The story behind the nickname of Australia

Let’s say you walk into a room, and are greeted by none other than Alecia Moore, Katheryn Hudson and Robyn Fenty.

Provided none of them are in one of their spectacular stage outfits, you’ll probably notice that you’re actually standing with Pink, Katy Perry and Rihanna. Nicknames are powerful things, and despite the fact that most of those for countries are harder to say than the real names themselves, they often provide a great insight into the country itself. Plus, if you're planning your next trip somewhere with a nickname, you'll want to get down with the lingo.

Here are a handful of nicknames for Australia and other countries that you might not know, to prepare you for your next adventure.

Australia – The Lucky Country, The Land Down Under, our Great Southern Land

Four-leaf clovers, rabbits’ feet, horse shoes – Australia is up there with the best of them when it comes to ‘lucky things’. 

It all came about one evening in 1964 when Aussie author Donald Horne was writing his evaluation of Australian society and he opened a paragraph with ‘Australia is a lucky country, run by second-rate people who share its luck’. It wasn’t long before the phrase took to the cover of the book, and history was made.

While ‘The Lucky Country’ was originally intended as a dig at our collective character, it has also been misused (for the better!) to brag about all our good fortunes, from gold and economic booms to our weather, lifestyle and history. Plus, treasured Aussie icon Kylie Minogue agrees.

Australia has another popular nickname you’ve probably heard (or sung!) a hundred times. It is ‘The Land Down Under’. This phrase was coined by British explorer Matthew Flinders way back in 1804 during his voyage to map our coastline.  Flinders discovered that a lot of the continent was beneath the equator, meaning it was ‘down under’ the rest of the world. Where women glow and men plunder…

Speaking of iconic Aussie songs, ‘Great Southern Land’ is also a nickname for Australia. Although it was popularised by the band Icehouse in the 1980s, the phrase has a much older history.  It was first used by Dutch explorers in the 17th century when referring to the southern hemisphere. Along with classic rock radio stations, you’ll also hear this nickname in poetry and in artistic descriptions of this undeniably Great Southern Land. 

New Zealand – Land of the Long White Cloud and Middle Earth

What are New Zealand people called? Kiwis, of course! But why? Well, in the early 1900s, cartoonists used drawings of the Kiwi bird to depict New Zealand as a country. Around this time the First World War broke out and New Zealand soldiers were referred to as kiwis. And the rest is history!

There are two New Zealand nicknames that are commonly used – The Land of the Long White Cloud and Middle Earth. The first is the most common translation of Aotearoa – the Maori name for New Zealand. As legend has it, Kupe (believed to be the first Polynesian to discover NZ in tribal legend) first thought he was approaching land because of the cloud hovering over it. His wife, on seeing the apparition, yelled out ‘He ao! He ao!’ (a cloud! a cloud!), which Kupe would take as inspiration when it came time to name this discovery.

Middle Earth, on the other hand, refers simply to the Lord of the Rings films, which Wellingtonian Peter Jackson filmed in the country. Its sweeping mountain vistas and rolling green hills were the perfect backdrop to Tolkien’s epic tale, and the land has taken on the name ever since. Both NZ nicknames pay homage to the natural beauty of the country and its magical scenery. 

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Ireland – The Emerald Isle

Ireland may be wrapped up in fairytales and leprechauns, but the reason behind the name is entirely scientific. Anyone who has broken numerous umbrellas in the country will attest to its rainfall with yearly averages anywhere between 150 to 225 days per year. Add that the country sits between 51.5 and 55.5 degrees north latitude, prime location for the North Atlantic Drift (an ocean current that helps keep the climate mild), and you have a great recipe for lots and lots of green. 

South Africa – The Rainbow Nation

Forget unicorns, South Africa has nabbed this title thanks to human rights activist and Nobel prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Following the 1994 democratic election, the archbishop used the term to describe the country as it shed its post apartheid past.

With a flag of six colours to back it up, the term refers to the diverse array of races, tribes, creeds, languages and landscapes throughout the country. Ever the wordsmith, Archbishop Tutu wrapped up these sentiments with the lasting comment describing his vision of the future of the country: ‘A world committed to peace, a world in which we are all a family, a world in which we are all heard, cared for and loved.’

Italy – The Boot

It just looks like a boot, really.

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