Kevin’s next question isn’t as silly as it might sound. Growing up in the Northern Hemisphere, he and I were conditioned by every map we ever saw to look for Australia at the bottom right of the world. He wondered if the opposite was true in Australia.

“We’re at the top of all our maps because they’re made here,” he said. “It’s the same reason North is at the top. The opposite should be true down there, right? Don’t maps in Australia have South at the top?”

I didn’t want to admit it, but he had me stumped. I hadn’t thought at all about the question.

That’s mainly because no one in Australia thinks about this question. North is always up on the map the same way the sky is always above our heads. But, unlike gravity in three dimensional space, the way we represent Earth in two dimensions is a human construction. We could choose South to be at the top of our maps, putting Australia in a more prominent position.

HEMA Upside Down World Map

In this context, Australia as “the land Down Under” makes no sense. It’s not down under anything except Antarctica. But our brains want to reject this image. It’s not right. Australia shouldn’t be at the top of the world, it should be, like a younger sibling, at the bottom of the world, looking up.

I have to be careful here. As the oldest of four brothers and sisters (all of whom will read this), I don’t want to imply that birth order has anything at all to do with their personality traits. It almost certainly doesn’t.

But, there is a bit of collective psychology at work in Australia and around the world. A much younger nation than the US or Britain – the Commonwealth of Australia was established in 1901 – there is a sense that the country is, like a younger sibling, following in their footsteps.

The arts scene in Melbourne is dynamic and robust, programs offered by outlets like SBS and ABC are in many ways superior to US network programming, and the Sydney Opera House is one of the premier venues in the world, but an actor here doesn’t really make it big until they star in a Hollywood film.

US news can dominate the headlines here – a search for Trump on the news website returns 10,700 results, while a search for Scott Morrison, Australia’s current Prime Minister, returns only 3500.

And just the other day a colleague – born and raised in Australia – was telling me about their daughter, who is in training to become a New South Wales police officer. They said she was learning about “the right to remain silent, or whatever the equivalent is here.”

In this sense, the answer to Kevin’s question is no, Australians don’t see themselves at the top of the world. They see themselves much as the rest of the world does: down under, living their own lives at a safe distance from all the madness.

And they tend to like it that way.

Next up: What is a Democracy Sausage?


Part 1: I Would Like to Acknowledge…

Part 2: Educating Kevin About Australia

Part 3: Which Way Do Australian Toilets Flush?

Part 4: What is Macca’s and Why Does Everyone Go There?


Photo by Clker-Free-Vector-Images