For many Australians the phrase ‘the lucky country’ has a particular resonance. Donald Horne’s famous words have been used in numerous ways to describe everything that is great about our nation. The phrase has been used to describe our weather, our lifestyle and our history. It is often invoked to describe the nation’s good fortune, from gold booms to economic booms. Recently, our geographic isolation from the world’s trouble spots has again seen us labelled the lucky country. It has been paraphrased by politicians – ‘the clever country’ – and when Kylie Minogue sings we’re ‘lucky, lucky, lucky’, we all know what she means.
The flag is based on the Blue Ensign. It is a plain blue flag with the British Union Jack in the upper corner of the hoist. This symbolises both Australia’s colonial background and the present-day membership of the British Commonwealth. Underneath is the seven-pointed Commonwealth star. Each point represents either a state or territory. On the right hand side there are five white stars in the shape of the Southern Cross, the constellation most characteristic of the Australian sky at night.
At the time of Federation in 1901, there was no Australian flag. Because we were then a colony of Britain, we used British flags. The new Government held an international competition which attracted an enormous number of entries, 32,823! From these the present design was chosen – it had been submitted by five different people, including a 14 year old boy, an 18 year old and a New Zealander. King Edward VII approved a modified version of the design in February 1903.
The original design was similar to the current flag, except the Federation Star contained only 6 points and the Southern Cross was represented by stars ranging from 5 to 9 points to indicate their relative apparent brightness in the night sky. At first this flag was known as the Commonwealth blue ensign but later it became the Australian National flag. The Commonwealth red ensign, or merchant flag, was identical except that it had a red background instead of a blue one.
Initially confusion reigned over the two Australian flags. At first the blue ensign was intended for official naval purposes only and the red ensign was to be used by the merchant fleet. However, the public also began using the red ensign on land. (The Flag placed in the time capsule left by Antarctic explorer Sir Hubert Wilkins in 1939 was the Red ensign.) 3 September each year has been declared Australian National Flag Day (not a public holiday). Any Australian citizen or organisation may display the Australian National Flag. This may be done between 8am and sunset, or at night if properly illuminated.
- Other Australian flags
- State and Territory Coats of Arms
- State Emblems
- State Emblems
The present coat of arms was granted in 1912 by King George V. It consists of a shield composed of six parts, each containing a badge for each state. These are surrounded by an ermine border, signifying the federation of the States into the Commonwealth. The shield is supported by two Australian animals, the kangaroo on the left and the emu on the right. They are standing on ornamental rests, behind which are small branches of wattle. The crest consists of the seven-pointed Commonwealth gold star, a symbol of national unity. At the base of the shield is a scroll on which is printed the word “Australia”.
The kangaroo and the emu are the supporters of the shield on the Australian coast of arms. The kangaroo is native to Australia and Papua New Guinea. There are at least 69 different species of kangaroo, the majority of which are found in Australia. There are thought to be over 50 million of the most common species of kangaroo within Australia alone.
The emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae, meaning “swift-footed bird of New Holland”) is one of Australia’s native birds. Emus are found throughout most of Australia’s mainland. The emu is the sole surviving member of the Dromaiidae family. Emus live in diverse environments, including open grasslands, dry forests, scrubs and open plains, usually with access to fresh water. Emus are herbivores and feed during the day. They eat a variety of seeds, fruit, flowers, grasses and insects.
Hockeyroos celebrate Commonwealth Games gold medal win
Three colour combinations traditionally claim to be Australia’s national colours: red, white and blue; blue and gold; and green and gold. Red, white and blue were featured in the first Coat of Arms of the Commonwealth in 1908 and are the colours of the Australian national flag. The colours blue and gold have heraldic significance as they are the colours of the crest in Commonwealth Coat of Arms.
Green and gold gained wide popularity and acceptance in sporting events, both here and internationally. They were proclaimed Australia’s national colours by the Governor-General on 19th April 1984. Prior to that there were no official colours. It is believed these colours were chosen as they are the main colours of Australia’s floral emblem, the Golden Wattle (see below).
In the spirit of national and patriotic fervour generated by the approach of Federation, achieved in 1901, public interest in the Australian environment was awakened and the search for a national identity brought the desire for national symbols. Archibald Campbell founded a Wattle Club in Victoria in 1899 to promote a Wattle Day demonstration every September to encourage recognition of the flower as a symbol of patriotism. In 1908 he delivered a lecture entitled ‘Wattle Time; or Yellow-haired September’ in which he stated that ‘by numbers, the Wattle is almost exclusively Australian, and should undoubtedly be our National Flower’. Interest in a national Wattle Day was revived in Sydney in 1909. Victoria and South Australia participated in 1910, and Queensland in 1912.
In Aboriginal legend, the opal was a gift from the sky – the fire of the desert – a rainbow that had touched the earth and created the colours of the opal. Australian opal mines provide more than 90% of the world’s supplies of opal and almost all of the world’s highest quality, precious opal. The opal is also the gemstone emblem of the State of South Australia.
An opal is a ‘gemstone’ – that is, a mineral valued for its beauty. Gemstones are most often used in jewellery and examples include diamonds, rubies, emeralds, sapphires, jade, opals and amethysts. Gems generally get their colour because of certain metals contained in the mineral (for example amethyst is quartz containing tiny amounts of iron) however opals are unique because they display many different colours.
Outlaw Ned Kelly is immortalised at Glenrowan, Victoria, where he was eventually captured
Australia’s national icons range from the sublime to the commonplace – from stunning natural and man-made wonders to humble food items like Aussie meat pies and a yeast-based spread called vegemite. There is no absolute agreement on what constitutes a national icon – that elusive thing or concept that is regarded as quintessentially Australian or instantly recognisable as uniquely Australian. However, one thing is certain: stocktakes of popular Australiana are not limited to the great or the pompous and, in that sense, they reflect the innate irreverence and individualism of many Australians. What other country, for example, would include in its Olympic Games opening ceremony a sequence that commemorates mountain horsemen (the Man from Snowy River), a colonial fugitive (Ned Kelly) and a humble backyard lawnmower, as Sydney did for the 2000 Olympics.
Most Australians would include on their lists of national icons such natural wonders as the Northern Territory s huge monolith, Uluru, man-made architectural marvels like the Sydney Opera House and the country s unique kangaroos and koalas. But their lists would be just as likely to include a cricketer named Don Bradman, a mighty racehorse called Phar Lap, a bushranger (outlaw) named Ned Kelly and a hat called Akubra, as well as the Aussie meat pie, Vegemite., and a sponge cake square dipped in chocolate and coconut called a lamington.
A 2007 survey of 400 Australians (appropriately known as the Top Taste Lamington Aussie Poll ) found that meat pies were the most popular Australian food, followed by lamingtons. Swimming champion Ian Thorpe received 33 per cent of the votes for Australia s favourite iconic celebrity, followed by entertainer Kylie Minogue. The ‘ute’, or utility truck, which started out as a farm vehicle in 1932, was voted Australia’s best invention, followed by the Hills Hoist (a clothes-drying line).