Australia seeks ‘first map’ from Britain

Australia used its national holiday on Wednesday to call for Britain to hand over a map drawn by explorer Matthew Flinders in 1804 that depicted the vast continent under its modern name for the first time.

Calling the map Australia’s “birth certificate”, Liberal MP Greg Hunt launched an online petition to Britain’s House of Commons urging the country to donate it for display Down Under by 2014, the bicentenary of Flinders’ death.

Drafted 16 years after the British first landed, it was the first sketch to label the continent “Australia”, departing from earlier names including New Holland and Terra Australis.

It is currently held by the UK Hydrographic Office in Somerset.

“This is the true birth certificate of our nation and deserves to be placed on public display here in Australia,” said Hunt, the opposition’s heritage spokesman.

“A document so vital to our national heritage should not remain in obscurity. We want to work co-operatively with the British government to have Flinders’ original map gifted to the people of Australia.”

Historian Don Garden said it would be a “great achievement” to bring the map to Australia, which adopted its modern name in 1817 and was officially established as a nation through the federation of its colonies in 1901.

Flinders, the first person to circumnavigate the huge southern continent, drew the map whilst imprisoned on Mauritius after he was captured by the French over allegations of spying during his return voyage to England.