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Is the Flinders map really Australia’s Elgin Marbles?

A campaign in Australia is calling for Britain to relinquish ownership of the first map to use the term Australia. The case is being styled as similar to that of the Parthenon Marbles, but in reality, it is a very different proposition. Whatever the merits of this particular case & its connection to Australia’s history, it was never owned by Australia – it was never removed from the country in dubious circumstances. Comparing such arguments, merely weakens the argument for well grounded cases such as that of the Parthenon Marbles, by comparing them to cases where the justification for restitution is far less strong.

The Age (Melbourne) [1]

Call to hand over our ‘birth certificate’
Melissa Jenkins
January 25, 2011

It’s our “birth certificate” and the Brits should hand it over.

So goes the cry on the eve of Australia Day as a campaign is launched to bring home the first map to use the name “Australia”.

British explorer and cartographer Matthew Flinders drew the map while in prison in 1804 after completing his circumnavigation of Australia in a leaky, rotting boat the previous year.

It remains at the British Hydrographic Office in Taunton, Somerset, and is not on display.

A group of academics, politicians and students rallied in front of Flinders’ statue in Melbourne’s central business district on Tuesday to launch an online petition urging the British government to give the map he drew to Australia.

Historian and president of Federation of Australian Historical Societies Don Garden says Flinders is a national hero.

“He was a very determined man, very adventurous, very able,” he told AAP.

“He was one of the early great heroes. He certainly was a battler and he was able to achieve great things by his perseverance.”

Flinders set out to circumnavigate Australia in 1801 after being commissioned by Sir Joseph Banks.

He completed his journey in June 1803 and was jailed by the French in Mauritius, where he had stopped for repairs, on his journey back to Britain.

Flinders remained in jail for six years.

Only on returning to Britain in 1810 was he able to work more on his map and an account of his journey, called A Voyage to Terra Australis.

His map of Australia and book were not published until 1814 while Flinders was on his deathbed. He died without seeing the fruits of his work.

Associate Professor Garden said Flinders was the first person to use the term Australia.

“It seems the birth certificate of Australia because it was the first time there was a map of Australia drawn up, the first time that title was used. It is a significant part of our history,” he said.

Until then, the continent was known as Terra Australis – on the eastern side it was New South Wales, while to the west it was New Holland.

Students from Flinders Christian Community College in Tyabb, southeast of Melbourne, have written a letter they plan to send to British Prime Minister David Cameron demanding the return of the map.

“Being a school that is named after the great Matthew Flinders we believe that it is within our responsibility to rise up and fight to reclaim this significant historical map that is rightfully ours,” school captain Matthew Harrison told the crowd in Melbourne.

Co-captain Elly Layton said the map should be on public display in Australia, where it can be appreciated.

“We believe this map should be not pointlessly kept away in a country where it has no real significance,” she said.

Federal opposition heritage spokesman Greg Hunt said he believed the petition would have bipartisan support.

“This is the Elgin Marbles of Australian history,” he said.

“I believe we will get the map back.”

He said he hoped 100,000 people would put their names to the petition to have the map returned in time for the bicentenary of Flinders’ death.

The original idea to have the map returned to Australia came from Sydneysider Bill Fairbanks.