Culture and heritage


Chief Secretary's Building, 1881

NSW Badge and Crown in waratah wreath Chief Secretary's Building, 1881

The Bridge Street façade of the Colonial (later Chief) Secretary's Building was constructed between 1873 and 1881. The NSW Badge, adopted in 1876, and shown here in the pediment of the principal façade is possibly the earliest representation of the badge in a three-dimensional form.

This very confident carving shows the badge surrounded by a wreath of waratah and surmounted by a Crown. This may also be the first such use of the waratah and Crown to ornament the badge, and seems to have set a pattern that persisted until representations of the NSW Coat of Arms began to replace the Badge of NSW on public buildings. The symbolism represented by the crown over the badge is not dissimilar to that of the Sixth Great Seal, although the visual elements are clearly different.

A unique feature of this representation is the rim encircling the badge with the year 1877 embossed at its base. The grooves on the rim or belt are reminiscent of rays emanating from a sun behind the badge, suggesting a design influence by Lucien Henri (although this is two years before he arrived in Sydney - Stephen: 8-9, 192). The embossed year clearly indicates the carving of the badge, and its installation in the façade, as having taken place during construction. The symbolism of official authority is reinforced by other emblems: the horizontal bundles of fasces between the pediment and the Venetian windows (a symbol of public authority adopted by the Romans from the Etruscans), and the decorative heraldic device over the window above the apex of the pediment (an addition of 1895). As this great public building grew it appeared to sprout additional emblems of public authority, reflecting the role of Colonial Architect James Barnet, who designed both the building and the badge.

Some questions to research:

  1. When did the waratah come to be used as a symbol of NSW?
  2. What does the designed accumulation of symbols of authority and windows suggest about governing NSW in the 1870s and 80s?

Image source: Nathanael Hughes, 11th October 2006;
Heritage Branch online database: SHR item Chief Secretary's Building

Page last updated: 01 September 2012