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The Advance Australia Arms





The Present Achievement

The Royal Arms



New South Wales

Northern Territory


South Australia



Western Australia

Norfolk Island





Records show that the discovery of Australian continent by European expeditions date back to the early 17th century. The first known sighting was in 1606 by the Dutch navigator Willem Janszoon, who in his ship Duyfken navigated the Gulf of Carpentaria, sighting and making landfall on the western coast of Cape York Peninsula. In 1616, another Dutchman Dirk Hartog left a pewter plate commemorating his landfall at Shark Bay in Western Australia. Other 17th century European voyagers (predominantly Dutch, but also French and English) were to follow suit, and by the start of the 18th century all but the eastern coastlines of what had become known as “New Holland” had been charted. No attempts to establish settlements were made, however.

The expedition of the Endeavour under command of British Royal Navy Lieutenant James Cook navigated and charted the east coast of Australia, making first landfall at Botany Bay on 29 April 1770. Here he formally claimed the eastern coastline he had discovered for the Crown, naming it New South Wales.

The British Crown Colony of New South Wales ended with the establishment of a settlement at Sydney Cove by Captain Arthur Phillip on 26 January 1788. These land masses included the current islands of New Zealand, which was administered as part of New South Wales. Van Diemen's Land, now known as Tasmania, was settled in 1803 and became a separate colony in 1825.

Britain formally claimed the western part of Australia in 1829. Separate colonies were created from parts of New South Wales: South Australia in 1836, New Zealand in 1840, Victoria in 1851, and Queensland in 1859. The Northern Territory was founded in 1863 as part of the Province of South Australia.

In 1879, the Swan River Colony was declared by Charles Swan for Britain, which later became Western Australia, with Albany coming under the authority of the governor at Perth.

A first step to independence was set with the Australian Constitution Act (1850) by which the colonies were granted the right to make their own constitution. Between 1855 and 1890, the six colonies individually gained responsible government, managing most of their own affairs while remaining part of the British Empire. The Colonial Office in London retained control of some matters, notably foreign affairs, defence and international shipping.

On 1 January 1901, federation of the colonies was achieved after a decade of planning, consultation and voting. The Commonwealth of Australia was formed as a result of an agreement between six self-governing British colonies, which became the six states. It is a federal constitutional monarchy under a parliamentary democracy.

The Sovereign of Australia, is currently Queen Elizabeth II. Section 61 of the Constitution provides that ‘The executive power of the Commonwealth is vested in the Queen and is exercisable by the Governor‑General as the Queen’s representative, and extends to the execution and maintenance of this Constitution, and of the laws of the Commonwealth’. Section 2 of the Australian Constitution provides that a Governor-General shall represent the Queen in Australia. In practice, the Governor-General carries out all the functions usually performed by a head of state, without reference to the Queen.




As Australia was for a long time a British possession, initially the British royal arms and the British Royal achievement were also used in Australia. The British Royal achievement can still be seen on the façade of the old parliament house in Canberra. Officially this situation was changed when new arms for Australia were adopted.


Royal U.K. achievement on Old Parliament House, Canberra, 1927.


Æ About this paragraph and the officiality of the present arms Richard d’Apice AM KCSG aih, President of the Australian Heraldry Society, remarks the following (quote): 


“Inevitably and regrettably, the position (and the constitutional development of Australia) is neither so simple nor so clear-cut as this [last] statement suggests.


Until they were federated for limited purposes in 1901, the various parts of Australia were separate colonies of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. This federal body, the Commonwealth of Australia, gradually separated from the UK and the previously indivisible Crown of the UK became divisible and divided into separate Crowns including the (federal) Crown of Australia and Elizabeth II eventually became the Queen of Australia with, in that capacity, powers relating exclusively to the Commonwealth.


Australia was granted separate arms of dominion and sovereignty in 1908 and in 1912 (the present arms). The present coat of arms did not achieve universal and exclusive use to represent our sovereignty. Even after the grant of the present arms of Australia in 1912, the sovereign of the UK remained the sovereign of Australia and the change to independent sovereignty and title was an almost imperceptibly slow process.


The façade of Old Parliament House (erected in 1927 – 15 years after the assignment of the present arms of Australia) displays both the arms of the sovereign of the UK and what we now recognise (but not in 1927) as the arms of the sovereign of Australia. The UK arms are in the heraldically superior (dexter) position.


