Ever wondered what the different elements of the New South Wales coat of arms mean
The above depiction is that of the currently used NSW coat of arms, dating from the 1980’s.
The coat of arms was presented in 1906 and was designed by William Gullick, the NSW Government Printer.
Government Printer & Inspector of Stamps William Applegate Gullick, centre, c 1910. The other persons are senior officers of the Government Printing Office.
The coat of arms of NSW as published in 1906 after approval by the then NSW Premier, Joseph Carruthers
The New South Wales coat of arms is based on the Southern Cross with the British Lion in the centre and symbols of agriculture in the corners. It is supported by the British Lion and the Australian Kangaroo and was formally adopted in 1906. The motto translates to "Newly risen, how brightly you shine".
Gullick has left explanatory notes about the NSW coat of arms but has not explained why the lion looks like Chewbaca or why it is poking out its tongue.
Here is an explanation of the various elements of the coat of arms, with Gullick’s comments where relevant:
The red cross in the middle of the shield is the cross of St George, an English national and naval emblem. On a white background, it became the badge of NSW in 1869, representing the naval tradition of Captain Cook and the early colonial Governors, who were all naval commanders.
In 1876 the golden lion and the golden stars were added. The lion running forward whilst looking at the viewer is known as a lion passant guardant. It is taken from the Arms of England which has 3 such lions on a red field. The single lion depicts “the Lion of the South”, the vigorous offspring of the old world.
The golden stars, placed on the arms of the cross of St George, depict the Southern Cross.
That group of stars is visible only in the Southern hemisphere and is synonymous with Australia. Used extensively by mariners for navigation, the Southern Cross featured in most earlier, locally designed suggested coats of arms. Those earlier versions usually showed the stars on a white cross on a blue background. It was considered that this would be too difficult to see so that although there is a blue background, the red cross with white border features the gold stars.
In the quarters of the red and white cross, on the blue background of those quarters, Gullick placed diagonally opposite each other: a golden fleece with a red band (the ‘hanging sheep’) and a garb (the wheatsheaf).
The use of the sheep dates back to the golden fleece of Jason and the Argonauts, the object sought by them to enable Jason to rightfully claim his throne. Historically the hanging of the golden fleece as a sign of nobility and authority has come to be depicted as a whole sheep being suspended by a band. The 1522 sculpture of Charles V shows such a depiction.
Charles V sculpture, 1522
Detail from sculpture
Its use in heraldry dates back to 1429.
In the context of NSW it relates both to the NSW sheep and wool industry and to a popular image at the time of NSW being the “Land of the Golden Fleece”, the references alluding to wool and to the discovery of gold.
The quarter with the highest status in the above configuration is the upper left. For this reason the golden fleece was given the primary status.
The wheatsheaf represents the development of agriculture within NSW, particularly the efforts of James Ruse to establish a wheat industry within the colony, what Gullick referred to as a “yeomanry on the soil.”
The rising sun had been a popular motif in local coats of arms in the past, denoting newness. Apart from the allusions to the phrase “rise and shine” and a common description of NSW at the time as “sunny New South Wales”, Gullick specifically quoted a 19th century poem, Australasia, by William Wentworth who wrote in praise of Australia as the successor in the south to Britain:
“May all thy glories, in another sphere,
Relume and shine more brightly still than here!”
The theme of NSW being the successor of England in the new world of the south is echoed in the use of the lion and the kangaroo supporters. The lion holding the shield, Chewbacca, is standing up, looking confidently at the viewer. In heraldry this is known as a lion rampant guardant. It represents the new nation derived from its parent, Britain, and Gullick again quotes Wentworth in that regard:
“May this, thy last-born daughter, then arise,
To glad thy heart, and greet thy parent eyes;
And Australasia float, with flag unfurled,
A new Britannia in another world!”
The kangaroo is emblematic of Australia. It was Gullick’s opinion that NSW, as the first state, had the greatest claim on the use of that emblem. He was against the use of the emu in that it looked too much like the ostrich, which was in use in the Cape Colony Arms in South Africa.
The motto “Orta recens quam pura nites”,meaning “Newly risen, how brightly you shine””, was first devised by Dr. Badham, Dean of Arts at Sydney University in the 1870s. It was chosen by Gullick as the NSW motto for being “representative of our rising position in the rank of nations. ….we are but as yesterday inscribed on the roll of nations, and may sincerely hope that most of our history has yet to be written”.
Some other New South Wales emblems:
The New South Wales flag
The New South Wales State Flag has been in use since 1876. It includes the Union Jack and the NSW badge.
The NSW colour is sky blue
NSW floral emblem
The Waratah is the floral emblem of New South Wales, a large (10-12cm across) and spectacular scarlet flower growing in the bush in clumps of tall stems. The Waratah is protected by law.
NSW Government logo
The NSW Government logo was adopted in 2009 and is an artistic representation of the Waratah, the floral emblem of New South Wales. The NSW Government logo is used to represent all NSW Government Agencies and their associated representatives.
NSW bird emblem
The Kookaburra is the bird emblem of New South Wales. Sometimes called a 'laughing jackass' because of its distinctive territorial laughing call, it eats meat, hunts snakes, lizards, fish and insects and lives at forest edges, in clearings.
NSW animal emblem
The Platypus is the animal emblem of New South Wales. It is a furry creature, about 30cm - 38cm long, has webbed feet and a large duck-like bill which it uses to gather its food from the bottom of rivers.
NSW fish emblem
The Blue Groper was proclaimed the State fish of New South Wales in 1998. A friendly but powerful coastal fish that often follows divers, it can be up to a metre long and weigh between 2 and 15kg, though some specimens may reach 40kg or more.
NSW gemstone emblem
The Black Opal was proclaimed the State gemstone of New South Wales in 2008. It is the most rare and valuable type of opal.