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Emu and kangaroo designs

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On nineteen of the thirty-three gorgets in the National Museum of Australia's collections are depicted an emu and a kangaroo acting as supporters to the central inscription. On one gorget, made for 'Peter, King of Tchanning' (collection number 1985.59.386) the kangaroo even has a joey peeping from its pouch. Many other gorgets also have the two creatures as supporters for their inscriptions. With the waratah, these two creatures became the earliest icons or 'symbols' of Australia used by European colonists. The emu and kangaroo appeared as supporters on 'the first flag designed and made in Australia ... flown at Richmond, New South Wales, early in 1806 ... known as the Bowman flag ... Inspired by news of Nelson's victory of 21 October 1805 at Trafalgar, John Bowman designed and made the flag and flew it on his property, Archerfield'. [1] The flag, now in the Mitchell Library, Sydney, was made to be a symbol of unity. On it was a composite of the English rose, Irish shamrock and Scottish thistle all on a Norman shield, icons for the heritage of the colonists. Australia itself was represented by the shield's supporters, the emu to the right and the kangaroo to the left. It was 'the first time, so far as is known, that these two supports, now so familiar on the Australian Arms, were ever used in this way'. [2]

The use of the emu and the kangaroo on Bowman's flag indicates that at least by the turn of the nineteenth century they were recognised within the colony as the unofficial symbols of Australia. Therefore it is not surprising that King Bungaree's gorget, the oldest known, had as its supporters the emu and kangaroo and many subsequent gorgets continued the tradition. An anonymous writer eulogising Bungaree in 1859 claimed the emu and kangaroo as 'the arms of the colony of New South Wales'. [3] In fact, the emu and the kangaroo supported the unofficial Australian Coat of Arms and were included in the blazon of the official arms, granted in 1912 by King George V. [4] The arms of New South Wales, granted in 1906 by King Edward VII, are supported by a lion and a kangaroo.

The armed forces did not acquire a distinctly Australian appearance until the late nineteenth century. The slouch hats and khaki uniforms which came to typify Australian soldiers were not adopted until the 1890s. [5] Hat badges displayed Australian symbols such as the waratah for New South Wales, black swan for Western Australia and wattle for Queensland. However, it was the First Australian Horse which employed the emu and the kangaroo as the left and right supporters for its crest. The Citizen Light Horse units were created privately and were usually 'graziers, employers and professional men'. [6] Mostly bushmen, they came from the same group of people who were presenting Aboriginal leaders with gorgets. Their use of the emu and the kangaroo on their own badges and on those they gave to Aboriginal people was no coincidence. The emu and kangaroo were icons of colonial Australian identity, allegorical symbols of the country.

Gorget made for Bobby, Chief of the Yulgilbar tribe, with a kangaroo on the left and emu on the right
Gorget made for 'Bobby, Chief of the Yulgilbar Tribe'. National Library of Australia

Ogilvie and Gilmore, who made the gorget, discussed in an earlier section, for 'Bobby, Chief of the Yulgilbar Tribe', considered the emu and the kangaroo to be important symbols of Australian nationalism. Dame Mary Gilmore presented the gorget to the National Library of Australia in memory of her father, and reminisced about its manufacture. [7] The nationalism expressed in her sentiments and those she perceived in her father's gesture are self-evident. Ogilvie and Gilmore used the presentation of a gorget to an Aboriginal man as an outlet for their National fervour.

It was thought out by my father and his kinsman, Mr Ogilvie, of Yugilbar [sic], about 1870 or 1871. ... My father first cut the form and size in cardboard, and I was present when the design and wording were discussed. Both men had a great belief in Australia and its future and said that, though then only a colony, it would one day be a continental nation and have its own coat-of-arms. What that coat-of-arms would be they could not guess, but they said its 'supporters' would be the kangaroo and the emu, these being Australian and belonging to no other country. ... The 'supporters' were drawn by Mr Ogilvie's eldest son, then 14 years of age, and home from college. The plate was made under my father's direction. He also procured the wax and acid for the etching of the inscription, but who did the etching I do not remember. The breastplate was of burnished copper. ... Because both my father and Mr Ogilvie saw in the Yugilbar plate the forerunner of the Australian coat of arms, I decided that the commonwealth should have it. ... To-day the plate has lost its sheen, the makers and those for whom it was prepared are long gone, but the 'supporters' on it are, as expected, the 'supporters' of the coat-of-arms of Australia, and in this is the fulfilment of the dream my two dreamers dreamed. [8]


  1. F Cayley, Flag of Stars, Rigby, Adelaide, 1966, p. 57.
  2. Cayley 1966, pp 57-58.
  3. Anon, 'Memoir of Bungaree in the Australian Home Companion (1859)' in Chapman Ingleton, G (ed.), True Patriots All, or News from early Australia – as Told in a Collection of Broadsides, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1952, p. 268.
  4. FG Phillips, 'Coats of arms' in The Australian Encyclopaedia, vol. 2, Grolier Society of Australia, Sydney, pp 434-36, 1963, p. 435.
  5. Australian War Memorial, Colonial Military Gallery: Soldiers of the Queen, texts accompanying ongoing exhibition, 1988.
  6. I Jones, The Australian Light Horse, Time-Life Books and John Ferguson, Sydney, 1987, p. 20.
  7. WF Whyte, 'Supporters of "Australian" Coat of Arms', cutting from unnamed newspaper in National Museum of Australia, EO Milne Collection, file no 85/310, folio 83, 1949.
  8. Gilmore in Whyte, 1949.
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