Name of Australia

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1570 map by Abraham Ortelius depicting Terra Australis Nondum Cognita as a large continent on the bottom of the map and also an Arctic continent
The name "Austrialia" was used for the first time by Queirós – on 1 May 1606 Tridentine calendar[1][2][3] or May 3 Roman Calendar
Austrialia was altered or 'corrected' to Australia over time (one example shown).[4]
Image with text reading: The vast Island or rather Continent of Australia, Astralasia, or New Holland, which has so lately attracted the particular attention of European navigators and naturalists, seems to abound in scenes of peculiar wildness and fertility; while the wretched natives of many of those dreary districts seem less elevated above the inferior animals than in any other part of the known world; Caffraria itself not excepted; as well as less endued
The name Australia was specifically applied to the continent for the first time in 1794.[5]

The name Australia (pronounced /əˈstrliə/ in Australian English[6]) is derived from the Latin australis, meaning "southern", and specifically from the hypothetical Terra Australis postulated in pre-modern geography. The name was popularised by the explorer Matthew Flinders from 1804, and it has been in official use since 1817, replacing "New Holland", an English translation of the Dutch name, first given by Abel Tasman in 1643 as the name for the continent.


The name Australia has been applied to two continents. Originally, it was applied to the south polar continent, or sixth continent, now known as Antarctica. The name is a shortened form of Terra Australis which was one of the names given to the imagined (but undiscovered) land mass that was thought to surround the south pole. The earliest known use of the name Australia in Latin was in 1545, when the word appears in a woodcut illustration of the globe titled "Sphere of the Winds" contained in an astrological textbook published in Frankfurt.[7] In the nineteenth century, the name Australia was re-assigned to New Holland, the fifth continent. Thereafter, the south polar continent remained nameless for some eighty years until the new name of Antarctica was invented.[8]

A Terra Australis "land of the south" appeared on world maps from the 15th century, although it was not based on any actual surveying of such a landmass but rather on the hypothesis that continents in the Northern Hemisphere should be balanced by land in the south.[9] This theory of balancing land is on record as early as the 5th century on maps by Macrobius.[10]

The earliest recorded use of the word Australia in English was in 1625 in "A note of Australia del Espíritu Santo, written by Sir Richard Hakluyt", published by Samuel Purchas in Hakluytus Posthumus, a variation of the original Spanish name "Austrialia del Espiritu Santo" (Southern-Austrian Land of the Holy Spirit)[1][2][11] coined by navigator Pedro Fernandes de Queirós in 1606 for the largest island of Vanuatu, believing his expedition had reached Terra Australis.[12] This is a rare combination of terms "Austral" and "Austria", the latter in honour of the Habsburg dynasty that ruled Spain at the time.[13] The Dutch adjectival form Australische was used in a Dutch book in Batavia (Jakarta) in 1638, to refer to the newly discovered lands to the south.[14] Australia was later used in a 1693 translation of Les Aventures de Jacques Sadeur dans la Découverte et le Voyage de la Terre Australe, a 1676 French novel by Gabriel de Foigny, under the pen-name Jacques Sadeur.[15] Referring to the entire South Pacific region, Alexander Dalrymple used it in An Historical Collection of Voyages and Discoveries in the South Pacific Ocean in 1771.

The name Australia was specifically applied to the continent for the first time in 1794,[5] with the botanists George Shaw and Sir James Smith writing of "the vast island, or rather continent, of Australia, Australasia or New Holland" in their 1793 Zoology and Botany of New Holland,[16] and James Wilson including it on a 1799 chart.[17]

The name Australia was popularised by the explorer Matthew Flinders, who pushed for it to be formally adopted as early as 1804.[18] When preparing his manuscript and charts for his 1814 A Voyage to Terra Australis, he was persuaded by his patron, Sir Joseph Banks, to use the term Terra Australis as this was the name most familiar to the public. Flinders did so, and published the following rationale:

There is no probability, that any other detached body of land, of nearly equal extent, will ever be found in a more southern latitude; the name Terra Australis will, therefore, remain descriptive of the geographical importance of this country, and of its situation on the globe: it has antiquity to recommend it; and, having no reference to either of the two claiming nations, appears to be less objectionable than any other which could have been selected.[19]

In the footnote to this Flinders wrote:

Had I permitted myself any innovation on the original term, it would have been to convert it to AUSTRALIA; as being more agreeable to the ear, and an assimilation to the names of the other great portions of the earth.[20]

This is the only occurrence of the word Australia in that text; but in Appendix III, Robert Brown's General remarks, geographical and systematical, on the botany of Terra Australis, Brown makes use of the adjectival form Australian throughout,[21]—the first known use of that form.[22] Despite popular conception, the book was not instrumental in the adoption of the name: the name came gradually to be accepted over the following ten years.[23]

The first time that the name Australia appears to have been officially used was in a despatch to Lord Bathurst of 4 April 1817 in which Governor Lachlan Macquarie acknowledges the receipt of Capt. Flinders' charts of Australia.[24] On 12 December 1817, Macquarie recommended to the Colonial Office that it be formally adopted.[25] In 1824, the Admiralty agreed that the continent should be known officially as Australia.[26]

