Culture and heritage

Heritage

Sydney GPO

NSW Badge and Sic Fortis Etruria Crevit Arms over colonnade of Sydney GPO, George Street façade, 1887

Among the many allegorical and allusive carvings on the Sydney GPO facade is this representation which is part badge, part coat of arms. It can be seen as a turning point in the colony's symbolism.

Carved on the eve of the 1888 Centennial celebrations, the illustration shows the badge of NSW on a shield with a crown as a crest, and emu and kangaroo supporters above a ribbon bearing the old motto Sic fortis Etruria crevit. This is one of very few representations that combine elements of the Royal Arms, the official badge of NSW and the unofficial Advance Australia Arms. It heralds Gullick's approach to designing the NSW Coat of Arms nearly 20 years later.

This device is remarkable in several ways. Firstly, the supporters are restrained by chains, emulating the similar restraining of the unicorn supporter of the Royal Arms, supposedly because the unicorn is such a dangerous beast. Neither the emu nor the kangaroo would seem to be as dangerous! However, the unicorn had come to the Royal Arms from the Scottish Arms in 1603, and its restraint had perhaps come to be associated with restraining the Scots: after all, the Scotch Martyrs were a well-known group of political prisoners in the early colony. Is there an allusion here to the uncertainties of NSW or Australian nationalism needing restraint?

A second point to note is the inclusion of the long-discarded convict motto. A new (although unofficial) motto Orta recens quam pura nites (Newly risen how brightly you shine) was coming into use. Again, the possibility of a need to temper local patriotism with reminders of the 'convict stain' may be apparent. The almost-Royal Arms style of the carving suggests an imperial imprimatur for such a message that is quite at odds with the symbolism of the Sixth Great Seal.

A third point to note is the use of several blind, or blank, shields and motto ribbons behind the supporters. Blind shields are occasionally used to allow additional Arms to be added to a feature in the future, but they can also be an allusion to the future as such, implying that there remains history still to be enacted and written about, and to be added to 'history's page'.

All of the GPO carvings are the work of the sculptor Giovanni Fontana and his associates (Clive Lucas: 7). They were controversial at the time with calls to change them for various historical, political and aesthetic reasons, but all have survived to this day.

Some questions to research:

  1. What other explanations might there be for restraining the supporters?
  2. Why might using the old convict motto have seemed appropriate (or inappropriate) in NSW at this time?

Image Source: Bruce Baskerville, Heritage Branch, 13th April 2005;
SHR item Sydney General Post Office

Page last updated: 01 September 2012