It’s 2021 - and we are in the midst of an unprecedented undertaking to enrich our heritage, not in a gradual way but as a significant paradigm shift. This once-in-several-lifetimes opportunity for our engagement is the current initiative to create a coat of arms for the Australian Capital Territory.
While the City of Canberra has used its coat of arms since 1928, the ACT is the only Australian jurisdiction without such an emblem to recognise its status - every other State and Territory has an identifying coat of arms as part of its heritage, and their capitals (and often other cities) also have distinctive arms. We now have a rare opportunity to address this important omission in the ACT.
The current process began in December 2016, when the Legislative Assembly of the ACT Government established a Standing Committee on Environment and Transport and City Services. The Assembly resolved that this Committee should consider and consult with the community on a new Territory Coat of Arms, among other matters. When, in March 2019, the Committee requested submissions from the public, HAGSOC made a 12-page submission which addressed the following questions from the Committee:
1. Should there be a Coat of Arms for the Australian Capital Territory (in addition to the Canberra city Coat of Arms), and
2. What symbols might be included in the design of an ACT Coat of Arms, significant to or representative of the people, history or landscape of the ACT.
In total there were 68 submissions from members of the public, societies and organisations.
Members of the public also communicated their views via an online survey. An overwhelming 78% of respondents indicated that the ACT should adopt a coat of arms. Just 15% were opposed, and 7% were undecided.
Among the 12 witnesses called to the Committee hearings for the Inquiry into the ACT Coat of Arms was the HAGSOC submission team, which included our then President Nick Reddan, Dr Joseph Johnstone, Professor Janette Lindesay, Geoffrey Kingman-Sugars, and Christopher Lindesay. All submissions and a transcript of the hearings are published, together with the ACT Government Report (ETC#9) on the Committee’s webpage.
The submission from HAGSOC fully supports the initiative to develop a coat of arms for the Australian Capital Territory. We also made a number of suggestions regarding colours and symbols that could be considered for inclusion in an ACT Coat of Arms, outlining their significance for the Territory. For example, heraldically appropriate representations of the Brindabella Range, the Molonglo and Murrumbidgee rivers, our mammal emblem the rock Wallaby, our floral emblem the Royal Bluebell, and our faunal emblem the Gang-Gang Cockatoo could be considered, as could other fauna and flora significant to the Ngunnawal people. In their online responses most members of the ACT community preferred including the Royal Bluebell and Aboriginal symbols among the design elements; and most preferred the traditional sporting colours of the ACT, blue and gold.
HAGSOC recommended consultation with Indigenous communities and leaders as part of the design process, and emphasised symbolism that reflects the role of this area as a central place for people coming together and meeting over many thousands of years. We favour a motto expressed in Language.
Finally, the HAGSOC submission recommended that, as part of the process of seeking arms for the Australian Capital Territory, the ACT Government should also consider changing the ACT flag so that the flag and the Coat of Arms both appropriately represent the Australian Capital Territory as distinct from the City of Canberra. We recommended that the flag design should be distinctive, relevant and simple – instantly recognisable and memorable – and that it should include images, colours and patterns that visually link it with the Coat of Arms. Here are two excellent examples, that of the arms and flag of the Territory of Nunavut, Canada, and the arms and flag of the Northern Territory, Australia:
With the current focus centred on designing an ACT Coat of Arms, the process is already well under way. Expressions of interest in joining a Community Reference Group were called for in February, and HAGSOC hopes to have a representative on the Group. The University of Canberra (UC), through the Centre for Creative and Cultural Research, has partnered with the ACT Government and is involving undergraduate and postgraduate students in design, cultural studies, and communications and media in developing ideas to inform design proposals for the coat of arms. A planned public consultation process later this year will assist in selecting the preferred design from a number of options, still to be developed.
HAGSOC is continuing to contribute, through the HAGSOC submission team which re-convened in February to develop a 45-minute presentation on the origins, history and contemporary usage of heraldry, both internationally and in Australia. The presentation was delivered to UC students via Zoom in late March, and was recorded to be made more widely available online via the ACT Government’s Chief Minister, Treasury and Economic Development Directorate (which is managing the Territory Coat of Arms process).
In early April Professor Janette Lindesay represented HAGSOC in a stakeholder interview conducted by UC final-year students. This was one of a series of stakeholder interviews that will form the source material for a series of video, voice and text-based media packages that the ACT Government intends to use to inform and encourage community participation in the Territory Coat of Arms initiative.
Further opportunities for community input into the process of developing an Australian Capital Territory Coat of Arms will be available through 2021, and HAGSOC will remain an active participant. This is an exciting time for us all to contribute to a lasting emblem for the ACT, one that reflects the attributes of the Territory that our vibrant, diverse and inclusive community value. This is heritage in the making, founded on the long history of people living and meeting on this land. We encourage everyone in the community to take part.