What Are the Australian Symbols ?
Coats of Arms, Standards, Cyphers and Badges
The names above are all connected with visual recognition of either place or person. They are each subtly different from the other and each has a history of hundreds of years. Those illustrated below are obviously, recent examples of a rich tradition.
This very brief overview which pertains to Australia will give some insight into the use of design and symbolism for representation. The official name of this art is armory but is more commonly known as heraldry. Those who want to investigate the subject further can find vast amounts of material on the internet and in book form. Two ‘classic’ and very thorough texts are: Arthur Charles Fox-Davies: Complete guide to heraldry and Boutell’s Heraldry revised by C W Scott-Giles. A well-illustrated general view of the history and present situation is Stephen Slater’s Living heraldry.
Coat of Arms
Quite literally and in the early centuries of heraldic art, the design of a family’s arms was worn over armour. Almost certainly (there is some doubt) this was to aid recognition of who was inside the armour and, in summer heat, as a means of deflecting the sun’s rays from the metal of the armour and thus providing some sort of cooling. The material of the coat varied. As a monarch it was more likely to be a light silk or satin and for a knight perhaps linen or calico. The coat was worn in battle and for tournaments.
The term coat of arms now only applies to literal coats in respect to heralds who still wear their coats (correctly called ‘tabards’) on ceremonial occasions in the UK. These days the term applies to a shield, its crest and where appropriate, supporters i.e. a representation of an animal or person who ‘holds’ the shield upright.
The Coat of Arms of Australia has an emu and kangaroo as supporters and they are standing on a stylised base intertwined with flowering wattle. The kangaroo holds the Shield which has, within an ermine border, a representation of the badge of each of the six states. The state of Victoria is in the ‘second quarter’ as its badge includes a crown above the southern cross and thus acts as a central theme to the whole design. Above the shield is a crest of a 7 pointed gold star (the six states and a point for the territories) resting on its wreath. Usually the wreath sits atop a helmet but in this case not so. The symbolism is self-evident.
Each State has its own coat of arms usually related to the symbol shown in Australia’s coat of arms. For example, South Australia:
but Queensland is different:
This is another name for a flag with a rectangular shape often ending in two points. Back in the early years of heraldry standards were flown before and during battle and keeping the standard flying was de rigeur. The idea of fighting for/behind a standard goes back to ancient civilizations and it might be argued that it is one of many basic ‘western’ practices the origins of which are lost in time.The convention continued for hundreds of years and is still maintained today in armed forces units (‘colours’) where flags take on hugely significant meaning. The annual Trooping of the Colour ceremony in London is an example.
In respect to the Sovereign (or the Governor-General or Governor) the standard is flown wherever that person is at the time. When the Queen is in Australia (or a member of the immediate royal family) a standard will be flown - on an aeroplane upon arrival/departure, on a car, a building ... It is part of the system of government which we enjoy that the presence of the Sovereign or Representative of the Sovereign is publicly known.
Each Governor has his standard, the Governor-General has one and the Queen herself.
The Queen’s Standard
The Queen’s standard is flown whenever she is in Australia or when she is abroad and acting as Queen of Australia. It is basically the shield from Australia’s Coat of Arms onto which has been added the crest (7 pointed gold star) but with a blue disc within the star which has the letter E surmounted by a crown and surrounded by a gold garland of roses. The Royal Standard has precedence over all other flags.
The Governor-General’s Standard
This has a royal blue background and a direct copy of the crest of the Queen’s United Kingdom arms above a scroll with the words Commonwealth of Australia. The crest is of a lion statant guardant (this heraldic description means: standing sideways on four paws and looking directly at the viewer) surmounted by a crown and standing on St Edward’s Crown. (St Edward’s Crown is the crown with which monarchs are ‘crowned’.)
Each State Governor has a standard which generally incorporates the badge of the State. For example, New South Wales:
A cypher is used only by the Sovereign and is akin to a monogram. The Queen uses her cypher throughout her Realms.
This is an abbreviated quasi-heraldic device which can be used instead of or additional to a coat of arms. Many badges become symbols of what they represent as effectively (some might say more effectively) as a coat of arms. Each State of Australia has a badge related to the symbols associated with the state. Badges are useful in that they can be used by household members or people/institutions generally associated with the person whose badge it is whereas a coat of arms or a standard is correctly useable only by the person whose coat it is.
The Sovereign does not have any particular badge associated with the office as there are so many symbolic images from hundreds of years of history which have and still do, in some cases, symbolise the individual that to use one would be to exclude the others. These days the Queen uses a monogram or cypher. See above.
The badge of the Governor-General
The badge takes its floral inspiration from the Australian coat of arms.
Each State Governor has a badge of office. The device(s) used on the badge usually relate to the devices used on the State’s Coat of Arms.
New South Wales