In Australia, I often hear the phrase "the Tyranny of Distance", but I'm not exactly sure what it means.

I know that the phrase originated from The Tyranny of Distance: How Distance Shaped Australia's History, and that the word "tyranny" is being used metaphorically, to indicate that something has a very strong influence.

Is there an exact meaning to the phrase? Or has it become a cliche?

onelook.com didn't have any entries apart from the book, plus an album named after a lyric from a song by a NZ band.


I'm not from Australia myself, but I believe the phrase "Tyranny of Distance" is used to emphasize the effect of geographical remoteness on shaping the country's identity. In particular, its distance from its colonizer Great Britain affected the development of Australia's culture and attitudes of its people. Your assertion is correct that the word "tyranny" is being used metaphorically to indicate something that has a strong influence.

  • Quite possibly it is also talking about the great distances involved on the Australian continent itself too.
    – T.E.D.
    Jul 29 '13 at 17:53

I am from NZ and I am now living in Australia. The Tyranny of Distance is a book about the effect of geographical remoteness on Australia's identity, but equally explains some aspects of NZ's identity. The 'tyranny' is that these countries, so far away, will never be recognised by their mother etc etc, and will therefore develop an identity tainted with low self esteem.

This manifests itself primarily in the creative and political realms as a kind of mixture of 'one-up-man-ship' and 'tall poppy syndrome'. Also, nepotism is rife.

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    Sep 11 '14 at 12:19

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