Heraldry SIG


To promote the study of heraldry, its history, and modern applications throughout the world.

Meeting Time

This group meets at 8pm on the third Thursday of every even-numbered month except December when there is a Christmas get together.

Australia Eastern Time

Meeting Place

Contact the Convenor for further details.

Who May Attend?

Members of Family History ACT (FHACT) or The Australian Heraldry Society

Please join FHACT so that you can participate in this Special Interest Group.


For more information about this group please Contact Heraldry SIG

Scheduled Events

Other Information

by Ian Mackay, FHGSC

The knights of mediaeval Europe decorated their military equipment and other belongings with a variety of colourful designs. Sometimes, because he used a simple design in bright contrasting colours, a knight was easy to identify. For example, he might have chosen a white outfit and added a large red cross to his banner, his surcoat and shield, and placed a few similar crosses in prominent positions on his horse-cloth. Such a knight could be recognised by his military equipment, that is to say his arms and armour, which were commonly referred to simply as his arms. The design he used, in this case a white background with a red cross, was called a 'cognisance'. Eventually every knight used a cognisance, and every cognisance was supposed to be different.

Knights spent only part of their lives on the battlefield. Most of them were landowners and passed many years peacefully at home attending to the daily business of their estates. Like any business today, this involved numerous documents, and, although we sign documents nowadays, it was customary to attach a wax seal to them in mediaeval times. A knight's cognisance, displayed on a little shield, was the central feature of his seal, and there his cognisance performed exactly the same task as a signature. Seals were also used by civilians, clergymen for instance, and city councils too. These people all designed cognisances for themselves or their councils, just as the knights were doing, and these civilian cognisances were even shown on seals in the same knightly fashion - engraved on shields.

About the year 1125 it became the rule for a knight's cognisance to be inherited by his heir, who was usually his eldest surviving son. During his father's lifetime the heir-to-be used the same cognisance as his father, which he expected to inherit one day, but altered it slightly with a temporary addition to avoid confusion. We call an alteration of this sort a 'difference'. A typical difference was a narrow stripe right across the cognisance. When the father died the difference was discarded. Younger sons, and sometimes their father's tenants too, tended to employ the same basic design with a permanent and more striking alteration, such as a different colour-scheme. More variations could be made when they ran out of colour-schemes by adding a star or a crescent, and so on.

A woman's cognisance was produced by adding the right-hand half of her husband's design to the left-hand half of her father's. We call this method of making a new cognisance 'dimidiation'. It became more usual however for the whole of the men's designs to be brought together side-by-side, and this practice is called 'impalement'. Either system created an entirely new and different cognisance for every married woman. Clothing was often used by women to display their cognisances, in which case the husband's portion occupied all the garment's right-hand side and the father's all the left. Alternatively the entire surface of one garment featured the father's design while the husband's appeared similarly on a mantle or cloak worn over it. A third method of display was to use material covered with a pattern of dimidiation or impaled shields. It was not unusual for mens' duties to be performed by women, who also used seals, managed estates when necessary, and used their cognisances accordingly.

For 250 years or so armory (the design, use, and inheritance of these cognisances) was a practical matter governed largely by the common sense of the men and women concerned. Meanwhile heralds had acquired a professional interest in armory. They acted as messengers, identified casualties on the battlefield, and were employed in the organisation of tournaments. They also assisted during marriages, funerals, coronations, and other ceremonial occasions. All these activities involved the identification and display of cognisances, and heralds came to be regarded as authorities on the subject of armory, which is popularly called 'heraldry' as a result.

The military value of our colourful individualistic knights was gradually diminished. By the 16th century knightly cognisances were no longer a striking feature of the battlefield. On the other hand prosperous merchants and money-lenders had become powerful members of the community at home, but they were still regarded as an inferior breed. However, if they believed themselves to be inferior it was possible for them to rectify the situation. Senior heralds, called 'Kings of Arms', had already been given the authority to grant knightly cognisances to applicants who were not knights, and many people came to think of such cognisances as indicating social superiority rather than as a means of identification. Heralds appear to have shared this attitude. It seems that they misinterpreted or forgot the uncomplicated and unaffected practice of the first 250 years. In England they introduced one or two unnecessary innovations, all of which emphasised family or social status. One innovation was a quite unworkable system intended to indicate every junior male descendant's exact relationship to the ancestral head of his family by an assertment of little marks on their cognisances. These are called 'differences for cadency' and are hardly ever used beyond one or two generations, with the result that many people in England have used identical cognisances. This has led to the belief that persons sharing a surname are all entitled to a certain cognisance, and this in turn has led to the sale of so-called 'family crests' over the counter according to the customers' surnames. Apart from any decorative value they may possess, these things are quite worthless.

A knight often had two cognisances. The principal one was the two-dimensional design already mentioned which decorated his banner, surcoat, shield and indeed any surface. Through misunderstanding, this cognisance (singular) has come to be called 'arms' (plural). The other cognisance was a three-dimensional device, an animal's head for example, which was attached to the top of the knight's helm and sometimes to the head of his horse too. This secondary cognisance is called a 'crest'. For the purposes of illustration a knight's two-dimensional cognisance was always shown decorating a shield, which was slung beneath a helm bearing his crest if he had one. This continues to be the popular method of illustrating a person's two cognisances, his 'arms and crest', and an illustration of this sort is called an 'achievement'.

There is no essential difference between personal achievements and those of corporate bodies (that is to say societies, commercial organisation, municipal councils, governments and the like). However any corporate body may be granted a pair of 'supporters', which are otherwise allowed only to Peers and a few other high-ranking individuals. A supporter may be any variety of creature imaginable and it is depicted on one side of the shield as if supporting it, with its companion (often of a different species) doing likewise on the other. Creatures of one sort of another were sometimes included in the design of seals by mediaeval artists simply to fill space. Seals with such additional ornament probably cost more, resulting in a tendency for them to be owned by the more prosperous high-ranking members of society, which may account for supporters eventually becoming status-symbols.

In the 16th century seals went out of fashion in favour of signatures, and the public display of personal cognisances subsided, but the Kings of Arms, the Heralds and junior heralds called 'Pursuivants of Arms', continued to be succeeded in office. To this day they perform duties associated with coronations, state funerals and certain other ceremonial occasions, and the Kings of Arms still grant cognisances to individuals and corporate bodies. Such grants are made by means of 'letters patent', which are open documents issued on behalf of the Crown. Those concerning cognisances are called 'grants of arms' or 'confirmation of arms'. A confirmation is made when it can be proved that an applicant is entitled to a cogniance by inheritance. This process requires genealogical research, a field in which heralds also specialise.

In the text of every grant and confirmation is a description of the cognisance being granted or confirmed. This description is phrased in technical language and is called a 'blazon'. A coloured illustration is usually provided too, but it is only one artist's version of the blazon, which, in fact, may be interpreted correctly in innumerable ways. The cognisance itself is not altered, but the style and manner of its presentation can be modified to suit all purposes and tastes. It is as if blazon determined the spelling and colour-scheme of a name-plate, while the proportions and shape of the name-plate, the materials used to make it and the style of lettering chosen, were entirely up to the owner and the craftsmen working for him.

