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?
Strange Maps #764
Got a strange map? Let me know at email@example.com.
- The meaning of the word 'confidence' seems obvious. But it's not the same as self-esteem.
- Confidence isn't just a feeling on your inside. It comes from taking action in the world.
- Join Big Think Edge today and learn how to achieve more confidence when and where it really matters.
- Bad outcomes get criticized as evidence of bad decisions, but that's not necessarily so.
- Here, poker pro Annie Duke desribes a simple thought experiment that separates decisions from outcomes.
- It is quite possible to make a very good decision that, due to external factors, results in a bad outcome.
Decide to Play Great Poker: A Strategy Guide to No-Limit Texas Hold '’Em
Lauren Miranda sent a nude selfie to a boyfriend years ago. Somehow one of her students discovered it.
- Math teacher Lauren Miranda was fired from her Long Island school when a topless selfie surfaced.
- Miranda had only shared the photo with her ex-boyfriend, who is also a teacher in the school district.
- She's suing the school for $3 million as well as getting her job back, citing gender discrimination.
If you're lacking confidence and feel like you could benefit from an ego boost, try writing your life story.
In truth, so much of what happens to us in life is random – we are pawns at the mercy of Lady Luck. To take ownership of our experiences and exert a feeling of control over our future, we tell stories about ourselves that weave meaning and continuity into our personal identity.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.