Djurberg's 1780 map, with Australia marked as Ulimaroa

Ulimaroa was a name given to Australia by the Swedish geographer and cartographer Daniel Djurberg in 1776.[27] Djurberg adapted the name from Olhemaroa, a Māori word found in Hawkesworth's edition of Captain James Cook and Sir Joseph Banks' journals which is thought to have been a misunderstood translation — the Māori were actually referring to Grand Terre, the largest island of New Caledonia.[27] Djurberg believed the name meant something like "big red land", whereas modern linguists believe it meant "long arm" (or hand) — echoing the geography of Grand Terre.[27] The spurious name continued to be reproduced on certain European maps, particularly some Austrian, Czech, German and Swedish maps, until around 1820,[27] including in Carl Almqvist's 1817 novel Parjumouf Saga ifrån Nya Holland (Stockholm, 1817). Nowadays, in Māori the term for Australia is Ahitereiria.

The Commonwealth of Australia[edit]

The sovereign country Australia, formed in 1901 by the Federation of the six British colonies, is officially known as The Commonwealth of Australia, abbreviated within the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act and the Constitution of Australia to "the Commonwealth".[28]


The country has been referred to colloquially as Oz by people outside the country since the early 20th century; and by Australians in more recent times.

The Oxford English Dictionary records a first occurrence in 1908, in the form Oss. Oz is often taken as an oblique reference to the fictional Land of Oz in the film The Wizard of Oz (1939), based on L. Frank Baum's novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900).[29] In 1988, an American opinion was that Australians' "image of Australia as a 'Land of Oz' is not new, and dedication to it runs deep"[30] but evidence for this view within Australia itself is lacking. The spelling Oz is likely to have been influenced by the 1939 film, though the pronunciation was probably always with a /z/, as it is also for Aussie, sometimes spelt Ozzie.[31] The Baz Luhrmann film Australia (2008) makes repeated reference to The Wizard of Oz, which appeared just before the wartime action of Australia. Some critics have even speculated that Baum was inspired by Australia, in naming the Land of Oz: "In Ozma of Oz (1907), Dorothy gets back to Oz as the result of a storm at sea while she and Uncle Henry are travelling by ship to Australia. So, like Australia, Oz is somewhere to the west of California. Like Australia, Oz is an island continent. Like Australia, Oz has inhabited regions bordering on a great desert. One might almost imagine that Baum intended Oz to be Australia, or perhaps a magical land in the centre of the great Australian desert."[32]

Australia's initial ccTLD was oz, with such domains moved to, as discussed in Historical ccTLDs.


The Māori name "Ahitereiria" appears in the Māori name for Food Standards Australia New Zealand, "Te Mana Kounga Kai – Ahitereiria me Aotearoa".

Other epithets and nicknames[edit]

Australia is colloquially known as "the Land Down Under" (or just "Down Under"), which derives from the country's position in the Southern Hemisphere, near the antipodes of the United Kingdom. The term was first recorded in print in 1886, and was popularised internationally by the 1980 song of the same name by Men at Work.[33] Other less common nicknames include "Straya" ("Australia" pronounced in an exaggerated Strine manner), and "Aussie", which is usually used as a demonym, but occasionally extended to the country as a whole (especially in New Zealand).[34] More poetic epithets used within Australia include "the Great Southern Land" (re-popularised by a 1980s rock song, and not to be confused with the Great Southern region of Western Australia),[35] "the Lucky Country" (deriving from Donald Horne's 1964 book of the same name), and two phrases deriving from Dorothea Mackellar's 1908 poem "My Country" – "the sunburnt country" and "the wide brown land".[36][37]


