Cultural Studies, Literary Studies, Postcolonial Studies

Antipodean Myths Transformed

25.08.07 | Comment?


1a. Those who live on the opposite side of the earth to each other or to oneself.
1b. Those in any way resembling the inhabitants of the opposite side of the earth.
2. Places on the surface of the earth directly or diametrically opposite to each other; a place diametrically opposite to another, esp. Australasia as the region on the opposite side of the earth to Europe.
3. Exact opposites. (Oxford English Dictionary)

Australia and the South Pacific held a special status in the eighteenth century: this was the farthest region from Europe and the last part of the earth remaining for Europeans to explore and chart. In the context of European nations’ own histories of discovering and exploring the world beyond Europe’s borders, this region is unique in the sense that no other part of the earth had such a substantial and well-documented body of European thought devoted to it over such a long period of time prior to its physical discovery. The ‘antipodes’ existed in the European imagination for approximately two thousand years before Europeans set foot on antipodean lands. Myths inspired explorers to go searching for the genuine antipodes, and voyages were often undertaken with the specific aim of finding the uncharted places that punctuated otherwise formless maps.

Rival European nations, with different aims and agendas, each had their own specific visions of the antipodes that they sought to fulfil through exploration and conquest. Myths of the antipodes had an important role to play in this. Not only did they have the effect of fuelling the desire to find the antipodes, but they also formed a strong foundation for justifying colonisation, on moral and religious grounds. This article outlines a history of antipodean mythology, tracing its representation in European literature and cartography from the classical period to the nineteenth century. The discussion then investigates how these long established mythologies were transformed to produce a prototypical Australian identity in the early colonial period from Australia’s British settlement in 1788 to the 1850s. The article concludes by reflecting on continuities of antipodean imagery in perceptions of Oceania today.


Arthur, Paul Longley. “Antipodean Myths Transformed: The Evolution of Australian Identity,” History Compass 5, no. 6 (2007): 1862–78. doi: 10.1111/j.1478-0542.2007.00467.x.

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Paul Arthur is Vice-Chancellor’s Professorial Research Fellow and Chair in Digital Humanities and Social Sciences, at Edith Cowan University, Western Australia. He speaks and publishes widely on major challenges and changes facing 21st-century society, from the global impacts of technology on communication, culture and identity