That is a very brief and incomplete account of armory. What, then, is a 'coat of arms'? This term has been used rather carelessly. It is Caxton's literal translation of a French term, 'cotte d'armes'. The mediaeval English term for this garment worn over a man's armour was 'cotearmure'. Although a cotearmure was not necessarily decorated with a man's cognisance, the practice nevertheless became so common that the word 'cotearmure' came to be substituted for 'cognisance'. 'Cotearmure' was eventually modernised to 'coat armour', but authors now use it as a generic term roughly equivalent to 'armory'. On the other hand Caxton's 'coat of arms' became a popular synonym for 'cognisance', for which there is some historical justification. Unfortunately even authorities on armory sometimes refer to a whole achievement as a 'coat of arms', and this sort of thing leads to confusion.

† The late Ian Mackay designed the Society's badge.

Q.1 What does the word “Arms” mean in the context of heraldry?
A. The word “Arms” in the heraldic context (as in “coat of Arms”) refers to a distinctive design worn on a knight's shield, his banner, and elsewhere on his clothing that enabled him to be identified in battle.  A knight in full armour, including a face-covering helmet, was difficult to identify without these distinctive insignia.  A coat of Arms is depicted on a shield, referring to the origin of the term.
Q.1 How did the term “coat of Arms” originate and what does it mean?
A. The term “coat of Arms” is derived from the cloth garment or surcoat that a knight wore over his armour.  On the front and back of the surcoat there would often be displayed the knight's arms.  Originally the surcoat was full length, reaching almost to the ankles; it was sleeveless and was split at front and back to allow the material to hang freely when the wearer was riding his horse.
Q.2 What is the connection, if any, among heraldry, genealogy and family history?
A. Heraldry can be regarded as the root from which genealogy and family history grew and developed.  This is because genealogical studies developed from the work of Heralds in recording pedigrees in order to determine lines of succession and the rights of individuals to inherit arms.  All modern library systems recognise this and regard genealogy and heraldry as two faces of the same genre; and similarly, all booksellers group the two together, usually in the reference section.
D'Arcy Arms A.D. 1300
Q.3 Is there a family or clan coat of Arms, and can all people with the same surname use the same arms?
A. No.  There is no such thing as a coat of Arms for a family, clan or surname.  A coat of Arms is a visual mark of identity of an individual.  There is an ancient heraldic principle which states that each person's coat of Arms is unique to that individual and cannot be used by anybody else.  In Scotland, a Chief of a Clan has his or her personal coat of Arms that belongs to that individual alone.  A member of the clan or a person with the same surname may, with the Lord Lyon's approval, have a variation or a “differenced” version of the Chief's Arms by way of different tinctures (colours), bordures or other devices to make the Arms unique to the individual seeking Arms.  A clan member may also use the clan badge consisting of the Chief's “crest” (see next Q.4) within a belt and buckle design containing the Chief's motto.
Q.4 Is the crest the same thing as a coat of Arms?
A. No.  The word “crest” is often misused, particularly by the popular press, as a general overall description for a coat of Arms. The word “crest” has the same meaning in heraldry as in the dictionary, namely “on the top of” as in “crest of a wave” or “crest of the hill” or a Cockatoo's crest.  In heraldry it refers to the three-dimensional object on top of the helmet, which itself is on top of the shield on which the Arms are shown.  The Arms themselves are depicted on the shield.  The shield is the essential part of a coat of Arms.  Without it the device may be more correctly called a badge, emblem or a logo.  (See the labelled illustration of the various elements that make up the full achievement of Arms).
Q.5 Is the “Bar Sinister” a mark of illegitimacy?
A. In heraldry there is no such thing as the “bar sinister”.  When people talk about the “bar sinister” they are referring to the couped (cut of at both ends) bendlet sinister.  A bendlet sinister extends from the top left (sinister) to the bottom right of the shield.  This is just one of the many marks of cadency to differentiate one coat of arms from another and does not necessarily mean illegitimacy.  The origin of the “bar sinister' may have come from the French “barre” which is always in the sinister position, so the term “bar sinister” is incorrect and is an example of heraldic tautology.
Q.6 Why are there marks of illegitimacy?
A. Where marks of illegitimacy were used, they were not used to denote punishment or disgrace.  They were used simply to denote that the illegitimate child (particularly if he were a first born male) could not inherit his father's arms unchanged.  He could carry his father's arms provided they were so marked to indicate that he was establishing a separate branch of the family without any right of succession to the unchanged arms.  Some of the illegitimate sons of King Charles II bore the Royal Arms debruised by a “baton sinister”, as do the illegitimate male descendants of King William IV.  (The term 'debruised' indicates a charge in front of or obscuring another).
Q.7 Why is the description of coats of Arms made in what seems to be an arcane or technical language instead of plain English so that everyone can understand it?
A. Blazon, which is the technical term for describing the details of a coat of Arms, evolved so that heralds, in whatever country they may be, could describe a coat of Arms precisely, clearly and briefly.  The technical terms in a blazon are in Norman French, reflecting their origin.  Although blazon may seem strange to the uninitiated, it performs the same function that musical notation does on a sheet of music enabling the musician to reproduce sounds the way the composer intended.  Blazon allows the heraldic artist to reproduce accurately the design on the shield as the herald intended.  The use of plain English, by way of contrast, would tend to be verbose and open to widely different interpretations thereby destroying the integrity of the original design.
A example of the difference between a blazon and a plain English description is highlighted in that of the NSW State Arms:
Arms: Azure a cross Argent voided Gules charged in the centre chief point with a lion passant guardant, and on each member with a mullet of eight points Or between in the first and fourth quarters a fleece of the last banded of the second and in the second and third quarters a garb also Or.  And for the crest on a wreath of the colours a rising sun each ray tagged with a flame of fire proper.  And for the supporters on the dexter side a lion rampant quadrant; and on the sinister side a kangaroo both Or.  Together with this motto “Orta Recens Quam Pura Nites”. The shield is blue with a cross overall, which is coloured red with a narrow white edging. In the centre of the cross is a yellow lion advancing to the observer's left with its head turned towards the observer and right paw raised. On each arm of the cross is an eight-pointed yellow star. On the blue background in each of the top left and bottom right corners is a yellow sheep hanging from a white band and in each of the top right and bottom left corners is a sheaf of wheat in yellow. The crest is above the shield and consists of a band of six twisted strands coloured alternately white and blue, above which is a half risen sun with nine yellow rays which alternate straight and wavy with each ray tipped by a red flame. The supporters are, from the perspective of the viewer, to the left of the shield, a lion, and to the right of the shield, a kangaroo. Both supporters are coloured in shades of yellow. The lion is standing vertically on its hind legs facing the shield with its head turned towards the observer displaying a red tongue. The kangaroo is standing facing the shield with its head facing forward to the shield. The paws of each supporter are positioned as if they are holding the shield by its tops and side edges. The motto is on a pink and yellow ribbon below the shield on which are written the Latin words “Orta Recens Quam Pura Nites” which translates into English as “Newly risen, how brightly you shine”.
Q.8 Do you have to pronounce heraldic terms (blazon) with a French accent?
A. No.  Blazonry in English is pronounced phonetically.  Gules (red) is pronounced with a hard “G”, Argent (silver) is ar-gent and so on.