The style and title of the sovereign of Australia remained that of the UK until the Royal Style and Titles Act 1953 (Aust) when the federal Queen became “Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom, Australia and Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith.” Pursuant to the Royal Style and Titles Act 1973 (Aust) she became “Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God Queen of Australia and Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth” as she remains.


Upon federation in 1901, the constituent parts of Australia were renamed as States but legally they remained colonies of the UK. The Queen of the UK remained their sovereign. Arms of dominion and sovereignty of particular purpose were assigned to each of the States (Queensland’s arms were assigned in 1893, eight years before federation).


Until the Australia Acts 1986 (UK & Aust), the Australian States remained colonies of the UK. Those acts separated their Crowns from the Crown of the UK but did not clearly (or at all) combine them with the Crown on Australia. There is much disagreement as to whether this resulted in separate Crowns for the States or in a federal Crown which the States shared with the Commonwealth and each other. I favour separate Crowns but the debate is not finished in any definitive manner.


So, the situation did not officially change in 1908 but officially continued unchanged until 1986.[1]


At the beginning of the 19th century some achievements were brought into vogue in New South Wales for use by corporations and individuals. These achievements are known as the Advance Australia achievements because of the motto on a ribbon below. The Advance Australia example was followed by New South Wales (1906) and also by the Commonwealth for its first achievement  adopted in 1908. A design from 1821 shows the stars of the Southern Cross, an emu (Dromiceius novæ-hollandiæ - Dromiceidæ) and a kangaroo (Macropus rufus - Macropodiæ)  as supporters, and the motto Advance Australia.



Coat of arms of the diocese of Australia, granted in 1836. (College of Arms, London: Grants 41 p. 229)


The Southern Cross, the constellation that dominates the Australian sky, occurs also in the coat of arms of the Anglican diocese of Australia, founded in 1836 in New South Wales. This coat of arms was granted in the first year of the existence of the diocese and consists of  four eight-pointed stars on a blue field. On the shield is a mitre. Very soon this coat of arms became obsolete because the diocese was divided into four smaller dioceses in 1847. [2] The Southern Cross is also the main charge on the flag of Australia of 1909, the flags of New Zealand (1869/1902) and of  Papua New Guinea.(1971). It occurs also on the coat of arms and flag of Victoria (1871) and on the flag of the Northern Territory (1978). In these cases the Southern Cross always consists of five stars, four big ones and one smaller.

The supporters, of course represent the particular fauna of Australia.A design of Charles Costantini from 1857 closely follows the design of 1821. In his design the blue cross is exchanged for the St. George’s cross of England, red on a white field, charged with five golden five-pointed stars. In the four quarters are the symbols of sheep-breeding, the trade, the shipping and of agriculture, all identical with the symbols of 1821.  A like achievement is on the tokens minted in 1857, the symbols somewhat changed.


The Advance Australia Arms  [3]


The earliest Advance Australia Arms, presented to Captain Silk c.1821


Image Source: State Library of NSW. [4]


This is the oldest known example of the 'Advance Australia' Coat of Arms. The 'Advance Australia Arms' (named because of the motto inscription) became widely used in the Australian colonies by private corporations and individuals. Although they never had any official status, they formed the basis for several official coats of arms. This representation was reputedly painted for Thomas Silk, the son of the Captain of the Prince of Orange, a convict ship that visited Sydney in 1821.

The Prince of Orange was a frequent visitor to Sydney, being used to transport convicts to NSW and Van Diemen's Land, as well as other cargoes. It arrived in Sydney on one of these voyages in February 1821, discharging convicts that were sent to Parramatta and Liverpool, before proceeding on to Batavia (Jakarta). Why such a representation of the Advance Australia Arms should have been made to Captain Silk at this time is not clear. There are other references to voyages of the Prince of Orange until at least 1847. Thomas Silk, a free settler at Richmond in the Hawkesbury District, arrived and received land there in 1816, and was still there in 1825 (Colonial Secretary's Papers). The connections with Captain Silk are not clear, but the residence of Thomas Silk at Richmond may suggest some connection with the Bowman family (see Bowman Flag).

The artist who painted this representation is not known, although the style of application of paint onto the panel is reminiscent of coach painting. The reverse of the panel appears to have been prepared as a cribbage board.

