Thursday, August 11, 2011


This is the story of Canberra's Coat of Arms from the conclusion of  a design competition in 1927 which drew 35 entries, through a vague selection process, to an eventual winner. Some very good Canberra trivia questions contained within...

A story of disappointment, heraldry and Australian controversy culminating with an altering of the meaning of Canberra's motto.

'Pro rege lege et grege' which had officially read in Latin 'For the King the Law and the People'. Scholars however disagreed claiming it read in Latin 'For the King the Law and the Mob'.

The first clipping relates to the close of the competition and the disappointment at the entries quality with only 3 being described as suitable entries. I found this a strange announcement as at the same time they claim that adjudication had not yet begun.

The Canberra Times - Friday 9 September 1927

National Library of Australia

Eventually 9 entries were weeded out of 35 designs with some confusion amongst the entrants as to who the crest was for it seems...

The Brisbane Courier - Thursday 15 September 1927

National Library of Australia

A little confusion also it seems at adjudication with two entries singled out, one from a designer who wished to remain anonymous and declined any prize-money and, I am presuming as he is not specifically mentioned, Mr C.R Wylie who was the eventual winning designer. It is interesting to note that Wylie had in fact been asked to adjudicate but could not because he was an entrant in the competition. Two other entrants get a mention of merit. Prize-moneys were however reduced. Reading the method of selection is confusing I feel...

The Argus - Wednesday 9 November 1927

National Library of Australia

I am reminded of the parting comment in the first article which states; '...but at arriving at a decision the rules of heraldry will be strictly observed'. Mr Wylie a heraldry expert is declared the designer after the aforementioned selection process...

The West Australian - Tuesday 30 April 1929

National Library of Australia

The next article appears to be the official description of the heraldry of the Coat of Arms as the article seems repeated in a few national publications...

The Brisbane Courier - Tuesday 30 April 1929

National Library of Australia

The armorial bearings of the City of Canberra granted by Royal warrant October 8th 1928 at the College of Arms, London. The motto is 'For the King, the Law, and the People'

The Argus - Thursday 2 May 1929

National Library of Australia

This appears to be an article written by Mr C. R. Wylie the designer of Canberra's Coat of Arms. If any meanings are derived it is perhaps best to get them from the designer himself...

The Sydney Morning Herald - Saturday 4 May 1929

National Library of Australia

Not everyone was happy about the decision asking why more emblems from Australia were not utilised...

The Register News-Pictorial - Thursday 2 May 1929

National Library of Australia

But there were it's defenders as well...

The Sydney Morning Herald - Friday 3 May 1929

National Library of Australia

Done and dusted until one final alteration was made... all was well until the scholars of the era deciphered that the motto was not as appropriate as it was represented. An English translation of the motto replaced the original raising us up from 'the mob' to the status of 'the people'...

The Argus - Thursday 8 August 1929

National Library of Australia

My end impression of this armorial tale is that it seemed poorly managed. Somehow it seems a poor brief was put out for the competition and either Trove managed to miss digitizing the issues that announced the competition or it was of a limited distribution of circles.

Secondly the ongoing 'disappointment' in submitted designs before adjudication. Thirdly the inviting of the eventual winner a 'Sydney heraldry expert' and entrant to adjudicate seemed inappropriate. And the reported description of the selection of the winner. Oh! and the reduction in advertised prize money...

And I'd like to know why people thought using a Lyrebird, a Kookuburra or a Platypus lacked dignity...


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