Q.9 Why do heralds confuse people by calling the right side of the shield sinister, which means left, and the left side dexter which means right?
A. The sides of the shield (arms) are described from the point of the armiger standing behind his shield.  Therefore the armiger's right is the viewer's left and his left is the viewer's right.
Q.10 Are the colours used in heraldry fixed in any way and do they have any particular significance?
A. No.  There are no fixed shades in heraldry.  The blazon (description) of a coat of Arms provides the colours (tinctures) as Gules (red), Azure (blue), Sable (black), Vert (green), Purpure (purple).  There are two metals, namely Or (gold) and Argent (silver).  Other colours are called stains and consist of Murrey (mulberry) , Tenne (orange), and Sanguine (blood red).  Sometimes other stains are encountered such as Celestial azure (sky blue) and Carnation ('skin' tone).  It is up to the heraldic artist to decide upon the shade he or she thinks is most appropriate for the whole design.
Typically the following Red-Green-Blue (RGB) and hexadecimal colour values are used:
Colour RGB value Hex value
Or (255, 255, 0) #FFFF00
Argent (240, 240, 240)   #F0F0F0
Gules (255, 0, 0) #FF0000
Azure (0, 0, 255) #0000FF
Sable (0, 0, 0) #000000
Vert (0, 150, 0) #009600
Purpure (170, 0, 170) #AA00AA
Murrey (140, 0, 75) #8C004B
Tenne (250, 150, 50) #FA9632
Sanguine (190, 0, 0) #BE0000
Celestial azure   (150, 200, 250) #96C8FA
Carnation (255, 204, 204) #FFCCCC
Q.11 Who can have a coat of Arms?
A. In Australia there is no heraldic authority to administer and regulate Arms so there is a legal vacuum as to which individuals or groups are eligible to apply for arms.  In practice any adult, male or female, may have a coat of arms granted to them by an officially recognised overseas heraldic authority (which would be authentic), or may self-assume arms (which would not be authentic).  (See also below).
Q.12 How and where do I apply for a coat of Arms?
A. Australians who can prove they are of English descent may apply, by way of a petition, to the English College of Arms in London; those of Scottish ancestry to the Court of the Lord Lyon King of Arms in Edinburgh; and those of Irish ancestry to the Chief Herald of Ireland in Dublin.  Australians may also apply for registration of arms by the South African Bureau of Heraldry.
Q.13 Can a person who is not of English, Scottish or Irish ancestry apply for Arms?
A. Yes, if they are an Australian citizen.  They can apply to the English College of Arms for a grant of Arms as that organisation asserts it has the right to grant Arms to any of Her Majesty's subjects where there is no indigenous heraldic body in the Commonwealth country in which they reside and where the Queen is still Head of State.
Q.14 Can anyone who is descended from someone who had a coat of Arms use it?
A. No.  A coat of Arms belongs to, and is unique to, an individual at any one time.  For a person to have the right to a coat of Arms they must either have it granted to them or be descended in a legitimate line of descent from a person to whom Arms were granted or confirmed in the past.  As a general rule the Arms pass from the original grantee to his eldest son and continue on to the next eldest son in each succeeding generation.  In Scotland a person, depending on their familial relationship and surname, may apply for a “differenced” version of a particular coat of Arms.  (See Q.3 above).
Q.15 I have located “my” coat of Arms on the Internet.  Can I use it?
A. No.  Unfortunately many websites which purport to show Arms belonging to a particular name are misleading and completely unauthentic.  Usually the Arms shown are those of prominent people or the Chief of a Clan.  To use these Arms as though they are yours is akin to fraud.  It is no different to stealing another person's passport or driver's licence and using or passing it off as your own.
Q.16 I have bought “my” coat of Arms from a heraldic shop.  Is it authentic and can I display and use it?
A. No, in so far as using the Arms as though they are yours (See Q.15 above).  However, tt is important to note the distinction between the display of Arms and the use of Arms.  A person may purchase a copy of the Arms, for display purposes only, of his or her school, college, university, institution or organisation as a means of showing their association or allegiance.  The display of Arms as distinct from using them is perfectly legitimate as it can be regarded as a souvenir.
Q.17 What is the relevance of heraldry in the 21st Century?
A. There are several possible reasons why this question is asked.  Many people are completely unaware that heraldry is all around them and continues to be a part of their everyday life.  The arms of the Nation, the State or Territory, the local municipal council, schools, universities, commercial concerns and other various organisations and associations are on buildings, on letterheads, legal documents and other artefacts, and help in their respective identification.  This public display and use of arms is a manifestation of the various interests and loyalties that interact with one another and make up our pluralist society.  The current use of logos by various organisations is an indication that a need for a visual symbol of identity is still important in the 21st Century.  Heraldry can meet this need in a more timeless way that transcends quickly outdated fashions like logos, which tend to have short “flavour of the month” lives.
Q.18 In modern society isn't the display and use of arms pretentious and rather snobbish?
A. No.  It is most unfortunate that there is sometimes a suspicion that heraldry is somehow associated with snobbery.  This attitude could also be a reason why many armigers (people entitled to bear Arms) are reluctant to openly display their armorial bearings in the belief that to do so would be seen as pretentious.  Coats of Arms are visual symbols of identity; the use of Arms can only be considered pretentious if they were used without authority and deliberately used and displayed as if they were legitimate.  It is interesting to note that the association of heraldry with snobbery coincided with the rise of the industrialist, merchant and middle classes during the latter part of the 18th Century and in the 19th Century which, in the main, assumed arms in an attempt to raise their social standing.
Q.19 I have a coat of Arms granted by an overseas heraldic authority.  Is this protected in Australia?
A. No.  At present the only way to obtain legal protection is to register an illustration of the Arms with IP Australia at the federal level and with the relevant state or territory organisation dealing with title deeds etc.  This can be an expensive exercise if you want Australia-wide coverage.  Creation of an Australian Heraldic Authority would rectify this situation.
Q.20 Is there an official body that administers and regulates heraldry in Australia?
A. No.  At present there is no official heraldic organisation in Australia so there is a legal vacuum as to the usage and protection of Arms in Australia.  HAGSOC supports the creation of an Australian Heraldic Authority.
Q.21 Why does Australia need its own heraldic authority when coats of Arms can be registered with IP Australia?
A. The staff of IP Australia probably will not have any expertise with the rules of heraldry because they are not responsible for the administration of heraldry in Australia.  Consequently when a coat of Arms is submitted to them for registration they will most likely not be concerned whether the Arms are authentic or not.  Nor will they check with overseas heraldic authorities as to whether the arms have already been granted to somebody else who is an Australian citizen.  Their main concern will be to check that the design of the Arms is not the same as any design (as a logo or a trademark) already entered in their Register.  Should the design of the arms prove to be original, in so far as they are concerned, it will most likely be registered as submitted.  IP Australia only registers a design for 10 years, after which time the protection must be renewed.  Only an Australian Heraldic Authority will be able to protect and maintain the integrity of arms granted to Australian citizens, in perpetuity.
Q.22 Will members of the HAGSOC heraldry interest group design arms for me?
A. Some individuals within the group may be prepared to undertake this as a private commission.  The group is happy to comment on and make recommendations on the design of any arms.
Q.23 Does the HAGSOC heraldry interest group undertake research?
A. The group undertakes heraldic research at the current HAGSOC scale of research fees.

Australia has no indigenous heraldic authority. The Heraldry & Genealogy Society of Canberra believes that such an authority should be available for all Australians.

