The ACT coat of arms ... the motto translates to "For the Queen, the Law, and the People".

Canberra's coat of arms ... the motto translates to "For the Queen, the Law, and the People". Photo: National Archives

Canberra, the only Australian jurisdiction to vote for a republic in the 1999 referendum, has a little-known motto that adulates the Queen.

Its coat of arms incorporates old-world, aristocratic imagery of crowns, castles, swords and maces.

And, perhaps most bizarrely, it uses a black and a white swan to represent Aborigines and Europeans.

The Australian Republic Movement is asking Canberrans whether they want to keep this heraldry or overhaul it to mark the city's centenary next year.

The movement's ACT convenor, Justin Ryan, said yesterday that he doubted many Canberrans had ever looked closely at their local emblems.

''Few people would even recognise the ACT flag, yet alone the precise details of the coat of arms that's on it,'' Mr Ryan said.

The centenary was an ideal time to ask whether Canberra's symbols reflected its people, he said.

''Some people might not care, but I think it's important that we're at least aware of our flag and coat of arms,'' he said.

''We haven't really developed a strong identity in the ACT, and this is a chance to do that.''

Canberra's coats of arms was created formally in 1928 after a design competition won by C. R. Wylie.

The heraldry includes a black and white swan supporting a shield.

It also features a crown (representing royal authority) and a white rose (the Duke of York, later King George VI, who opened Old Parliament House).

Other symbols include a castle with three towers (the three branches of government), a sword (Commonwealth authority, as existed before self-government), a mace (Federal Parliament), a portcullis gate (an emblem favoured by British royalty) and a gum tree (growth in the ''garden city'').

Its motto is ''Pro Rege, Lege et Grege'', which means ''For the Queen, the Law and the People''.

A Legislative Assembly inquiry into self-government, which will report next week, is understood to be examining the republicans' requests to consider a new motto, coat of arms and flag.

Chief Minister Katy Gallagher said last month she was unaware of any groundswell of public support for a change, but a ''community conversation … could uncover a mood for symbolic change''.

However, Greens leader Meredith Hunter offered stronger support, agreeing there was ‘‘room for improvement’’. She noted that no other Australian jurisdiction had a motto that mentioned the Queen.

A bill in the Assembly is all that is needed to change Canberra's coat of arms and motto, though the ACT flag can be changed whenever the government decides to.

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