  1. ^ a b "He named it Austrialia del Espiritu Santo and claimed it for Spain" The Spanish quest for Terra Australis | State Library of New South Wales Page 1.
  2. ^ a b "before reaching the New Hebrides or what he called Austrialis del Espiritu Santo on 3 May 1606" Quiros, Pedro Fernandez de (1563–1615) Para 4 | Australian Dictionary of Biography.
  3. ^ Cartouche of La Gran Baya de S. Philippe y S. Santiago, Prado y Tovar ca.1606-1614 (España. Ministerio de Cultura. Archivo General de Simancas).
  4. ^ Gerritsen, Rupert (2013). "A note on 'Australia' or 'Austrialia'" (PDF). The Globe. 72: 23. Posesion en nombre de Su Magestad (Archivo del Museo Naval, Madrid, MS 951.
  5. ^ a b "First Instance of the Word Australia being applied specifically to the Continent - in 1794" Zoology of New Holland – Shaw, George, 1751–1813; Sowerby, James, 1757–1822 Page 2.
  6. ^ Australian pronunciations: Macquarie Dictionary, Fourth Edition (2005). Melbourne, The Macquarie Library Pty Ltd. ISBN 1-876429-14-3
  7. ^ Barth, Cyriaco Jacob zum (1545). Astronomia: Teutsch Astronomei. Frankfurt.
  8. ^ Cameron-Ash, M (2018). Lying for the Admiralty: Captain Cook's Endeavour Voyage. Sydney: Rosenberg Publishing. pp. 18–19. ISBN 9780648043966.
  9. ^ John Noble Wilford: The Mapmakers, the Story of the Great Pioneers in Cartography from Antiquity to Space Age, p. 139, Vintage Books, Random House 1982, ISBN 0-394-75303-8
  10. ^ Ambrosius Aurelius Theodosius Macrobius, Zonenkarte. Retrieved 7 July 2014.
  11. ^ "THE ILLUSTRATED SYDNEY NEWS". Illustrated Sydney News. 26 January 1888. p. 2. Retrieved 29 January 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
  12. ^ Purchas, vol. iv, pp. 1422–32, 1625. This appears to be variation of the original Spanish "Austrialia" [sic].[1] A copy at the Library of Congress can be read online [2].
  13. ^ Barber, Peter et al. Mapping Our World: Terra Incognita To Australia, National Library of Australia, 2013, p. 107.
  14. ^ Scott, Ernest (2004) [1914]. The Life of Captain Matthew Flinders. Kessinger Publishing. p. 299. ISBN 978-1-4191-6948-9.
  15. ^ Baker, Sidney J. (1966) The Australian Language, 2nd ed.
  16. ^ Ferguson, John Alexander (1975). Bibliography of Australia: 1784–1830. Vol. 1 (reprint ed.). National Library Australia. p. 77. ISBN 0-642-99044-1 – via National Library of Australia.
  17. ^ Estensen, Miriam (2002). The Life of Matthew Flinders. Allen & Unwin. p. 354. ISBN 1-74114-152-4. Flinders was not the first to use the name Australia. He may have known it from a 1799 chart of navigator James Wilson, possibly from a 1622 account of the voyage of Willem Schouten and Jacob Lemaire, or some other source.
  18. ^ Flinders, Matthew. "Letter from Matthew Flinders originally enclosing a chart of 'New Holland' (Australia)". Cambridge Digital Library. Retrieved 18 July 2014.
  19. ^ Matthew Flinders, A voyage to Terra Australis (Introduction). Retrieved 25 January 2013.
  20. ^ Flinders, Matthew (1814). A Voyage to Terra Australis. G. and W. Nicol.
  21. ^ Bennett, J. J., ed. (1866–68). "General remarks, geographical and systematical, on the botany of Terra Australis". The Miscellaneous Botanical Works of Robert Brown, Esq., D.C.L., F.R.S. Vol. 2. pp. 1–89.
  22. ^ Mabberley, David (1985). Jupiter botanicus: Robert Brown of the British Museum. British Museum (Natural History). ISBN 3-7682-1408-7.
  23. ^ Estensen, p. 450
  24. ^ "WHO NAMED AUSTRALIA?". The Maillocation=Adelaide. 11 February 1928. p. 16. Retrieved 14 February 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
  25. ^ Weekend Australian, 30–31 December 2000, p. 16
  26. ^ Department of Immigration and Citizenship (2007). Life in Australia (PDF). Commonwealth of Australia. p. 11. ISBN 978-1-921446-30-6. Archived from the original (PDF) on 17 October 2009. Retrieved 30 March 2010.
  27. ^ a b c d "Ulimaroa: a misnomer for Australia". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 2012. Retrieved 13 October 2016.
  28. ^ "Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act". ComLaw. 9 July 1900. Retrieved 18 December 2019.
  29. ^ Jacobson, H. (1988) In the Land of Oz, Penguin, ISBN 0-14-010966-8.
  30. ^ The Americana Annual: 1988, Americana Corporation, vol. 13, 1989, p. 66, ISBN 0-7172-0220-8
  31. ^ Partridge, Eric, et al., The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, Taylor & Francis, 2006, ISBN 0-415-25938-X, entries "Oz" and "Ozzie", p. 1431.
  32. ^ Algeo, J., "Australia as the Land of Oz", American Speech, Vol. 65, No. 1, 1990, pp. 86–89.
  33. ^ Oxford English Dictionary (Electronic), Version 4.0, entry for "down under". The dictionary recodes the first published use in 1886 by J. A. Froude in Oceana p. 92 "We were to bid adieu to the 'Australasian'…She had carried us safely down under."
  34. ^ Macquarie Dictionary (5th ed.). Macmillan Publishers Australia. 2010. ISBN 9781876429669.
  35. ^ For example, in: Helen Trinca (14 February 2015). Western values: Perth now and thenThe Australian. Retrieved 10 September 2015.
  36. ^ For example, in: Bridie Smith (8 April 2015). "A sunburnt country spotted from space"The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 10 September 2015.
  37. ^ For example, in: Margaret Smith (17 January 2015). "What if the French had settled Australia first?"The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 10 September 2015.