The achievement can be blasoned as follows:

Arms Quarterly azure and argent, on a cross azure celeste a mullet of six points or between four mullets of six points or, in the first a golden fleece or, in the second a three-masted schooner sails furled at sea proper, in the third a harpoon and anchor in saltire proper, and in the fourth a garb or.

Crest: on a wreath of the colours a demi-sun in his splendour.

Supporters: dexter an emu statant to the dexter regardant contourné, sinister a kangaroo to the sinister regardant dexter, both proper;

Motto: Advance Australia.  [5]


A variation on the Advance Australia Arms:  miner's arms of the 1850s


Image source: Darragh (1990), plate 25.


The Advance Australia Arms never had any official status, and they were readily varied and adapted by different groups in the colonial period, as in this example from the goldfields of the 1850s.

The notable variations from the usual form of the Advance Australia Arms are the absence of a cross and stars, although the four quarterings suggest a cross-shape; the placing of the shovel and pick in saltire (or crossed) in the prestigious first and fourth quarters; the introduction of a dolly or cradle (a device for washing ore to separate it from soil) in the second quarter; and of a miner's lamp in the third quarter; the replacement of the rising sun in the crest with what appears to be an earthenware demijohn, which might contain either water or liquor; and the figures of two miners as supporters.

Overall, the choice of the images in this 'Miner's Arms' version of the Advance Australia Arms indicates their use in a community of alluvial miners, operating independently and on a small scale. The image of the Arms is taken from a promissory or bank note printed by Thomas Ham in Victoria about 1853, and gives some indication of how familiar the Advance Australia heraldic imagery was by that time. [6]


The Advance Australia design of Charles Costantini


Full size image of Advance Australia [Design for an Australian coat of arms]


Title: Advance Australia [Design for an Australian coat of arms]


Creator: Costantini, Charles Henry Theodore, *ca. 1803-†1860

Date: 1857

Description: 1 painting: watercolour; 9 x 7 cm. within mount.

Notes: Signed and dated lower right., Framed in contemporary Huon pine frame with gilt slip.,

Conservation: 12/8/1983 and 23/7/1997., Exhibited: Island Exile in Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts, August - November 1997.

Location: W.L. Crowther Library (State Library of Tasmania) [7]


Australian Tokens of the 1850-ties


The Adelaide Arcade Coat of Arms


Photo Gerard J. Boon


The Adelaide Arcade was built in 1885, 16 years before federation and 24 years before a Coat of Arms was officially proclaimed (1908). At that time many people were wondering what a Coat of Arms for Australia would be.

Various competitions were conducted and the promoters of the Adelaide Arcade decided to adopt the one design they thought would eventually win the competition.

As it turned out this particular design was not adopted for Australia, however it remains a symbol of the Adelaide Arcade's unique character.

The Adelaide Arcade's Coat of Arms is still similar to Australia's official one in a few respects. It has a Kangaroo and Emu on each side, although opposite to the final Australian design.

Above these symbols you will note the sun setting over the ocean. Australia has often been referred to as the “Land of the setting sun”. Below the design is situated a scroll in which are written the words “Advance Australia”.


Again the arms are quarterly but the symbols in the four quarters differ from the former designs. They are now: 1 A sheep (sheep breeding); 2 A sailing ship (trade); 3 An anchor (shipping) 4 Pick and shovel (mining)

Next to the Emu and Kangaroo are sheafs of corn and below them are grape-vines, symbolizing Australia as the land of opportunity. The Coat of Arms was produced by Messrs W Pett & Son, however the castings have been unable to be traced. [8]


The Advance Australia Arms of 1908


The first official achievement of the Commonwealth of Australia was granted by King Edward VII. The geographic position and the relation with the motherland are symbolized by the red cross of St. George and the five stars of the Southern Cross. This central motif is surrounded by six escutcheons representing the six provinces of the Commonwealth. On the shield is a seven-pointed star, representing the six provinces and the teriitories of the Commonwealth. This achievement remined in use on coins until 1963.

Arms: Argent,  a cross Gules fimbtiated Argent and Azure, charged with five six-pointed stars Argent, within a bordure Azure, charegd with six escutcheon Argent, a chevron Gules.

Crest: A seven-pointed star Or on a wreath Azure and Or.

Supporters: D. a kangaroo and S. an emu proper standing on a grassy ground.