There is a need for an Australian heraldic authority that would provide an indigenous mechanism for granting new coats of arms to Australian communities, corporations, associations and individuals. It would also offer a unique way of honouring the symbols of Australia’s aboriginal peoples and ethnic groups. Such an authority would also record the hundreds of historically and artistically important heraldic symbols that form part of our Australian heritage.

There is a legal vacuum in Australia in the area of heraldry, as we have no legislation relating to coats of arms. The arms of armigerous Australian corporations and persons have no protection unless those arms are registered as trademarks. It could be argued that any Australian group or individual may assume arms of any design at will, provided that these arms differ from those legitimately borne by another. If that is the case, then the need for a registering authority is urgent.

The Heraldry & Genealogy Society of Canberra favours the approach adopted by Canada. In 1988 the Canadian Heraldic Authority was created within the Office of the Governor-General. The principal objective of the Canadian Heraldic Authority is to ensure that all Canadians wishing to use heraldry will have access to it. Since this date, Canadians who wish to acquire arms from a lawfully established authority under the Crown, are no longer obliged to obtain them from one of Her Majesty’s two offices in the United Kingdom, that is the College of Arms in London or the Court of the Lord Lyon in Edinburgh.

Besides the three Authorities mentioned above, many countries have their own heraldic authorities. These include Albania, Belgium, the Holy See, Ireland, Luxembourg, New Zealand, The Netherlands, the Russian Federation, South Africa, Spain and Zimbabwe.

The Heraldry & Genealogy Society of Canberra has made representation to the Australian Government over many years motivating the establishment of an Australian heraldic authority. The first HAGSOC submission to the Governor-General was made in 1990, with a copy sent to the Prime Minister in 1993.

Representation was again made to the Government in 1997 by Stephen Mutch, MP for Cook, on behalf of HAGSOC and the Heraldry & Genealogy Society of South Australia. The key recommendation by HAGSOC in a paper titled The Creation of an Australian Heraldic Authority urges the Governor-General in Council to seek The Queen’s agreement for Her Majesty’s Heraldic Prerogative as Queen of Australia to be exercised by the Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia. The paper also recommends that a Working Party under the Chairmanship of the Official Secretary to the Governor-General be established to plan the administrative details for the establishment of the Australian Heraldic Authority.

Prior to this, in 1972, the Heraldry Council of Australia compiled a two-volume Report on Heraldry which was submitted to the Government and various other interested bodies. The report was compiled by three founding members of HAGSOC with the support of many other heraldry and genealogical societies around the country, including The Genealogical Society of Victoria, Inc, The Heraldry & Genealogy Society of Canberra, The Heraldry Society (Australia Branch), The Military Historical Society of Australia, and The Society of Australian Genealogists, Inc. This report recommended that urgent consideration be given to the establishment of an Australia-wide system for heraldic control. It also recommended that Government consider the establishment of a fully autonomous heraldic authority for Australia to grant heraldic insignia to petitioners in this country, as well as merely to record those insignia actually in use here.

The Australian Government’s main objection to establishing an indigenous arms-granting body is based on cost, according to correspondence in 1997 from David Jull, MP, Minister for Administrative Services responsible for Australia’s system of honours and awards and for its national symbols. Until that objection can be overcome, Australian communities, corporations, associations and individuals must continue to apply to the College of Arms or the Court of the Lord Lyon for arms. This approach may discriminate against large sections of our community, including those from European, Asian or Aboriginal backgrounds.

HAGSOC will continue to urge our Government to follow the necessary steps leading to the establishment of an Australian Heraldic Authority.

As an independent sovereign nation Australia should have its own armorial Authority.

Michael D'Arcy - a founder member of the Society, now deceased

Michael's arms were granted by the College of Arms, London, and signed by J P Brook-Little (Richmond Herald of Arms).

Quarterly: I and VIII, azure semee of crosses crosslet, three cinquefoils argent: II, argent three cinquefoils gules (for D’Arcy ancient); III, gules semee of crosses crosslet an orle Or (for Bertram): IV, quarterly gules and argent (for Tuite): V, sable a chevron ermine between three escallops argent (for Judge): VI, argent a fir tree growing from the middle base vert surmounted by a sword in bend and in chief two ancient crowns proper (for Grierson): VII, argent on a bend purpure three mullets Or (for Cary).
Crest On a chapeau gules turned up ermine, a bull sable armed Or.
Confirmed Ulster King of Arms, 11 September 1933; additional quartering accepted by College of Arms (Richmond Herald), September 1971, Surrey 24.
Badge In 1982 Michael petitioned the College of Arms for a Badge, the full grant of which appears below. The badge, which appears in the left margin of the grant, is blazoned as 'A cross crosslet per pale Argent and Gules surmounted of a Cinquefoil counterchanged'.

Dr W Niel Gunson

Niel's arms were granted by the Kings of Arms on 19 December 1969 (Earl Marshal's Warrant 24 July 1969).

Azure, on three Bars each engrailed on the upper edge Or nine Gunstones, in chief a Cannon dismounted fesswise between two Rams' heads caboshed Or.
Crest On a Wreath of the Colours, out of a Plume of Emu Feathers a dexter Hand proper holding a Horse shoe inverted Sable, thereon a Fleur-de-lys Or.

Dr J Michael Crawford - a founder member of the Society, now deceased

Michael's arms were signed by the Lord Lyon King of Arms on 7 April 1969 and the grant is dated 7 April 1969 (LII, 25). A bookplate based on his arms is illustrated below.

Per fess Gules and Sable, on a Fess Ermine a Martlet Azure, between a Mullet Argent accompanied by two Escallops Or in chief, and a Boar's head erased Or, armed Argent and langued Gules, in base. A label in chief for difference. Upon the escutcheon is placed a helmet befitting his degree, with a Mantling Gules doubled Argent.
Crest On a Wreath of his Liveries, a Martlet Azure accompanied by two Stag antlers Or.

A Ian Mackay - a founder member of the Society, now deceased

Ian's arms were granted by the Lord Lyon King of Arms on 27 July 1966 (L.R. XLVIII 45).

Azure, on a Chevron Argent between two Bear's heads couped of the second in chief, each muzzled Gules, and an Escallop of the second in base, a Mullet of the first between two Dirks, points towards the Mullet Sable, a Chief enarched paly-bendy of the second and fourth.
Crest On a Wreath of the Liveries, within a Fetterlock Gules, a Castle of two towers Sable, masoned Argent, turret-caps Sable, windows and port Vert, and behind the Fetterlock three Peacocks' feathers proper.


A Complete Guide to Heraldry by Fox Davies A. C. (1985). Revised by J. P. Brooke-Little.

A Grammar of English Heraldry by Hope W. H. St J. (1953). Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 100pp.

A Guide to Heraldry by Neubecker O. (1981). Cassell, London, 264pp.

An Heraldic Alphabet by Brooke-Little J. P. (1975). Macdonald and Co.

An Outline of Heraldry in England and Scotland by Innes-Smith R. (1980). Pilgrim Press Ltd, Derby, 24pp.

Boutell's Heraldry by Brooke-Little J. P. (1983). Frederick Warne and Co. Ltd., London, 316pp.

Heraldry by Paston-Bedingfeld H. and Gwynn-Jones P. (1993). PRC Publishing Ltd., London, 160pp.

Heraldry. Its Origins and Meaning by Pastoureau M. (1997). Thames and Hudson Ltd., London, 144pp.

