Culture and heritage


A fleece or

Blazon: the first and fourth quarters a Fleece of the last [Or] banded of the second [Argent]... (a fleece of gold with a silver band). The golden fleece had been depicted on the popular Advance Australia Arms since 1821, and also appeared on the Great Seal of NSW in 1870.

For Gullick the golden fleece was an emblem of a great achievement of Australia in the peaceful arts. It first appeared in the heraldry of New South Wales as an element of the Great Seal of NSW in 1870. The design, however, dates back to 1429 when the Duke of Burgundy established the Order of the Golden Fleece in Flanders, which remains one of the oldest orders of knighthood still surviving. The fleece was chosen by the Duke on two counts: it represented the woollen industries of Flanders, and it alluded to the heroic quest of Jason and the Argonauts in ancient Greek legend, as befitting a knightly order. Knights of the Order wore a golden fleece pendant hanging from a broad red ribbon. In time, the Order came to be commanded by the King of Spain who presented a flock of merino sheep to King George III. Descendants from this royal flock were sent to Cape Town, from which some of the stock were then brought to NSW to establish the Australian wool industry.

Thus the golden fleece represents a number of allusions - to the Australian wool industry than began in NSW, to its origins in the royal flocks of the kings of Britain and Spain, to the creation of industrial wool processing in 15th century Flanders and Holland, and to the classical mythologies of the Greek Argonauts and their quest. It also, noted Gullick, made reference to a popular image of NSW as the 'Land of the Golden Fleece', a double-handed reference to the wool and gold resources upon which was based the wealth of NSW. For these reasons it was made the 'primary charge' on the shield (the upper left quarter being of the highest status).

The depiction of the golden fleece was a matter of some discussion with the College of Arms in London. The College at first asked what the charge was meant to be as they were unsure of the manner in which Gullick had drawn it, and then proposed to colour the band around it blue. As this would have resulted in the fleece seeming to be cut in two pieces, it was finally agreed to band it silver.

Some questions to research:

  1. What are some of the ways in which the golden fleece has been represented in heraldry?
  2. What might be some reasons for the fleece not being banded red, as in the insignia of the Order of the Golden Fleece?

Image source: enclosed with letter, York Herald to Agent General for NSW, 1906

Page last updated: 01 September 2012