Culture and heritage


A golden kangaroo

Blazon: 'Supporters: on the Sinister side a Kangaroo Or' (on the heraldic left-hand side a kangaroo standing with his head facing towards the shield). This drawing is from Gullick's original sketch design for the NSW Arms.

The position of the supporters of a shield is always described from the point of view of a person holding the shield - thus the sinister, or left, side is, from an observer's view, on the right - the Kangaroo is on the heraldic left, but the viewer's right. The Kangaroo dies not have the same depth of European heraldic mythology that the Lion does, although it is rich in Aboriginal lore and symbolism.

Gullick described the the kangaroo as emblematic of Australia, and considered that NSW, as the 'mother state', had the strongest claim of any state to use the kangaroo in its heraldry. He also stated that an earlier version of the Arms had the kangaroo and emu supporters that were used in much locally-derived heraldry (presumably he was referring to the Advance Australia Arms). However, he had decided against the emu as it was visually very similar to the ostrich used as a supporter on the Arms of the Cape Colony (in South Africa), and the Arms of a former Governor of NSW, and therefore to use them in the NSW Arms would have been perceived as being of a "secondary nature".

The use of the kangaroo in Australian heraldry stretches back to the c1806 Arms on the Bowman Flag, in which it is depicted as alert and wary. Gullick does not mention this use, and both the version that he drew, and that which the College of Arms' heraldic artist later drew, show a rather docile looking creature, although later artists have provided more vigorous representations. Gullick uses the kangaroo in his design to allude to the landscapes and natural resources of the 'mother' of the other states, a fertile land of plenty that inspired a promising new people. Gullick therefore, through the two supporters, was able to allude to the geographical place 'New South Wales', and to the multinational origins of the new people evolving in the place.

Some questions to research:

  1. What are some of the characteristics (real or mythical) of the kangaroo that have inspired its use as a symbol of Australia identity?
  2. How has the depiction of the kangaroo in Australian heraldry changed over time?
Image source: 'Coat of Arms for New South Wales: new design approved', Sydney Morning Herald, 30 March 1906
Page last updated: 01 September 2012