Our Wattle republic

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The Australian symbol of Spring, the golden wattle (acacia pycnantha)

Yesterday, 1 September 2014, was the 21st anniversary of the Australian Republican Movement giving its support to ‘National Wattle Day’ celebrations throughout Australia, writes Dr Glenn Davies.


Some welcome it as spring’s dawn, a time to celebrate nature’s renewal. For others it is Wattle Day.

It is a time when the smells of spring are in the air and the vivid gold of the blossom is literally arresting. Australians may have made a home for themselves amongst the gum trees, but it is the wattle tree that has found its way into Australian symbolism.

Wattle Day has been celebrated annually on the first day of spring since 1910, when a sprig of the golden wattle, acacia pycnantha is traditionally worn. However the first known use of wattle as a meaningful emblem in the Australian colonies was in Hobart Town in 1838 when a resident suggested wearing a sprig of wattle to celebrate the golden jubilee of the landing at Sydney Cove. There was in this seemingly small gesture a suggestion of an independent Australia.

This time last year, I wrote about the centenary of the addition of a spray of wattle as the background feature to the Australian Coat of Arms.

During 1911 and 1912, Labor Prime Minister Andrew Fisher had taken a keen interest in the complex question of national identity and set about to ‘Australianise’ our governmental system and national symbols.

On 18 January 1913, the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette promulgated a new Coat of Arms for Australia with a spray of wattle as a background feature and a Federation Star, and instead of a shield displaying the English cross of St George, there was one showing the emblems of the six states.

Home-grown symbols, he knew in his heart, were essential for a nation so young.

Wattle Day Association President Terry Fewtrell stated:

It is all the more appropriate that Wattle is the background of our national Coat of Arms, as it has been here for millennia. Wattle has welcomed us all — Indigenous, colonial and modern day immigrants.”

Wattle has been the great witness to the entire Australian story.

The green and gold of wattle leaves and blossoms were declared our national colours in 1984, in 1988 the wattle was adopted as the official national flower and the ‘National Wattle Day’ was formally declared on 1 September 1992.

In 1993, the Australian Republican Movement gave its support to Wattle Day celebrations being held throughout Australia on 1 September. Wattle captures something crucial to the success of the republic — feeling for country. It is a unifying symbol.

Wattle is a broad and inclusive symbol of an egalitarian, classless, free citizenry. It grows in all parts of Australia, differing varieties flowering throughout the year. This democracy of wattles – the fact that they grow in all states – was the overpowering reason why the wattle and not the waratah was chosen as the floral emblem in the early twentieth century.

Wattle celebrations first arose as occasions when earlier generations of Australians stood up and said:

“I am from this land. This place is home."

It is a symbol that comes directly from our land. Wattle is Australian and represents us all. Like the Southern Cross, the appeal of wattle is not first and foremost to the idea of nation — but to the idea of place.

The future Australian republic will also project a sense of feeling of place.

At the moment the Australian Republican Movement is focused on achieving an Australian as head of state. However, the republic is not just one person.

The spirit of the future republic will be embodied in not just the head of state but in place.

Wattle touches all levels of society.

Early pioneers and World War 1 diggers were buried with a customary sprig of wattle. Then Governor-General, Sir William Deane took wattle blossoms to Switzerland to commemorate young Australians who died there and Prime Minister John Howard wore sprigs of wattle at ceremonies after the Bali bombings.

Terry Fewtrell said in a 2014 Australia Day speech that:

“... wattle has journeyed with us in kitbags, pockets and letters to places that become synonymous with our shared story, be they Gallipoli, Kokoda or Swiss canyons."

Australian athletes wear wattle inspired green and gold uniforms and those honoured with an Order of Australia receive awards with insignia designed around the wattle flower.

Independent Australia believes in a fully and truly independent Australia, a nation that determines its own future, a nation that protects its citizens, its environment and its future. A country that is fair and free. So, when the blaze of wattle lights up the Australian landscape each year, let’s all remember that the wattle is a symbol of our land that unites us all.

Find out more about the Australian Republican Movement here.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License

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