Simple Heraldry Cheerfully Illustrated by Moncreiffe I. and Pottinger D. (1953). Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd, London, 64pp.

Sources, Symbols and Meaning by Neubecker O. (1976) Heraldry.. McGraw-Hill Book Co., London, 288pp.

The Art of Heraldry by von Volborth, C. A., (1987). Tiger Books International, London, 224pp.

The Observer's Book of Heraldry by MacKinnon C. (1966). Frederick Warne and Co. Ltd., London, 150pp.

The Oxford Guide to Heraldry by Woodcock T. and Robinson J. M. (1990). Oxford University Press, Oxford, 233pp.

The Romance of Heraldry by Scott-Giles C. W. (1967). J M Dent & Sons Ltd., London.


Canting and Allusive Arms of England and Wales by Hall W.

General Armory of England, Scotland and Wales by Burke.

Heralds of Today by Chesshyre H. and Ailes A. (1981). Van Duren Publishers Ltd., 71pp.

Scots Heraldry by Sir Thomas Innes of Learney (1978).

Australian and foreign arms

A Roll of Australian Arms by Low C. (1971). Rigby Ltd, Adelaide, 184pp.

Armorial General by Rietstap J B.

Commonwealth Coat of Arms by Commonwealth of Australia (1985). Department of Administrative Services, Canberra, 11pp.

Heraldry of the World by von Volborth C. A. (1973). Blandford Press, London, 251pp.

Heraldry, Customs, Rules and Styles by von Volborth C. A. (1983).

Royal heraldry

Lines of Succession. Heraldry of the Royal Families of Europe by Louda J. and Maclagan M. (1981). Macdonald Illustrated, London, 308pp.

Royal Heraldry of England by Pinches JH and RV (1974). Heraldry Today, London, 334pp.

Royal Heraldry. Beasts and Badges of Britain by Brooke-Little J. P. (1978). Pilgrim Press Ltd, Derby, 24pp.

Church heraldry

An Armorial of the Hierarchy of the Catholic Church in Australia by McCarthy M. F. (1998). Thylacine Press, 194pp.

Armorial by Heim B. B. (1981). Van Duren, Gerards Cross, England, 224pp.

Cardinals & Heraldry by Elvins M. T. (1988). Buckland Publications Ltd, London, 163pp.

Church & Heraldry by Storry J. G. (1983). The Nettlebed Press, Oxon, 20pp.

Heraldica Collegii Cardinalium. A Roll of Arms of the College of Cardinals 1800-2000 by McCarthy M. F. (2000). Thylacine Press, 587pp.

Heraldry in the Catholic Church. Its Origins, Customs and Laws by Heim B. B. (1978). Van Duren, Gerrards Cross, England, 176pp.

Papal Heraldry by Galbreath D. L. 2nd Ed revised by Briggs G. (1972). Heraldry Today, London, 135pp.

The Church Visible: the ceremonial life and protocol of the Roman Catholic church by Noonan J-C. (1996). Viking Penguin Group, New York, 554pp.

Crests and mottoes

A Handbook of Mottoes in the United Kingdom by Elvin C. N. (1963).

Crests of the Families of Great Britain and Ireland by Fairbairn.

Why an Australian Heraldic Authority

Why an Australian Heraldic Authority

John Thompson


In order to clarify the need for an Australian Heraldic Authority (AHA) we need to look at the present situation and identify those aspects that pose disadvantages to Australian applicants for arms. The need for an AHA proceeds from the premise that the Commonwealth of Australia is an independent sovereign state recognised by the Statute of Westminster of 1931 and at international law. Inherent in the concept of sovereignty is the power to adopt, display, alter and protect the arms, flags and other symbols of sovereignty. The Commonwealth has the undoubted power to adopt, display, alter and protect such arms, flags and other symbols as it chooses to represent its sovereignty in and over Australiai. The Commonwealth also has the legislative power to establish an AHA as provided by Section 51(xviii) of the Australian Constitution, the so-called intellectual property head of powerii.
In British Commonwealth countries the following situation prevails. In England, the Kings of Armsare authorised by the Monarch, in their Letters Patent of Appointment, to grant arms subject to thep rior consent of the Earl Marshall3iii. In Scotland, the Lord Lyon King of Arms grants arms by Letters Patent while exercising the Sovereign's Armorial Prerogativeiv and unlike England his authority is backed by, not established by, legislation. In Canada on 4 June 1988, by way of Letters Patent, the Governor-General was authorised and empowered to "exercise or provide for the exercise of allpowers and authorities lawfully belonging to Us as Queen of Canada in respect of granting armorial bearings in Canada". On the same date the Canadian Governor-General authorised the creation of the Canadian Heraldic Authorityv.
To date the Queen has not delegated any part of her Royal Prerogative concerning matters armorial to the Governor-General of Australia. This omission may be the consequence of the English and Scottish officers of arms exercising the Royal Prerogative on her behalf within their respective jurisdictions and, with the general indifference to matters heraldic in political circles, nothing further being done. Given the doubt about the legal exercise of heraldic jurisdiction within Australia, it can be argued that there is a legal vacuum that needs to be filled. Consequently, any submission for a Parliamentary Inquiry should be on the basis that, as a first step, the Prime Minister be requested to approach the Queen to delegate to the Governor-General exclusively, the exercise of the RoyalP rerogative in relation to all things armorial. The question of the necessary legislative powers can be tackled later.

Disadvantages of the present situation

Still a colony

The Statute of Westminster rendered Australia's heraldic position somewhat anomalous; this has not been noticed until recent times. The Crown in right of Australia and the Crown in right of the United Kingdom are two different legal and political entities. In the absence of an AHA we are, in heraldic terms, still a colony. This is because Australians still need to go to London, Edinburgh or Dublin for a grant or devisal of arms that will be universally recognised and accepted. It is a simple fact of life that these three centres are regarded as the repository of heraldic knowledge and expertise and are lawfully established within their own respective territories.

Question of jurisdiction

There has been considerable debate in recent years about the respective jurisdictions of the English Kings of Arms, the Lord Lyon King of Arms and the Chief Herald of Ireland in relation to heraldry in Australia. The English Kings of Arms claim that they have jurisdiction generally on the grounds that they have the right to grant arms to the Queen's subjects in those Commonwealth countries where there is no indigenous heraldic authority. The Lord Lyon claims the right to grant or devise arms to those Australians of proven Scottish ancestry; and the Chief Herald of Ireland claims a similar right to those Australians of proven Irish ancestry. The English heralds dispute both of these claims.

There is a growing consensus that while these three authorities may have the right to grant, or devise arms for Australians they do not have jurisdiction, especially since 1986. Whatever jurisdiction the English Kings of Arms or the Lord Lyon may have had previously over Australians was certainly and finally extinguished when, in 1986, the UK, Commonwealth and State Parliaments passed the Australia Actsvi. This situation has been reinforced by a recent Australian High Court decision that the United Kingdom is a foreign powervii. Given the current legal uncertainty in heraldic matters Australians (individuals and institutions) may adopt arms as a voluntary act, as is the case in other countries where the sovereign does not exercise heraldic authority but does not expressly prohibit the use of armsviii. A possible unfortunate consequence of this may well be that those who adopt arms may infringe on the rights of existing armigers and so discredit themselves and lawfully established heraldic institutions, thus leading to the possible danger of litigation.

