National Library of Australia

Under the Southern Cross

The defining constellation of the southern skies, the Southern Cross is instantly recognisable and has become a powerful symbol for Australia.

When Andrea Corsali became the first European to depict the Southern Cross in 1515, the unknown southern continent was as much a romantic notion as it was a goal for more pragmatically-minded explorers. Early encounters with the ‘Great South Land’ were carefully recorded on maps, in journals, drawings and paintings, and knowledge gradually replaced myth. Libraries in Australia are great collectors of maps that document our history from pre-settlement to the modern day (using highly accurate satellite images).

Historically significant documents from the era of European exploration are featured here. Among these, an early Dutch sea atlas; Captain Pelsaert’s grisly story of the massacre of many of the Batavia’s shipwrecked survivors; Lieutenant Cook’s handwritten Endeavour journal; and Lord Morton’s advice to Cook and his crew. The role of Bungaree, a courageous Aboriginal man who voyaged with Matthew Flinders is also celebrated, in part through his portrait by Augustus Earle.

Had Morton’s advice all been heeded, 200 years later Edward Koiki Mabo’s fight for legal recognition of Indigenous land rights in Australia might not have been necessary.