“For the Queen, the Law, and the People…” Does the British monarchy really symbolise the ACT? Do crowns, portcullises, swords, and the White Rose of York? The City of Canberra coat of arms, granted in 1928, strikes many locals as “outdated and irrelevant”, according to a 2019 survey.
This year, the ACT (the only jurisdiction without one) could have a new coat of arms – a supplement to the existing City of Canberra emblem, not a replacement. It will be “diverse, modern, and inclusive”, the ACT Government states.
The University of Canberra’s Faculty of Arts and Design will be the “experimental creative lab” for the new emblem.
Second-year graphic design students will submit their proposed coats of arms as their major project this semester. They will work with Master of Arts students who are researching why public symbols and emblems (including statues) are changing around the world.
“This is a rare opportunity to be involved in making history and being part of an important cultural change in the ACT,” Tracy Ireland, Professor of Cultural Heritage and Director of the Centre for Creative and Cultural Research, said.
The new coat of arms could perhaps combine symbols important to First Nations communities and other culturally diverse groups in the ACT, she said.
According to Professor Ireland, coats of arms were supposed to last a long time, and to be a symbol that would take the community into the future.
She would encourage the students to design coats of arms that would be meaningful to their grandchildren, but which also spoke to the aspirations of the ACT today.
The ACT Government will brief students, while community-based experts would mentor and guide them. Design students would learn about cultural consultation, liaising with the government and other stakeholders, and working in teams.
“I hope they really get into the spirit of it and strive to come up with something new and resonant for the community,” Professor Ireland said.
A Community Reference Group will help guide the design process for the new coat of arms. The ACT Government is calling for experts in heraldry, coats of arms and insignias, Ngunnawal culture and history, and design, as well as passionate and interested Canberrans. Applications close on Monday 1 March.
The public can follow the design process on the YourSay page, and take part on a Community Panel about the symbols that best represent the ACT and Canberra. The government expects the public will be able to vote on the design later this year.
Some Facebook users have criticised the proposed changes as expensive and unnecessary, saying that a new coat of arms is not a priority in a pandemic; the government, they feel, should concentrate on essential services like hospitals.
An ACT Government spokesperson said the process would not cost anything. “This is an incredibly low-cost project that has been years in the making.”
Developing the Community Reference Group and designing the new coat of arms had been facilitated internally, using ACT Government staff and existing engagement programs, while the Group was voluntary, the spokesperson said.
The ACT Government will contribute $10,000 to the partnership with the University of Canberra.
The City of Canberra Coat of Arms will remain one of the ACT’s suite of official symbols, the spokesperson said; current users will be able to adopt the ACT coat of arms if and when they choose.
If Canberrans would like to be involved, the Government encourages them to submit an expression of interest for the Territory Coat of Arms Reference Group or to sign up to the YourSay Conversations page.