Culture and heritage


Pilaster on Commonwealth Bank in Pitt Street, 1913

Following federation in 1901, the Commonwealth Government began to exercise its powers under Section 51 (xiii) of the Constitution with respect to banking, and in 1911, the second Labor government of Andrew Fisher used these powers to create the Commonwealth Bank, which was considered a great social reform of the time. The first branch opened in Melbourne in 1912, and in that same year a site was acquired in Pitt Street, Sydney, for the erection of a head office for the bank. The original building was constructed between 1913 and 1916 and was intended to be one of the most modern banking establishments in the world, echoing New York style skyscrapers.

The façade of the building is divided into nine bays by pilasters, each bearing a representation of a State coat of arms within a cartouche. The NSW Arms, as shown in the picture, are perhaps the earliest representation of the Arms on the exterior of a public building. In this case the Arms are displayed to emphasise the federal nature of the Commonwealth government, the owner of the bank and of the building. At the time of construction only three of the states had officially granted Arms (Queensland 1893, NSW 1906 and Victoria 1910), and the Arms for the other states were essentially a form of their State badge on a shield shape. None of the territories are represented. All of the Arms on the façade were carved by William P. Macintosh.

Some questions to research:

  1. What factors might need to be considered when heraldically representing a public authority that has no coat of arms?
  2. How might displaying the NSW Coat of Arms on a Commonwealth building symbolically differ from using them on a State building?
Image source: Bruce Baskerville, Heritage Branch, 13th April 2005.


Page last updated: 01 September 2012