Application of foreign rules

The English, Scottish and Irish heraldic authorities grant arms according to the law and practice applying within their respective jurisdictions. These three heraldic authorities will, in general, not have any detailed knowledge of the laws and practices pertaining to Australia and its citizens, nor are they expected to do so. There is no obligation on them to treat overseas applicants for arms any differently to applicants from their own countries. Consequently, there have been cases where grants of arms have been inconsistent with prevailing Australian attitudes in relation to gender, religion and ethnic origins.

Question of gender

Traditionally, the law of arms has been largely a male province and the grant of arms for women has been subject to many restrictions. However, today women occupy traditionally male positions, and arms are being developed for women in these rolesix. For example, many women serve in the Australian Defence Force in combatant roles and, in civilian life, women now work in professions previously considered to be a male preserve. Given this situation, an AHA would be starting with a 'clean slate'; it would be non-discriminatory in its approach towards gender and would comply with our non-discrimination laws. It would not be bound by ancient usage and custom that seems to inhibit heraldic jurisdictions in the Northern Hemisphere in devising new and appropriate rules for arms for women.

Separation of church and State

The English Kings of Arms do not recognise that Catholic Sees can be granted Arms, and rebuffed a request for Arms by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne in 1974x. This is an extraterritorial application of a law that applies in England onlyxi. It should not apply beyond the boundaries of England, where the Church of England is not the established church. It does not apply in Scotland and the Lord Lyon does not see any problem in granting (as he has done) Arms toScottish Roman Catholic Sees, in spite of the fact that the Church of Scotland (Presbyterian) is by Scottish Law the established Church in Scotland. In this context it should be noted that the English Kings of Arms have seen fit to grant arms to 22 sees (Diocese) of the Anglican Church of Australia.The English attitude is inconsistent with Australian law and practice and needs to be remedied. In Australia there is no established Church and all religious bodies are treated equally. This isconsistent with the concept of separation of Church and State and is implied by the Australian Constitutionxii. An AHA would treat all religious entities (natural or legal) on an equitable basis.

Question of multiculturalism

Australia is a multi-cultural society with citizens from many ethnic backgrounds other than Anglo/Celtic. At present there seems to be some confusion in relation to the right of Australians of non-Anglo/Celtic background to apply for arms. Given that the English Kings of Arms claim the right to grant arms to all subjects of the Crown resident overseas as part of “its imperial jurisdiction”, then in theory it would appear that all Australian citizens, even those from non-Anglo/Celtic background,may apply for arms.

Because of the Anglo/Celtic emphasis in most heraldic publications it is not surprising that many Australian citizens of non Anglo/Celtic ancestry do not consider themselves eligible to apply for arms. This unfortunate belief robs Australian heraldry of its rightful place as part of the unfolding Australian cultural experience. An AHA would clear up this confusion and make it plain that all Australian citizens in good standing are eligible to apply for arms.

No legal protection for Australian armigers

Currently there is no universal legal protection for Australian armigers, who have arms lawfully granted or self assumed, against their misuse or misappropriation. The proliferation of purveyors of 'bucket shop heraldry' in shopping malls and on the Internet illustrates the lack of regulation within all Commonwealth, State and Territorial jurisdictions. The only apparent recourse an Australian armiger has is to register the arms with either IP Australia (formerly the Patents Office) at the federal level or with each of the relevant state/Territorial offices dealing with deeds and titles. This is an unnecessary impost and, if the arms were to be registered in each jurisdiction within Australia, could become a very costly exercise in duplication. An AHA, with its own heraldry register recognised by the courts, would grant an Australian armiger legal protection throughout the Commonwealth.

Civic authorities

When civic authorities or municipalities apply for arms public moneys are sent as fees to the Queen's English and Scottish officers of arms for grants that are not protected. Many local government authorities pay large sums of tax-payers' moneys for the design of logos of dubious relevance, and which have no meaning to the general public. The logos tend to be ephemeral and do not generally have a life beyond the current administration. In short they tend to become political symbols and do not have the apolitical and enduring, timeless appeal of coats of arms. An AHA would conduct the appropriate research to ensure that all the arms, flags and badges of civic authorities are relevant to the history of the locality and are of such as nature that the local residents can relate to.

Military vacuum

There appears to be no central authority within the Australian Defence Force (ADF) covering the regulation of flags, pennants, badges and other emblems used by its various constituent components. In recent months the Heraldry and Genealogy Society of Canberra (HAGSOC), through its Heraldry Special Interest Group, has given heraldic advice to three units of the ADF that wanted new badges for use and display. It is clear that there are no agreed procedures within the ADF, nor is there any consensus as to who is the final approving authority. Indeed it appears that some badges may be self-assumed without any approval from the relevant Chief of Staff. One tri-service unit, on HAGSOC's advice, obtained the Governor-General's approval for its badge on the recommendation of the Chief of the Defence Force. Whether the other units will follow this procedure remains to be seen. Given that the ADF, through its uniforms, flags, pennants, badges and other emblems and insignia, represents Australia as a sovereign independent nation, such a lack of central authority and regulation on their use and display is unfortunate. An AHA would fill thisvacuum.

Little use of Australian flora and fauna

Given that overseas authorities devise most arms granted to Australians, it is not surprising that the use of Australian flora, fauna and other emblems has been limited. Australia has a wide diversity of animal, avian, marine and plant life (in addition to the internationally recognised Australian icons - kangaroo, emu, wattle, Southern Cross, etc.) which, if suitably painted, could be used as charges, crests and supporters and thus give a distinctly Australian flavour to Australian arms. An AHA would encourage this development, possibly along the same lines as is being done in Canada.

Indigenous symbolism

The arms of the Northern Territory appear to be the only prominent example to date of incorporating aboriginal designs in armorial bearings. An aboriginal person is the dexter supporter in the arms of the corporation of the city of Darwin. The rarity of aboriginal motifs is not surprising as those individuals and institutions with aboriginal ancestry or connections have not applied for arms, possibly because they consider European-style heraldry irrelevant to them. Heraldic Law lends itself to the concept of perpetual intellectual ownership by well defined groups, such as various groups of aboriginal peoplesxiii. While heraldry, as we know it, is not known to traditional indigenous culture, itis nevertheless rich in totems and design styles, which have religious, cultural and traditional significance.

An AHA would, after suitable consultation with indigenous peoples, help promote and incorporate aboriginal styles and designs into an Australian system of heraldry. While it is likely that these may be restricted to those who have aboriginal ancestry or connections, it would certainly enrich our heraldry and honour our native peoples, contributing to the process of reconciliation. Canada has shown how this can be donexiv. Consequently it is possible to look after the interests of all Australians in heraldic forms.

Financial considerations

Given the level of fees being charged by London, Edinburgh and Dublin, and taking into account the exchange rate, it is clear that considerable amounts of money are being transmitted overseas for arms which have no legal protection in Australia. This is in addition to any additional moneys armigers may have to pay for such protection. The establishment of an AHA would remove the need for overseas purchase of arms. An AHA would be a revenue collection agency (and be self supporting) through the setting of fees at a reasonable level for services provided. In this context it should be noted that in Scotland the misuse or misappropriation of arms is a very serious offence and is subject to court action and severe penalties. This is because individuals and corporations have paid fees to the national Treasury for the exclusive right and use of armorial bearings. Given this situation and the financial interests of the Treasury, in any prosecution the armorial offender is viewed in the same light as a taxation evaderxv. There is no reason why the same situation could not apply with an AHA.

