Billywigs… and That’s It?
Australia gets the short end of the stick a LOT in Harry Potter. I remember the moment Wagga Wagga was mentioned: Gilderoy Lockhart saying he used the “immensely complex” Homorphus Charm on the Wagga Wagga werewolf. I was sitting on the gutter outside my demountable classroom in the middle of winter (which wasn’t very cold), and I remember hoping that maybe Harry, Ron, and Hermione would one day come to Australia. They didn’t.
American kids got a whole translated version of the Harry Potter books. Most of the time, I don’t believe a translation into Australian English is at all necessary, but there was a time in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire that I came across something that made absolutely no sense to an Australia kid, or any kid living in the Southern Hemisphere:
Born under — what, sorry?” said Harry.
“Saturn, dear, the planet Saturn!” said Professor Trelawney, sounding definitely irritated that he wasn’t riveted by this news. “I was saying that Saturn was surely in a position of power in the heavens at the moment of your birth. . . . Your dark hair . . . your mean stature . . . tragic losses so young in life . . . I think I am right in saying, my dear, that you were born in midwinter?”
“No,” said Harry, “I was born in July.” – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
As luck would have it, I’m born in July, and as far as I was concerned, at age nine, that was winter. Professor Trelawney was being perfectly reasonable. It was only until I was older that I realized I’d been misunderstanding that section for years.
The next time I came across Australia was in Quidditch Through the Ages and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a rare moment when Australia was mentioned several times! It wasn’t a “Harry Potter and the…” book, but I’d take what I could get. I found out the Thundelarra Thunderers and the Wollongong Warriors were two of the best Quidditch teams in the world! I tried (unsuccessfully) to get the phrase “Yeah, and I think I’ll volunteer to ref the next Thunderer–Warrior game” picked up by the kids at school. I spent days daydreaming I’d get picked to go to the Australian wizarding school and then I’d become a Wollongong Warrior, but alas, it hasn’t happened yet.
In Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, I discovered the Billywig, the only purely Australian creature in there. I managed to convince myself I had accidentally been stung by one and had actually levitated off the ground for several minutes (my dad didn’t believe me).
I also discovered the Antipodean Opaleye among Fantastic Beast and Where to Find Them‘s pages. The Opaleye is a dragon native to New Zealand but would sometimes find themselves in Australia. The Opaleye became my go-to favorite magical animal. In fact, my first (and horrendous) fan fiction was written under the username Antipodean Opaleye. (Thankfully, I haven’t been able to find it again, so you won’t either, mwahahahaha.) I still maintain it’s ridiculous the Opaleye is a New Zealand dragon, when Australia is the country that has practically all of the world’s opal mines… but that’s fine… I’m not bitter…
I always thought it was odd that Australia, known for unusual non-magical creatures, has virtually no magical ones of consequence, or at least none Newt thought was worth writing about in his book.
After the two Comic Relief charity companions, there was nothing for two long books; Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince made no mention of the land down under. It wasn’t until Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows came out that Australia seemed to cross Rowling’s radar again. Australia became the place Hermione’s parents were sent after being Obliviated. And that was it. “But it was okay,” I told myself. “Most of the other countries around the world weren’t mentioned much. In fact,” I thought, “we probably all have our individual wizarding schools, and individual wizarding cultures.”
And then… J.K. Rowling mentioned that there were only 11 wizarding schools. We already know where seven of those schools are (Britain, France, Northern Europe, Brazil, Japan, Russia, United States of America, and Uganda), and we know that four of them are in Europe. Amazingly, none of these schools is in India or China, the most populated countries on earth. If four schools have to cater to the rest of the world (at least half the world’s population, and that’s being generous), then there’s no way Oceania is going to get a school, unless it’s at the expense of… say… the entirety of the Middle East, which just isn’t realistic.
I still hold out hope that one of the Fantastic Beasts movies will feature Australia… maybe it could be set during the Great Emu War of 1932 (the emus won – and yes, it is a real thing). Otherwise, I shall content myself with trying to catch a glimpse of a Billywig on a sunny day.
As an Australian, that’s how I read Harry Potter, so how did you? Let us know in the comments!