Australia or Austria

Australia often gets mistaken for Austria, and possibly vice versa. When I was interviewed for a teaching position at a high school in Korea, the principal asked if I was aware that the first president of the Republic of Korea was married to an Australian woman. I wasn’t, and he wasn’t, either; he was married to an Austrian woman, as I found out when I checked later. One corrects an employer very cautiously in a hierarchical society like Korea. Today we were talking about stereotypes of people from various countries, and one of the students mixed up Australia and Austria. He asked if the two names were connected. I honestly didn’t know – I’ve never bothered to check. I did after the class, and they’re not. Australia is derived from “Latin australis, meaning ‘southern’” (an ‘unknown south land’ (Terra Australis Incognita) had been hyphothesised for hundreds if not thousands of years), and was popularised by Matthew Flinders in 1814. Austria is derived from  “Österreich, mean[ing] ‘eastern realm’ or ‘eastern empire’ in Old High German” (it was east of Bavaria and the other Germanic territories), and first appears in the form Ostarrîchi in 996.

PS: I knew there was more to the story. The first undisputed sighting of the land now called Australia was by the Dutch navigator Willem Janszoon in 1606. Over the next 125 years the Dutch and Portuguese mapped most of the north, west and south coast of the continent, and also most of New Zealand (a Dutch-derived name). Meanwhile, the Spanish were active in the northern Pacific, including founding a colony in the Philippines. One navigator, Pedro Fernandes de Queirós, sailed in search of the unknown southland. In May 1606, he landed on an island in the south Pacific which he named Australia del Espiritu Santo (the southland of the Holy Spirit) and later Austrialia del Espiritu Santo, “a pun on ‘Austria’, to flatter King Philip III, who was of the House of Austria” (the Hapsburgs ruled Spain and various parts of central Europe). The island is still called Espiritu Santo, and is the largest island in Vanuatu. de Quierós seems to have assumed that the island was connected to New Guinea, which was then assumed to be connected to Australia.

Please carefully note the difference: 1822_4594_500aD3nARG_700b

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