking bouts and continuous partying and enjoying boys and women, or consuming fish and the other dainties of an extravagant table, which produce the pleasant life, but sober calculation which searches out the reasons for every choice and avoidance and drives out the opinions which are the source of the greatest turmoil for men's souls.

Do you see the 'pursuit of happiness' as a tough research project and kick yourself when you're glum? You're Epicurean. We think of the Stoics as tougher, but they provided the comfort of faith. Accept your fate, they said. Epicurus said: It's a mess. Be smarter than the rest of them. How modern can you get?Aeon counter – do not remove

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons. Read the original article.

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