The Land Down Under

Australia-centric world map showing Australia in green.
Modern photo of an old-school type cartographer.
Two maps based on explorations of early European seafarers.
Euro-centric world map, with Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea shown in purple in the southern hemisphere.
Two European cartographers standing by a table at the “World of Discoveries” exhibition in Porto, Portugal.
The earth, as seen from space.
A reversed world map (as well as an Australia-centric world map), with Australia positioned in the northern hemisphere and shown in green.

Australia is located in the southern hemisphere on world maps. However, some politically aware Aussies argue that the country could just as well be placed in the northern hemisphere, at the top of world maps. This is because, seeing Earth from space, no part of it is more up or more down than any other part, meaning that what is up and what is down on a map is totally arbitrary.

The reason why Australia has been placed at the bottom of world maps has to do with European seafarers’ discoveries hundreds of years ago. These discoveries led to the world’s first globally popular world maps being created, and because the cartographers were from Europe, Europe was prestigiously placed in the north on these maps, at the top of the world. Australia, then, became placed at the bottom of the world, or “down under”.

Reversed maps

With maps placing Australia down under being the norm, maps facing the other way are usually called reversed maps. These reversed maps are sometimes applied by Australians to show different perspectives, but to avoid confusion, the same type of north–south structured map that is standard in Europe and elsewhere is standard in Australia too. Nonetheless, while harmoniously going along with the globally accepted north–south structure, Australians often put their own country at the center of their world maps. This Australia-centric world map that Australians use, as opposed to the Euro-centric one, serves the purpose of helping Aussies understand how far away other countries and continents are relative to Australia.

Aussie pride

Using maps where Australia is placed in the southern hemisphere, for practical purposes or otherwise, has left Australians with little choice but to own and identify with being “down under”. As a consequence, today, many Australians think of their location on the world map as rather awesome, and a number of things they are proud of make reference to being down under. The Australian hard-hitting former boxing champion Kostya Tszyu, for example, is nicknamed “the Thunder from Down Under” and the Men at Work song “Down Under” has become a popular rallying song for patriotic Australians.