Motto:  advance australia.

By R.W. 7th  May 1908

The Present Achievement


A new achievement was adopted on 19 September 1912.  On the shield are the six badges of the states surrounded by the ‘sweet bond of the federation’, symbolized by a bordure ermine. The supporters are the same as before but are standing now on two branches of the Australian wattle (Acacia oxycedra - Mimosaceæ) (not mentioned in the official warrant). The motto became in short AUSTRALIA.  The warrant reads:


Arms: Quarterly of six, the first quarter Argent a Cross Gules charged with a Lion passant guardant between on each limb a Mullet of eight points Or, the second, Azure five Mullets, one of eight two of seven one of six and one of five points of the first (representing the Constellation of the Southern Cross) ensigned with an Imperial Crown proper; the third of the first, a Maltese Cross of the fourth surmounted by a like Imperial Crown; the fourth of the third, on a Perch wreathed Vert and Gules an Australian Piping Shrike displayed also proper; the fifth also Or a Swan naiant to the sinister Sable; the last of the first, a lion passant of the second, the whole within a Bordure Ermine; for the Crest on a Wreath Or and Azure A Seven-pointed Star Or, and for Supporters dexter a Kangaroo, sinister an Emu Proper.

By R.W. 19th September 1912


Æ See illustration in the head of this essay


This achievement was displayed on the façade of the old Parliamant House in Canberra together with the Royal Achievement of Great Britain, symbolizing that Australia is a dominion of Great Britain and also that the king or queen of Great Britain is also the sovereign of Australia.

The Royal Arms


Initially the royal arms, implicitely also in force in Australia, were the arms of  the kings of the United Kingdom. These consisted of the crowned arms of England, Scotland and Ireland surrounded, for example on this half-crown of Queen Victoria, by the strap and collar of the Order of the Garter:



After the accession to the throne of George VI a new achievement appeared which can be considered to be the royal arms for Australia. It consisted of the crowned arms of Australia supported by a kangaroo and an emu and surrounded by some branches of wattle. It was printed on half-crown coins and is in the tradition of the royal arms on half-crown coins of Great Britain and the United Kingdom before. At about the same time royal arms appeared for New Zealand, Southern Rhodesia and South Africa, also printed on half-crown coins. The resemblance of these royal arms is that the strap of the Order of the Garter is lacking. This is a consequence of the fact that the Order of the Garter is a British order. As the King of the United Kingdom was not a Grandmaster of any Australian, South-African, Southern-Rhodesian or New Zealand order, no collars or straps are surrounding these arms. The difference is that the Australian royal arms have supporters which, in fact, makes them a royal achievement.


In 1962 the Queen's Personal Australian Flag, sometimes known as the Royal Standard of Australia was approved for use. It is the flag of Queen Elizabeth II in her role as Queen of Australia. It is only used by the Queen when she is in Australia, or attending an event abroad in her role as head of state of Australia. The flag consists of a banner of the coat of arms of Australia,  charged in the middle  with a golden seven-pointed federation star with a blue disc of the Royal Cypher of Queen Elizabeth II, surrounded by a garland of golden roses.



After the introduction of the royal standard the royal arms for Australia disappeared.


The Queen's representative, the Governor-General of Australia has a separate flag, consisting of dark blue cloth charged with the royal badge and a listel with the name COMMONWEALTH OF AUSTRALIA.

Before 1936 the governors flag consisted of the Union Jack charged with the governor’s badge:




The 1909 Governor General’s Standard.


Present standard of the Governor General and Commander-in-Chief (1936)



© Hubert de Vries 2006.10.16. Updated 2008.10.14; 2010-03-05; 2012-07-25; 2014-01-23


[1] In an e-mail letter dd. 24.12.2013

[2] In 1842 Tasmanië was separated , in 1847 Adelaide, Newcastle and Melbourne. The first and only bishop was William Grant Broughton (*1788-†1853) who was inaugurated on 5 June 1836 in Sydney.

[3] Retrieved from Internet

[4] Digital a128882  State Library of NSW, Picman

[5] http://www.heritage.nsw.gov.au/10_subnav_08_01_12.htm

[6] ttp://www.heritage.nsw.gov.au/10_subnav_08_01_13.htm

[8] http://www.adelaidearcade.com.au/history4.ph

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