Centreing The Map

In the late 1500s England was rising as a maritime nation. It was beginning to dominate the important technologies of cartography and longitudinal calculation. In 1598 Edward Wright produced the most accurate map the world had seen.

    edward wright map

Apart from using the new technology of Mercartor projection Wright placed England slap-bang in the middle of the map. Arthur Herman writes that, “Wright’s portrayal of the world … placed Great Britain at dead-centre.” The British dominance of longitudinal technology meant that the modern system of time is also centred on Britain – namely Greenwich.

Modern mercartor maps of the globe tend to place Australia down in the bottom right hand corner. Most either centre themselves as per Wright’s view of the world or with the United States in the middle. Australia has not helped itself in this area; its politicians in particular, but others also, have used Australian geopolitical and economic isolation as an excuse.

However this political cringe ignores the facts of modern trade and globalisation.

The old nineteenth century view of the world was occident and orient, but globalisation has merged that distinction such that is meaningless. South-East Asia and North Asia are integrated economies that compete effortlessly with North America and Europe. The goods moving between Asia and Europe, North America and India, the Middle East and Asia, etc, etc, still predominantly move by sea. Nearly 90% of all goods are moved on the world’s oceans. Globalisation is moving the geographic centre of global trade over Australia.

There is an opportunity for Australia here such that security treaties could be set up to move the political and economic map over Australia too. This can be done in a way that would appeal to Australian conservatives and progressives. Three major trade (and data) routes flow around Australia, the Indian Ocean, the Pacific Ocean and the Antarctic Ocean which places Australia in a pivotal position.

    Australian trade influence

From this map Australia can setup security and trade treaties that reach through the arcs in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. To keep this palatable to conservatives – as well as keep it within political achievability – the nations targeted initially should be those influenced by the old anglosphere. This would mean major signatories of:

  • Indian Ocean: Australia, India and South Africa.
  • Pacific Ocean: Australia, Japan and the USA.

These two whirls of influence would centre the political, defence and economic map on Australia. Nations are no different to individuals, they constantly have to work to put themselves in a position for success, and due to the nature of international communications this places Australian politicians in important positions. Working to this end would be an important step toward a greater Australia unconcerned by the old Australian attitudes of geopolitical isolation and irrelevance.

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Fyodor
15 years ago

Cam,

There was nothing original or unusual about Wright placing Britain at the centre (and, strictly speaking, it’s not at the centre) of a world map. The Dutch mapmakers (e.g. Ortelius, 1570) who dominated cartography in the 16th and 17th centuries placed Europe at the “centre” (at least, longitudinally) of the world after the discovery of the West coast of the Americas and the Pacific Ocean in the earlier part of the 16th century.

Furthermore, Britain dominated neither cartography nor longitudinal calculation until the 18th century. Britain only became a major maritime power with its trade and naval ascendancy over the Dutch in the late 17th century, more than 50 years ater Wright published his map.

As for the “political cringe” ignoring “the facts of modern trade and globalisation”, the facts are that the Northern hemisphere dominates the global economy and seaborne trade. The major trade routes are across the North Atlantic and the North Pacific. No major trade routes run through Australia. Singapore has much greater claim to being at the centre of seaborne trade, as Australia is on the periphery of the growing Asian supereconomy, centred on China.

Politically, militarily and economically, Australia is not pivotal; it is peripheral, and that’s OK.

derrida derider
derrida derider
15 years ago

I’ll bet Chinese and Japanese maps look like this one too.

Fyodor
15 years ago

Interesting bet, DD, but the (now infamous) Zheng He map (probably 18th CE), supposedly based upon the voyages of the great Chinese explorer (and thus not Western maps), places China at the middle of the world, which is not too surprising given the Chinese refer to their country as “the Middle Kingdom” (Zhongguo).

It’s only natural that maps should reflect the perspective (thus knowledge AND bias) of their maker – history shows this. Until the discovery of the Americas, the “centre” of the world was routinely placed by Europeans where the centre of Eurasiafrica was estimated to lie, e.g. Ptolemy’s Map.

cam
cam
15 years ago

Fyodor, I think you are missing the point. I just described Australia as being a continent and two oceans. Australia is centred in that map not because of parochial viewpoints or map-making but because the two butterfly wings of influence I have drawn make Australia a natural centre-point.

Fyodor
15 years ago

I got your point, Cam, but thought it incorrect. Australia is not the geographic fulcrum between your two butterfly wings; Singapore is. The bulk of the trade you mention occurs well North of us, away from our influence, so Australia is not a centre-point, let alone a “natural” one.

cam
cam
15 years ago

We are because we straddle two oceans and that places us between all Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean trade if we politically manouvre ourselves into position through security/trade treaties.

Fyodor
15 years ago

“We are because we straddle two oceans”

So does Antarctica, mate, but no amount of geopolitical wizardry is going to make penguins politically pivotal.

As I said, we are NOT “between all Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean trade”. We’re not even next door to it. We’re in the next suburb.