The Great South Land – Synchroblog

After a very busy weekend I’m running a bit late getting this post published but I figure it’s still out during the Australia Day long weekend.

This post is part of the Christianity In Australia synchroblog which a number of Australian Christians are participating in to celebrate Australia Day.

I don’t really have anything profound to say, it’s more just some musings that I’ve been throwing around in my mind for a while about the spiritual heritage we have here in Australia. I’ve been wondering about the place that a Christian past should have in our future. Maybe you can throw in your ideas.

My concern for some time has been that many people yearn for a former ‘golden age’ of Christianity in Australia which may or may not have ever existed.

Many will be familiar with references to the ‘Great South Land of the Holy Spirit.’ We talk about it, we sing about it, but what’s it really all about? Can we really claim that this is God’s own country? Is there something spiritually significant about this nation of ours beyond the fact that all the earth belongs to God?

The Great South Land of the Holy Spirit reference stems from a proclamation by Captain Pedro Fernandez de Quiros, a Portugese seaman and explorer.

In March 1603 Queirós was finally authorized to return to Peru to establish another expedition, with the intention of finding Terra Australis, the mythical “great south land,” and claiming it for Spain and the Church. Queirós’s party of 160 men on three ships, San Pedro y San Pablo (150 tons), San Pedro (120 tons) and the tender (or launch) Los Tres Reyes left Callao on 21 December 1605.

In May 1606 the expedition reached the islands later called the New Hebrides and now the independent nation of Vanuatu. Queirós landed on a large island which he took to be part of the southern continent, and named it La Austrialia del Espiritu Santo (The Austrian Land of the Holy Spirit), for King Philip III, who was of Austrian descent. The island is still called Espiritu Santo. Here he stated his intention to establish a colony, to be called Nova Jerusalem.

Queirós’s religious fervour found expression with the founding of a new Order of Chivalry, the Knights of the Holy Ghost. The Order’s purpose was to protect the new colony. However, within weeks the idea of a colony was abandoned due to the hostility of the Ni-Vanuatu and to disagreements among the crew.–

So while the captain did make it into the area, it would seem that he never set foot on mainland Australia. However, the proclamation he made certainly included Australia.

Let the heavens, the earth, the waters with all their creatures and all those here present witness that I, Captain Pedro Fernandez de Quiros, in the name of Jesus Christ, hoist this emblem of the Holy Cross on which Jesus Christ’s person was crucified and whereon He gave His life for the ransom and remedy of the human race, on this day of Pentecost, 14 May 1606, I take possession of all this part of the South as far as the pole in the name of Jesus, which from now on shall be called the Southern land of the Holy Spirit and this always and forever to the end that to all natives, in all the said lands, the holy, sacred evangel may be preached zealously and openly.

I guess the next question is what weight such a proclamation holds. I’m not saying that it’s not significant, I just wonder what it means. He was claiming and naming land that was already inhabited.  Even if the proclamation is sound, what significance should it hold for Christians in today’s Australia? We see people in scripture claiming lands for God so such instances aren’t without precedents but what difference should this particular proclamation hold for us in 2008?

Many people also claim that a ‘missing’ 6th verse from our national anthem, Advance Australia Fair, shows that this is a nation with strong Christian heritage.

With Christ our head and cornerstone, we’ll build our Nation’s might,
Whose way and truth and light alone, can guide our path aright.
Our lives, a sacrifice of love, reflect our Master’s care
With faces turned to heaven above, Advance Australia fair.
In joyful strains then let us sing, Advance Australia fair.

While a lot of people say that leaving this verse out of our national anthem shows the hardening of Australian hearts towards the things of God, historians would say that they can find no evidence for this verse being in the original version of the anthem or that it was penned by the original writer. It is unknown who wrote the verse or when it was added.

I know that there is a great Christian history in this nation, and that many fine people of faith have helped create the country we call home, but I’m concerned that some people spend a lot of time searching for some kind of divine right to call Australia a Christian country. We may have been founded upon certain Christian principals but we’ve long since given up the right to call ourselves a Christian nation.

For me, I think the way forward is to to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God. We must always be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks us for a reason for the hope that is in us, answering with gentleness and reverence. I truly believe that fellow Aussies are more likely to respond to that approach than to one that claims that we have a divine right to call the shots.

As I said, these are just a few thoughts that have been knocking around in my head and I’d appreciate your thoughts Are we really the Geat South Land of the Holy Spirit? If so, what does that mean for us today?

For more (and possibly far more coherent thoughts) on Christianity in Australia see:

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About the author

Rodney Olsen

Rodney is a husband, father, cyclist, blogger and podcaster from Perth Western Australia.

He previously worked in radio for about 25 years but these days he spends his time at Compassion Australia, working towards releasing children from poverty in Jesus' name.

The views he expresses here are his own.

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  • Hi , great article , I dont think god is into claiming countries I think he is into claiming people for himself to call as sons and daughters and image his son in whatever country he has placed them in. The holy spirit dwells in people not in places and what brings change is the presence of the person with the indwelt spirit.
    I guess it sounds good to call ourselves the great southland of the holy spirit but like you I think it is wrong to make such claims , sometimes it just makes us look like a bunch of bigheads. We know everything belongs to God and his plans and purposes are being fullfilled throughout the earth , but if suddenly tomorrow we found ourselves in the midst of famine, flood , war or many of the awful things that go on in other parts of the world , what would we be claiming then.

  • We have documents, stories, and a heritage that Christians in the USA fight to preserve too.

    I think it’s right to try to preserve, Rodney. There exist people who want to rewrite the history, and what we know now, might not be what our children are taught later.
    There is a loss when this happens. A loss of who we are and where we came from.
    It trickles down and waters down our very fabric.

    True, our best testimony and witness will be who we are, and how we represent Christ, there is nothing wrong to preserve a heritage that was Godly.
    It is an inheritence.

    “…blessed is the Nation, whose God is the Lord” (Psalm 33:12)

  • Is it true that a 14 year old boy participated in the design of the Australian Flag and that he had a very particular reason for wanting the Southern Cross depicted? Not just because of the connection with the Southern Cross Constellation being over the land BUT because he saw the S.C. as Christ on the Crioss – e.g. the top Star represents the Crown of Thorns placed on Christ’s head; the right and left the nail driven right and left hands (outstretched); the bottom star His nail ridden feet
    (crossed at the ankles) and the smaller star the place where Christ’s body was speared by a sword.

    This was spoken as FACT at a Church service I attended on Sunday last but I have not been able to verify same yet. My Aunt teaches Religous Instruction at Queensland Primary Schools and she tells me she would very much like to share this information with her students BUT,due to Education Policy, she MUST be able to FULLY BACK any such claim made in the class room.

    Can you please help me gain that verification. I have contacterd the church in question only to be fobbed off by a (maybe shge was busy) girl on the ‘phone who was adamant that there was nothing they could suggest other than to google something and see what I could come uop with. I’fve done that but there is absolujtely NO MENTION MADE of there being any Christian significance to the choice made when the five chosen finalists met to make their decision as to what should appear on the Flag.


  • Hello Fay. I can’t find anything that would suggest that a 14 year old boy helped in the design but I did find some information from which would suggest that the Southern Cross was used for other reasons.

    “Ivor Evans, one of the flag’s designers, intended the Southern Cross to refer also to the four moral virtues ascribed to the four main stars by Dante: justice, prudence, temperance and fortitude.”

    You can check out more details here:

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