Quest for a 'relevant' coat of arms

Quest for a 'relevant' coat of arms

The ACT is one of the world’s only self-governing jurisdictions that lacks an official coat of arms.

But while it’s likely few of us even noticed, some residents are determined to create a heraldic emblem for the territory in the centenary year.

Worn out? The city of Canberra's coat of arms on the ACT flag.

Worn out? The city of Canberra's coat of arms on the ACT flag.Credit:Graham Tidy

The heraldry on the ACT flag actually belongs to the city of Canberra, not the territory, and was designed mainly to reflect the Federal Parliament and its surrounding institutions.

Its mediaeval imagery consists of crowns, castles, swords and maces, while the black and white swans holding its shield represent Aborigines and white Europeans.

Old-world imagery of the Canberra coat of arms.

Old-world imagery of the Canberra coat of arms.

The Latin motto ‘‘Pro rege, lege et grege’’ (‘‘For the King, the law and the people’’) is yet another reason one of the campaigners, Terry Fewtrell, says Canberra should ditch its ‘‘outdated’’ coat of arms.

‘‘It’s a travesty that nothing in it reflects the real Canberra,’’ he said on Wednesday. ‘‘It is neither Australian, nor reflective of the people and the place that we live in.’’

Mr Fewtrell, who is chairman of the National Wattle Day Association, and fellow republicans Justin Ryan and Professor John Warhurst, want Canberrans to devise an alternative emblem that sums up the city and its residents.

Mr Fewtrell pointed to the Northern Territory’s coat of arms, which depicts Aboriginal motifs and local animals and flowers, saying heraldry need not be rooted in old-world, aristocratic imagery.

The Northern Territory's indigenous-themed heraldry.

The Northern Territory's indigenous-themed heraldry.

‘‘You don’t have to be bound by all those old symbols – the castles and so on. You can be very creative.’’

Mr Ryan, the ACT convener of the Australian Republican Movement, said heraldry could still be relevant in the 21st century, but only if the imagery itself was meaningful.

‘‘It’s been that way for thousands of years: we have symbols that represent who we are as a people.’’

A keen rock climber, he said he would like to see the Brindabella Ranges on an ACT coat of arms.

‘‘For me, the Brindabellas are one of the images that define Canberra. I spend a lot of time there, and a lot of Canberrans see those mountains every day.’’

Chief Minister Katy Gallagher said on Wednesday the centenary was an ‘‘opportunity to reflect on what it means to be Canberran and how that is best represented, including in our coat of arms’’.

‘‘I am meeting with people interested in pursuing this discussion in the coming week,’’ she said.

Canberra’s coat of arms was first used in 1928 on an Australian warship, HMAS Canberra.

It was created a year earlier by C.R.Wylie, who won a public competition to design it.

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Markus Mannheim edits The Public Sector Informant and writes regularly about government.

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