Symbols such as Vegemite or Holden cars are often used to represent our popular culture but what symbols do we use to represent the nation and its democratic ideals? This unit investigates symbols of state and of the nation from our past, present and future and considers what they say and should say about Australia.
About the unit | Indicators of student achievement | Background notes | Other resources | Links to other learning areas
About the unit
- Symbols of state and nation
- National celebrations, commemorations of significant lives and events over time
Contexts: historical and contemporary Australia
Indicators of student achievement
The student can:
- describe symbols of state and national life in Australia
- identify civic values related to symbols, people and celebrations in Australia
- justify their selection of symbols to represent civic life in Australia.
This unit examines how civic identity is represented in Australia through symbols of state and the celebration of significant lives and events.
Symbols of state
These are official symbols which represent the nation or individual States and Territories.
- Flags: The Australian national flag was selected following a competition in 1901. Our current flag is based on the winning design. State and Territory flags were created from 1870 to until quite recently. The Australian Aboriginal flag and the Torres Strait Islander flag were proclaimed Australian flags in 1995.
- Coats of arms: A coat of arms was traditionally granted by a monarch. On one side of the Commonwealth Coat of Arms is the emu and on the other the kangaroo. On the shield are the badges of the six States as they were in 1912 - a black swan for Western Australia, a piping shrike for South Australia, a lion for Tasmania, a Maltese Cross and crown for Queensland, the Southern Cross and a crown for Victoria and a cross with stars and a lion for New South Wales. The Commonwealth Coat of Arms symbolises both the authority of the parliament and the unity of the nation.
- Anthems: Anthems were traditionally written as hymns praising a monarch or nation. The Australian national anthem is the revised version of a patriotic song from the 19th century and was officially declared the national anthem in 1984. The royal anthem, 'God Save the Queen', is played when members of the royal family are in attendance.
- Emblems: Emblems are objects chosen to represent a state or nation. Most States and Territories have both floral and faunal emblems. The Commonwealth declared the golden wattle its floral emblem in 1988.
- Other official symbols: Australia's national colours - green and gold - were adopted as official colours in 1984.
|More details and pictures of the symbols of state and parliamentary symbols are included on the Parliament@Work website and Parliament at Work CD ROM.
Many symbols in Australia's parliament have been inherited from the British Westminster system.
- Black Rod: The staff of office carried by the Usher of the Black Rod dates from the 14th century. The Black Rod is used during the opening of parliament.
- Mace: Originally a symbol of royal authority dating from Charles I, it is now a symbol of the power and authority of the Speaker in the Lower House.
National days and events
Australians celebrate a range of special events marked by festivals or national days. Some of these are based on the cultural or religious traditions of particular groups. Others are days which celebrate historic or civic events relevant to the development of the nation, state or territory. National days are sometimes marked by public holidays, such as Australia Day. This unit also considers national days which are no longer widely celebrated, such as Empire Day, or no longer marked by a public holiday, such as St Patrick's Day.
The Australian nation recognises the lives of citizens who have made a significant contribution to the nation. This unit examines:
- Banknotes and stamps: People who have made a significant contribution to Australia are commemorated on banknotes and stamps. They are nominated according to broad criteria and short-listed by a committee. Final selection must be approved by the Treasurer.
- Settlement, street and suburb names: Local authorities have their own policies for naming streets and suburbs. Electorates are given locality names or named after historical or political people.
- Honours and awards: The Australian honours system recognises outstanding civilian and military service. There are a number of awards including the Order of Australia. The Australian of the Year and Young Australian of the Year awards are selected annually by the National Australia Day Council from nominations received throughout the year.
To read more about the ideas in this unit refer to Discovering Democracy - A Guide to Government and Law in Australia.
Australia's National Symbols, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra, 1993.
Copies of the words of the Australian national anthem and booklets on symbols and flags are also available from the offices of Federal Members and Senators.
Links to other learning areas
- drawing existing symbols, including sketching local memorials or monuments
- examining the elements of symbol designs
- developing new designs for symbols
- playing, singing and listening to songs and national anthems
- opportunities for producing drama and taking part in re-enactments
- making short notes and summaries
- writing biographies, reports and detailed descriptions
- taking part in discussions, giving opinions and clarifying values
- making retrieval charts
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