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Cambridge University Library


Fantasy to Federation: European maps of Australia to 1901

3 April to 15 September 2001

Today we take it for granted that we know the shape of the earth and what lies beyond the horizon. Satellite images enable us to confirm that our maps are accurate; we can talk to people instantly, even from opposite sides of the world. But how would you know what was beyond the horizon if communications were more difficult, and how would you pass on this information to others?

Although Europeans did not discover Australia - a flourishing Aboriginal culture already existed there - they were the driving force behind the mapping of the continent. Europeans imagined land in the southern hemisphere long before it was seen by explorers. The unknown continent gradually changed as more land was charted and the real shape of the Australian continent began to emerge. This exhibition tells the story of Australia as seen through the eyes of these European cartographers, from the early imaginary maps up to 1901, when the British colonies on the Australian continent were united into a new nation with a federal structure.