Skip to content | Skip to document navigation

Research Guides

Government Records about the Australian Capital Territory

Coat of Arms

On 21 July 1927, Chairman of the Federal Capital Commission John Butters wrote to the Secretary of Home and Territories expressing his wish that Canberra have its own coat of arms. A competition was announced on 13 August 1927, with the winner to receive £25.69 The competition attracted 32 entries, all of which the judges rejected. One entry, prepared by CR Wylie from Sydney, was thought to have sufficient merit to warrant further development.

In April 1928, Wylie's revised design was sent to the College of Arms in London for approval. The college advised in July 1928 that the proposed design, with two black swans, was too similar to the coat of arms granted to Perth a few years previously. The college suggested substituting a kangaroo for one of the swans, but instead the Federal Capital Commission opted for one white swan instead of a black one. After minor adjustments, King George V granted the design by royal warrant dated 8 October 1928. The College of Arms issued the official exemplification (artistic rendition) and blazon (description) on 7 November 1928, along with the crest.70

The key symbols on the coat of arms are: the swans represent European Australians and Indigenous Australians; the crown represents the Monarch; the castle represents Canberra and conveys the idea of magnificence and grandeur; the sword represents justice; the mace represents Parliament; the white rose represents the Duke of York, who opened Parliament House in May 1927; and the gum tree represents the growth of Canberra and the fact that it is a garden city.

The official Coat of Arms was held by the National Archives of Australia for many years. To commemorate Canberra's centenary, on 1 July 2013 both it and other supporting documents were formally presented to the ACT Government.

Royal Grant of Armorial Bearing to Federal Capital Commissioners and the City of Canberra, 1928 CP188/1
Grant of Arms by the Royal College of Arms to the Federal Capital Commission and the City of Canberra, 1928 CP188/2
Impress Seal with matrix bearing the Arms of the Federal Capital Commissioners and the City of Canberra, 1929 CP188/4
Canberra Coat of Arms 1961/58
City Coat of Arms – policy and administration 89/18614
Use by the NCDC of the City of Canberra Coat of Arms as its official insignia NC–74/00670
National Archives
Designs and notes submitted in competition for Coat of Arms for Canberra, 1927 CP205/1
Coat of Arms City of Canberra general, part 1, 1927–31 A431, 1951/1694
Coat of Arms for city of Canberra, 1927–46 A461, D396/1/10
Canberra Coat of Arms coloured copy, 1928 AA1971/348
Canberra Coat of Arms, 1928–31 A2910, 410/1/93
Coat of Arms City of Canberra general, part 2, 1929–47 A431, 1951/1695
City of Canberra Coat of Arms general file, part 4, 1947–63 A431, 1963/167

Official flower and flag

It would be many years, however, before the Territory had an official flower or its own flag. The Territory's official flower, the bluebell (Wahlenbergra gloriosa), was chosen in 1983 and proclaimed in 1984.71

A Territory flag was first mooted in the 1960s but rejected in favour of the national flag. Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser was opposed to a Territory flag, and so too was Prime Minister Bob Hawke. With the onset of self-government, design competitions were held in 1988 and again in 1992. Four designs were shortlisted and presented to the community for comment in early 1993. The design by Ivo Ostyn, which featured the Southern Cross and a modified form of Canberra's Coat of Arms in the colours of blue, gold and white, won the competition.

Blue and white are the colours of the city (shown by the wreath above the shield on Canberra's Coat of Arms), while blue and gold are the traditional Territory sporting colours, and were taken from the national blue and gold appearing on the wreath of the Australian Coat of Arms. The ACT Legislative Assembly officially adopted the flag in 1993.

Canberra flag 1963/7
Design of Canberra flag ZA74/160
Floral emblem of ACT 81/4653
National Archives
Adoption of a flag for Canberra, 1963–64 A3211, 1963/2444
The bluebell, floral emblem of the ACT, 1982 A6135, K25/11/82/1
ACT flag proposals, 1982–85 A463, 1988/2553


Chapter notes | All notes

69 The competition was advertised in several capital city newspapers and the journal Architecture, volume 16, number 9, September 1927, p. 177.

70 NAA: A431, 1951/1694.

71 National Library of Australia: (Tom Uren) MS 6055, series 10, folder 13, box 63.


Chapter 4
Depression and war: Canberra in decline, 1927–57