Backgrounder

Backgrounder:

Centenary of inclusion of Wattle in the Australian Coat of Arms

Wattle first appeared on Australia’s Coat of Arms 100 years ago when the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette of 18 January, 1913 promulgated a new Coat of Arms for Australia. Under a short note from then Prime Minister, Andrew Fisher, the Gazette included an illustration of the new Coat of Arms, along with a copy of the Royal Warrant authorising its use.

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This revised Coat of Arms (the first had been approved in May, 1908) was an initiative of Prime Minister Fisher who believed it was important that Australia have symbols that were relevant and meaningful to the new nation. Among the significant changes made in the 1913 Coat of Arms was the inclusion of a spray of Wattle as a background feature and a Federation Star. Instead of a shield displaying the English cross of St George, there was one showing the emblems of the six states. 

PM Fisher was a Scot by birth who appreciated the importance of symbols that sprang from and evoked a nation’s unique land. Following the success of the first co-ordinated Wattle Day celebrations across at least three states in September, 1910, Fisher recognised that Wattle evoked Australia and believed it important that it feature in the Coat of Arms as a symbol of nationhood. He was a great advocate for Wattle as a national symbol. 

Records show that Fisher had the proposal for a revised Coat of Arms approved by his Cabinet in 1911 and then set in train the lengthy process of securing Royal approval. King George V granted the Royal Warrant for the new Coat of Arms on 1 September, 1912. Communications being as they were in those days it was several months before the advice reached Australia, with the Governor-General, Lord Denman, then ordering its publication.

The 1913 Arms remain unchanged to this date. The featuring of Wattle (officially the national floral emblem only since 1988) remains appropriate. Recent scientific scholarship has established that Wattle is a remnant Gondwana plant, and it has evolved in Australia over the last 34-37 million years. It has therefore welcomed all Australians – indigenous, colonial and modern day immigrants.

Wattle has been the great witness to the entire Australian story and is all the more appropriate as the background to the insignia of the modern Australia.

National Wattle Day is celebrated nationally each year on 1 September, being an officially gazetted National day.

The recognition of the importance of Wattle as a symbol of national unity and the establishment of Canberra as the national capital were part of a suite of nation building initiatives of the Fisher government. In his drive to have relevant symbols for the new nation, he is said to have remarked that he was ‘just as displeased’ with the design of the Australian flag. He added that he would not change it immediately – ‘one thing at a time’!  

Sources: It’s an honour website: www.itsanhonour.gov.au

Commonwealth of Australia Gazette, No. 3, Saturday 18 January 1913 (see attached extract)

David Day, Andrew Fisher: Prime Minister of Australia, Harper Collins, Sydney, 2008 (Pages 213 and 264)

Contact: Terry Fewtrell, President Wattle Day Association Inc.  Tel: 0412 823 275

 

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