Positive advantages

An Australian Heraldic Authority will establish, administer and regulate an indigenous Australian system of heraldry. In doing so it will:

a) provide a mechanism for granting new coats of arms to Australian communities, corporations,associations and individuals on a non-discriminatory basis: In so far as individual natural persons are concerned grants of arms will be available to all Australian citizens in good standing regardless of their gender or ethnic origins;

b) provide protection to Australian armigers (both natural and legal persons) through the establishment of a Heraldry Register which will be recognised in Australian law and thus discourage the misuse and abuse of arms;

c) encourage the greater use of Australia's indigenous flora and fauna and other symbols familiar to Australians as well as recognising that Australia is a multi-cultural society: In doing so it will honour the symbols of Australia's aboriginal peoples and ethnic groups;

d) be a self supporting revenue collection agency through the collection of fees, set at an appropriate level for services provided; and ensure that monies presently going overseas will remain in Australia;

e) establish heraldic scholastic standards for an acceptable system of arms in relation to:

(i) arms legitimately granted previously by lawfully established heraldic authorities (England, Scotland and Ireland);

(ii) arms granted previously by other authorities or traditions no longer existing (France);

(iii) arms granted by some Australian authority or previously self assumed (provided there is no infringement on the pre-existing rights of others);

f) assist in the long-term establishment of an Australian identity through the granting of arms,flags and badges to:

(i) the Crown in right of Australia and its agencies;

(ii) State, Territorial and Local Governments, their agencies and other civic bodies;

(iii) the Australian Defence Force and its constituent components and units;

(iv) civilian uniformed services such as the various polices forces, ambulance services andthe like;

(v) institutions and corporations; and

(vi) individuals.

g) establish and maintain a comprehensive database of heraldic information, systematically collected, collated and catalogued and available to academics and the general public as part ofthe Australian heritage.


This paper could not have been written without the assistance of the members of the Heraldry Special Interest Group, especially Dr. Niel Gunson, Chris Lindesay, Dr. Janette Lindesay, MichaelD'Arcy and Geoff Kingman-Sugars. Any errors are mine alone.

Last Updated on Sunday, 05 December 2010 17:16

Submission by R.J.W. d'Apice to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, October 1994.

ii S.51 states that “The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws for the peace,order, and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to:- (xviii) Copyrights, patents of inventionsand designs, and trade marks:”.

iii The Oxford Guide to Heraldryby Thomas Woodcock and John Martin Robinson, Oxford University Press 1988,ISBN 0-19-211658-4, page 142.

iv Scots Heraldryby Sir Thomas Innes of Learney, Revised by Malcolm R Innes of Edingight, John & Bacon, 1978,ISBN 0-7179-4224-7, page 8.

The Canadian Heraldic Authority, Rideau Hall December 1988, page 11.

vi Heraldic Jurisdiction in Australiaby Richard d'Apice AM, LLB,Heraldry News, March 2001, No.25, page 9.

vii Sue v Hill (1999), 199 CLR 462.

viii Richard d'Apice, page 10.

ix Scotland's Heraldic Heritage- “The Lion Rejoicing”by Charles J Burnett & Mark D Dennis, The Stationery Office, ISBN 0 11 495784 3, page 44.

An Armorial of the Hierarchy of the Catholic Church in Australiaby Michael Francis McCarthy, Thylacine Press1998, ISBN 0-646-36350-6, page 8.

xi In the 1985 edition of AC Fox-Davies A Complete Guide to Heraldry, JP Brooke-Little in footnote 271 comments: “As the law stands it seems that arms cannot be granted to Roman Catholic Sees, as the bishops are not recognised as corporations sole and their use of territorial titles is contrary to certain provisions contained in the Catholic Emancipation Act 1829. Arms can, however be granted to most Roman Catholic institutions, and to prelates and clergy as individuals”.

xii Section 116 of the Australian Constitution states that “The Commonwealth shall not make any law forestablishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.”

xii ie-mail from Richard Num, July 2003.

xiv A Canadian Heraldic Primerby Kevin Greaves, The heraldry Society of Canada, ISBN 0-9693063-4-2, page 47.

xv Ibid.Scots Heraldry, page 8.


Heraldic Authority Creation

Michael D’Arcy, Fellow


1. Any nation which prides itself as an independent nation and values its past encourages the development and use of distinctive symbols of sovereignty in its community and family life, and as a mark of individual achievement. Over time these symbols become an important element in bringing the nation together through recognition of a shared heritage and through the acknowledgement of contributions made by persons either individually or in association with each other, and through the enrichment of a nation's art and literature.

The Historical Context of Heraldry

2. Heraldry in the European tradition began as an emblematic form of individual identification, first appearing in western Europe in the 12th century. The art and science of heraldry that developed over the next several centuries, was centred around devices painted on the shields of warrior knights; the resulting coats of arms or armorial bearings being inherited by their descendants. The beauty and utility of heraldry soon ensured its spread to other sections of medieval society – the church, secular corporations and the merchant class of towns and cities.
3. Gradually, control over the granting and use of arms was assumed by monarchs and sovereign princes, who appointed knowledgeable professionals known as heralds to administer this authorityin their name. Coats of arms came to be viewed as grants of honour received from a Sovereign exercising his or her personal prerogative to create honours.
4. In spite of the vast changes which have taken place throughout the world since the 12th century, heraldry has continued to evolve and flourish and is part of daily use in many countries. Heraldry still serves its original function of identifying nations and their constituent parts,municipalities, corporations and individuals. The fact that symbols created within this tradition are artistically powerful and rich with historical associations accounts for heraldry's continued popularity. The best heraldry has a timeless quality that sets it apart from the logos, corporate symbols and wordmarks of a particular time and place.

Present Position of Heraldry in Australia

5. Within the British Commonwealth in countries where The Queen is Head of State, all matters relating to Heraldry fall under the Royal Prerogative. In Australia (and until recently all such countries) Armorial Bearings are granted and/or confirmed by the Sovereign by Letters Patent or by one of Her Majesty's Officers of Arms who has been delegated to exercise this power. Australians who wish to acquire Arms from a lawfully established authority under the Crown are obliged to obtain them from one of Her Majesty's two offices in the United Kingdom, that is, The College of Arms in London presided over by Garter Principal King of Arms and The Court of the Lord Lyon in Edinburgh.

Precedent for Delegating the Royal Prerogative

6.The only Commonwealth country to whom The Queen has delegated her Heraldic Prerogativeis Canada which Her Majesty did by Letters Patent on the advice of her Canadian Privy Council on 4June 1988. By these Letters Patent the Queen passed the exercise of her Heraldic Prerogative as Queen of Canada to the Governor-General of Canada and to all future Governors-General. By this means Canada has obtained an indigenous mechanism for granting new Coats of Arms to Canadian communities, corporations, associations and individuals. (Reference A). It has also achieved a method whereby hundreds of historically and artistically important symbols can be recorded.

7. Since the 1970s many residual matters concerning relations between the Commonwealth of Australia (and the States) and the United Kingdom (e.g. Appeals to the Privy Council) have been resolved in Australia's favour. Since 1953 (and modified in 1973) The Queen's Style and Title in Australia has included the term "Queen of Australia" and Her Majesty has delegated to the Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia many matters normally falling under the Royal prerogative. These include the approval of Battle Honours for the Defence Force and awards of certain medals in the Australian honours system.

