I’m not sure if anyone else has been watching Annabell Crabb’s documentary “The House“. I was surprised to learn that a number of designs for the large coat of arms above Parliament House were rejected because the kangaroo wasn’t “demonstrably male”. I set a couple of bemused law students loose on trying to verify this, but to no avail. I did, however, find some interesting facts about the coat of arms.

We all know that the kangaroo and emu were chosen for the coat of arms because neither can move backwards.  Another factor was that they were both large enough to be positioned in scale. I also discovered an interesting parliamentary debate about changing the original 1908 version of the coat of arms (pictured) to the version which we now know and which was adopted in late 1912.  House of Representatives hansard on 31 October 1912 records the following:

Fenton: Let us have a decent Australian coat-of-arms on our writing paper. The kangaroo depicted is most un- lifelike, and, as for the poor, unfortunate emu, with its leg tucked up against the Australian shield …
Atkinson: Could an emu stick up its leg in that way?
Fenton: I do not know; but I know that an emu can kick out well behind, and pretty well as hard as a horse can.
Kelly: The habits of heraldic animals however, are not altogether founded on established fact, and it is not the fault of the College of Heralds that the emu in this case is asked to do something which would in ordinary circumstances horrify it. It seems to me that the emu and the kangaroo are hardly symbolic of the best qualities of the Australian people. They have the smallest heads of any of the animal kingdom. Is that a mark of the Australian people?.….The emu and the kangaroo are so built that they hardly fit into the heraldic atmosphere, and I think we make ourselves ridiculous when we endeavour to carry on the traditions of the Old World with some of the wild creations of our Australian fauna.

Hmmm, the good old world!

If you want to read more of this debate it is on the APH website.

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