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Australia’s enduring floral emblem

A woman dressed in a uniform coat and cap stands amidst a wattle, with yellow flowers. - click to view larger image
Australian Garland for US Nurse, 1940s

The wattle has long been popularly regarded as Australia's floral emblem. Almost 1000 species of the Acacia plant are found in Australia, though wattle also grows in warmer countries across the globe.

In 1988, Australia's bicentennial year, golden wattle's status as the national floral emblem was officially proclaimed.

From 1992, 1 September became National Wattle Day.

Like the kangaroo, the wattle received official recognition as a national symbol when it featured on the Australian coat of arms, in 1912. It too was a popular motif in the arts.

Wattle sprigs were sold to raise money during the First World War. The wearing of wattle in memory of Australians who have died overseas has been revived in recent years. Wattle is also often worn at citizenship ceremonies, where it is linked to ideas of new beginnings.

Circular badge with an image of wattle in the centre. The words 'WATTLE DAY LEAGUE. S.A. 1918' appear around the edge. - click to view larger image
Wattle Day badge, 1918

Wattle Day was first celebrated in Hobart in 1838 to mark 50 years of British settlement in the Australian colonies. In September 1910, Wattle Day was held in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide.

Early Wattle Day activities included the planting of wattle trees and botany lessons at schools, making street decorations of wattle blossom, and wearing sprigs of wattle.

During the First World War, Wattle Day gained particular significance with wattle sprigs and badges sold to raise money for the war effort and for organisations such as the Red Cross.

Postcard with an image of a koala climbing a flag pole which has the Australian flag at the top. There is a sprig of holly and a spray of wattle at the base of the flag pole. Text across the bottom reads 'Christmas greetings from the Australian War Contingent Association., London 1916.'. - click to view larger image
Christmas greetings postcard, 1916

The green and gold

In the lead-up to Federation, the patriotic search for a national identity and associated national symbols gathered momentum.

While the wattle had great appeal as our national floral emblem, others preferred the waratah, especially as it was more exclusively Australian.

In 1912, however, the wattle was incorporated on the coat of arms. It became the official floral emblem of Australia in 1988 after a proclamation signed by the then Governor-General Sir Ninian Stephen.

The green and gold of the wattle have come to represent Australia in many aspects of life, especially sport. Australian Olympians, for example, typically wear green and gold, as do the Australian national cricket, soccer, rugby union and league, netball and basketball teams.

The ubiquitous boxing kangaroo flag is green and gold, and at Gallipoli on Anzac Day, Australians can be identified by their green and gold clothing, including beanies, shirts and scarves.

Further reading

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