8. There is every reason for Australia to recognise the important part that indigenous heraldic symbols play in fostering the Australian identity and for consideration to be given to the delegationof the Royal prerogative in heraldic matters also.

Grantees of Arms in Australia

9. The Commonwealth and all States and Territories (excluding the Australian Capital Territory but including Norfolk Island) have been granted Arms as have all capital cities; including Canberra. Since Federation more and more heraldry has been created for and used by Australians, and the designs of these Arms have incorporated Australian flora and fauna and in some cases Aboriginal devices. The continuing validity of heraldic form has been emphasised, especially since the 1950s and 1960s with the granting of Arms to many cities and municipalities (Reference B). In addition, Corporations and instrumentalities in increasing numbers, which include universities and educational establishments, banks, professional associations, hospitals have sought and obtained Grants of Arms to symbolise their authority, history and identity (Reference C for grants up to 1969). Increasing numbers of individuals have also sought heraldic recognition from Her Majesty's Officers of Arms in the United Kingdom. [The only way of discovering how many Australian individuals and corporations have been granted Arms in the last 20 years would be to seek this information from Garter King of Arms and Lord Lyon].

10. It is surely time for an Australian Heraldic Authority to be established so that this importantform of art and honour can evolve in an Australian environment and be more readily accessible to all Australians.

Proposal for the Establishment of an Heraldic Authority in Australia

11. It is proposed that:

a) Letters Patent be sought from Her Majesty The Queen on the advice of the Governor-General in Council to authorise and empower the Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia to exercise or provide for the exercise of all powers and authorities lawfully belonging to Her Majesty as Queen of Australia in respect of granting Armorial Bearings inAustralia, and

b) The Governor-General should authorise the creation of an Australian Heraldic Authority, of which His Excellency would be Head, to provide for the administration of the new Vice-Regal responsibilities.

12.Objectives of the Australian Heraldic Authority.

The principal objective would be to ensure that all Australians wishing to use heraldry will be able to have access to it. The Authority would alsobe required to work to the highest standards of heraldic practice and to develop research and registration procedures that will reflect an international standard of excellence. Most of the records of the Australian Heraldic Authority should be accessible to the public.

13.The Structure of the Australian Heraldic Authority.

a) The Governor-General's Office at present has a unit, the Honours Secretariat. With the new responsibilities another unit would be required – the Heraldry Secretariat. The Australian Heraldic Authority would be headed by the Governor-General in the same way as His Excellency is Chancellor of the Order of Australia. He would have three principal officers to assist him:

(i) The Official Secretary – as Herald Secretary

(ii) The Deputy Official Secretary – as Deputy Herald Secretary

(iii) The Principal Heraldic Adviser – The Chief Herald of Australia

b) The Chief Herald would administer the Heraldry Secretariat which would include other officers and support staff. The officers should be termed Heralds with an appropriate prefix (such as Phillip, Bennelong and Eureka) and responsible for:(i) Herald: responsible for policies and promotion.

(ii) Herald: Registrar and Custodian of the Authority's Seal

(iii)Herald: The Authority’s Principal Artist

14. Because of the diverse nature and structure of the Commonwealth of Australia, and to provide appropriate representation and ongoing advice to the Chief Herald and other officers of the Authority, an Advisory Committee on Australian Heraldry with representation from appropriate Commonwealth departments, the States and Territories should be appointed by the Governor-General. This Committee should be chaired by the Herald Secretary with the Chief Herald serving as Secretary.

15. Operation of the Australian Heraldic Authority:

a)This can only be referred to in general terms, but when the Authority is fully operational its major activities would include:

(i) Dealing with Petitions for Grants of Arms

(ii) Registration of new Grants

(iii) Registration of existing Arms, Flags and Badges

(iv) Provision of information on correct heraldic practice

(v) Registration of genealogical information relating to inheritance of Arms.

b) The principal long-term task of the Authority would be to build up a national register – the "Public Register of Arms, Flags and Badges of Australia". This will be a cumulative index that will record pictorially and in writing all armorial grants and registrations once they have been approved.

16. Numbers of Grantees using the Authority. In the Heraldry Council of Australia 1972 Report on Heraldry in Australia (Section 6) it was estimated that in the event of an Australian Heraldic Authority being established, applications for Grants of Arms would increase dramatically from the then 20 or so annually to a figure perhaps double, treble, or even four times that amount (paragraph 28 of Reference D). In view of the numbers of municipalities alone seeking Grants of Arms from the United Kingdom since 1972 (Reference B), it would not appear that their figure is an underestimate.

17. Charges by the Australian Heraldic Authority. Fees would be charged by the Authority. It would have to be determined whether fees should be charged for the actual Grant or Registration,or only for the heraldic research, design and artwork involved. However, unlike the College of Arms which has to be entirely self-supporting as no Government assistance is received, it is not envisaged that the emoluments of the staff employed by the Governor-General's Office in the Heraldry Secretariat would differ from the emoluments received by the staff in the Honours Secretariat.

Some Notes on Possible Objections

18. It may be argued that in establishing the Australian Heraldic Authority under the Royal Prerogative no provision is made within any legal framework for the protection of personal orcorporate Arms against misappropriation or misuse by another person or corporation. There is no specific Federal legislation other than the Trade Marks Act (or possibly the Copyright Act) underwhich only certain limited categories of misuse are covered. It may be argued that an Act such as in force in Zimbabwe (Reference E) should be negotiated by the Commonwealth with the States andTerritories.

19. It is considered that any legislation which in future might be considered necessary should follow, and not precede the setting up of the Australian Heraldic Authority. In any case, as has already been pointed out, the inauguration of the Authority is entirely within the Royal Prerogative and is not amenable to legislation.

20. The "problem" of misuse of personal and corporate Arms has been greatly exaggerated and no specific Act in the United Kingdom has been introduced to deal with this matter. Only an archaic High Court of Chivalry exists which has been used once in over 200 years (Reference F). It is highly unlikely that this Court will ever be used again. Experience over a number of years following the inauguration of the Australian Heraldic Authority should guide future examination of this matter.


21. It is recommended that:

a) The Governor-General in Council should seek The Queen's agreement for Her Majesty's Heraldic Prerogative as Queen of Australia to be exercised by the Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia.

b) A Working Party under the Chairmanship of the Official Secretary to the Governor-General be established to plan the administrative details for the establishment of The Australian Heraldic Authority.


A: Brochure on The Canadian Heraldic Authority.
B. Extract fromAustralian Municipal Arms compiled by J.P. Morton for the Heraldry Society(Australian Branch) in 1988.

C. List of Corporate Arms (excluding Municipalities) extracted from A Roll of Australian Arms by Charles Low 1970.

D. Summary and Recommendations from The Heraldry Council of Australia 1972 Report on Heraldry (paragraph (28) refers to Section 6.2).

E. The Armorial Bearings, Names, Uniforms and Badges Act (Chapter 2) of Rhodesia/Zimbabwe.

F. The High Court of Chivalry by G.D. Squibb, QC, published 1959.

G. Correspondence and Enclosures from Robert D. Watt, Chief Herald of Canada.

A coat of arms for the Australian Capital Territory

FHACT supports the initiative to include a coat of arms for the ACT, in addition to that for the city of Canberra. We made a submission to the Assembly enquiry on the issue.