These amazing historical maps show how people thought Australia should have been divided up

Here’s a great find from The Smith Journal of a proposal in 1838 to divvy up Australia into 10 principalities.

Picture: The Journal of the Royal Geographical Society

It’s from The Journal of the Royal Geographical Society, Volume 8, 1838, “to accompany ‘Considerations on the Political Geography and Geographical Nomenclature of Australia by Captain Vetch, Royal Engineers, F.R.S.'”

At the time, Australia was made up of just four states, including New Zealand, which was administered by NSW:

Image by Wikipedia user Roke

The author of the 1838 proposal, James Vetch, probably didn’t put as much thought into it as he should have, however. It’s roughly drawn to divide the country neatly up into equal squares, without considering climate, population or soil fertility.

But it is quite a bit warmer for Victorians and Tasmanians, who in particular would have enjoyed the benefits of the mining boom in recent years as opposed to the nation’s highest unemployment rate.

Here’s another proposal from 20 years later which crammed seven states into the east (three in Queensland) and left the rest to fend for itself, presumably:

Picture: National Library of Australia

The border changes jumped around everywhere until Federation, where it settled down to its present format, outside of some minor fiddling with territories. It took a long time before then to sort out who’s responsible for the Northern Territory:

Image courtesy Wikipedia user Roke

That’s not to say it’s going to stay this way forever. Chapter VI of the Constitution of Australia allows new states to be added to the Federation, and there seems to always be a proposal lurking somewhere.

Top Enders have been clamouring for their own state as recently as 2007, under then chief minister Clare Martin. Federalism advocate and National Party member Bryan Pape pushed in 2003 to reorganise the country into no less than 20 states, each with their own Senator.

In 2010, the Courier-Mail reported 98 of 100 North Queensland Mayors were in favour of forming their own state.

And the case for an Aboriginal state is unlikely to ever weaken as the number of countries globally which recognise similar indigenous self-determination grows. The Aboriginal Provisional Government has been a strong voice for it since forming in 1990.

Here’s some more states and provinces of Australia that could have been (and one that was).

The Goldfields proposal

Here’s a proposal from the late 19th century and early 20th for a real mess called “Auralia”. It’s pretty close to marking what is now known as the Goldfields-Esperance region of WA, and would have had Kalgoorlie as its capital.

Picture: State Library of Western Australia

The idea behind Auralia was a means by which it could separate the goldfields from the rest of WA. According to the State Library of Western Australia, a petition outlining the proposal was signed by so many potential Auralians that when unrolled, it stretched for more than 2.2km.

(The then-Governor of WA never presented it to Her Maj.)

The Princeland proposal

Just 1500 people signed this petition in the early 1860s from the West Victorian Separation League, hoping to establish a colony straddling western Victoria and south-eastern South Australia, with Mt Gambier as it capital.

The proposal actually made it all the way to Queen Victoria, but she rejected it despite an admirable suck-job in offering to name it after the Queen’s consort, Prince Albert. Apparently neither Victoria nor SA supported the idea, which made it all too hard.

The Missing Map of Tassie Proposal

Here’s a 1922 proposal on the front cover of The New State Magazine by newspaperman Victor Thompson that divides Australia into 12 States and five Federal Territories. Tasmanians will note some things never change.


Central Australia

Picture courtesy Wikipedia user Roke

Not a proposal. Central Australia was a real territory briefly, from 1927 to 1931. Its governance was devolved out by the then NT administrator to an administrator in Alice Springs, for no other reason than he thought the Top End was simply too big to manage properly.

The Whole Bloody Lot proposal

And here’s what modern Australia would look like if they all went through, courtesy of self-proclaimed geography and data nerd, Alexandr Trubetskoy:

Picture: Alexandr Trubetskoy