Australian Heraldic Authority

Australian Heraldic Authority

Heraldry in Australia has its origins in the land. Before 1788, the indigenous (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islands) peoples of Australia had ancient and complex systems of symbols with which they identified and by which they identified their land (or country) and their groupings. Australia’s indigenous peoples claim cultural and intellectual property rights in those symbols. The AHS respects those claims and allies itself with our indigenous peoples in their campaign to protect those rights.

Another strand of heraldry has its origins in a great western European historical legal tradition of that part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland which was formerly the Kingdom of England. Whilst England is the source of our formal heraldic prerogative, other streams derive from Scotland with its singular heraldic traditions and law and Ireland where heraldry is largely based on introduced English law and practices.

Still other strands have their origins in other European countries with heraldic traditions which were brought with them by the various streams of European migration since 1788.

Heraldry has contemporary meanings and resonances as well as reflecting Australia’s diverse European and local histories and we are challenged by the need to accommodate the heraldic law introduced from England and now evolved into the Law of Arms of Australia with the pre-existing cultural and intellectual property rights of the indigenous peoples in their symbolism and imagery.

In Europe, and relevantly in England, heraldry is neatly defined by Sir Anthony Wood as “… the systematic use of hereditary devices centred on a shield.”

Having, bearing, using and displaying a coat of arms is a method of self-identification, much like a name. In earlier, less literate times a coat of arms impressed into a bedding of molten wax spoke graphically of the author of the document to which it was affixed with an immediacy that an unintelligible signature did not have.

For reasons associated with the European colonisation of Australia in the name of the King of Great Britain, the mistaken application of the concept of terra nullius and the subsequent reception into Australia of English law as it was in 1828, heraldic jurisdiction over Australia became vested in the King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (now, Northern Ireland).

When the previously indivisible Crown of the United Kingdom became divisible shortly after the First World War, the Crown of Australia gradually emerged out of and separate from the UK Crown and ultimately became, in like manner to the Crowns of Canada, New Zealand and other Crowns within the British Commonwealth of Nations, a Crown which was separate from but equal with the Crown of the United Kingdom.

It has been the firm policy, tantamount to a legal prohibition, of the Kings of England, Scotland and Ireland, at least from the time of King Henry V in England, that no one should use a coat of arms which has not been granted to the user (or a direct ancestor) by the King or his heraldic officers. This particular law, together with the rest of the Law of Arms of England was received into Australian law in 1828 and formed the basis of the Law of Arms of Australia.

The Law of Arms of England guides the administration of the heraldic prerogative power of the Queen of the United Kingdom in relation to England. The heraldic prerogative power in relation to Australia is vested in Her Majesty, Elizabeth II, Queen of Australia and the Law of Arms of Australia guides its administration.

The Queen of Australia is a sovereign entirely separate from the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the Queen of Canada, the Queen of New Zealand and the Queens of other members of the Commonwealth of Nations. Subject to legislation in both countries, the Queen of Australia has the same heraldic prerogative powers in respect of Australia as the Queen of the United Kingdom has in relation to England. Australia was once, but is no longer, an integral part of the United Kingdom.

The Queen of the United Kingdom has no longer has any prerogative powers over Australia or Australians and the Kings of Arms of the Queen of the United Kingdom do not have any delegated English prerogative powers or jurisdiction over Australia arising out of their British offices.

The Kings of Arms of England make a claim, which they have not particularised, that “The College of Arms is the official heraldic authority for England, Wales, Northern Ireland and much of the Commonwealth including Australia and New Zealand.” How this asserted authority arises is not revealed.

It is clear that no residue of Australian power remains in the Queen of the United Kingdom which could be delegated by her to her heraldic servants, the Kings of Arms of England. All heraldic power in relation to Australia is vested in the Queen of Australia who can, within the law, delegate it to anyone she chooses, including the Kings of Arms of England.

The Australian Government understandably declines to confirm that such a delegation exists, but has limited itself to the deliberately evasive statement that “… the Government feels that there is no need to reject the College continuing to respond to requests by Australians for approval to use armorial bearings.” ​

In an attempt to clarify the Australian position, the Prime Minister was asked a series of Questions on Notice:

"(1)      Is it the Government's official policy to accept and accede to the claim made by the English College of Arms that it possesses 'official heraldic authority' over Australia; if so,

(a).       when was this policy determined,

(b).       when and how was it made public,

(c).       is there an official Commonwealth record of this policy decision being determined, and

(d).      was it determined by a decision

  (i)  of the Parliament,

(ii)  of the Cabinet, or

(iii)  by some other authority.

(2)        If the above is not the official policy of the Government, has the Government delegated heraldic authority to the sovereign of the United Kingdom or any of her officers; if so,

(a).       when was this delegation made,

(b).       when and how was it made public,

(c).       is there an official Commonwealth record of this delegation being made, and

(d).      was it determined by a decision

  (i)  of the Parliament,

(ii)  of the Cabinet, or

(iii)  by some other authority.

(3)        Is the Government aware that Canada and South Africa have established their own heraldic authorities independent of the English College of Arms."

These questions did not receive detailed responses but instead, on 7 February 2018 the Prime Minister made a response which must be regarded as expressing, as a ministerial exercise of the Royal prerogative of honour in relation to heraldry its policy in these terms:

The practice of the College of Arms in England granting armorial bearings to Australians is well established as one way Australians can obtain heraldic insignia if they wish to do so. 

There is nothing preventing any person or organisation from commissioning a local artist, graphics studio or heraldry specialist to design and produce a coat of arms or identifying symbol.  Those arms would have the same standing and authority in Australia as arms prepared by the College of Arms in England.

This clearly accords some recognition to arms granted to Australians by the Kings of Arms of England at the College of Arms in London but leaves entirely unclear the basis upon which they, alone amongst UK authorities, claim a right to exercise the Australian Royal prerogative.

Of equal interest is the acknowledgement of the validity of self adoption of arms by Australians. The Society has for some years taken an active role in assisting Australians in designing and adopting their own arms in conformity with the good heraldic design practice.

It remains a great disappointment that the Government refuses to advise the Sovereign to exercise the Australian prerogative by creating an Australian Heraldic Authority with power to make grants of arms to Australians.

The Australian Heraldry Society Policy:

The Society’s policy adopted unanimously at the Annual General Meeting held on 21 October 2017, is:

    1. That the Queen of Australia and the Queen in right of each of the States are independent sovereigns with separate heraldic prerogatives in respect of Australia and each of the States which are coextensive with but independent of the heraldic prerogative of the Queen of the United Kingdom in respect of the United Kingdom.
    2. That the Society urges the Australian Government to advise the Queen of Australia to exercise her heraldic prerogative by the creation of an Australian Heraldic Authority.
    3. That the heraldic prerogative of the Queen of the United Kingdom, and consequently that of her heraldic officers of England and Scotland, does not extend to Australia.
    4. That the English College of Arms is not, as asserted on its website, “… the official heraldic authority for … Australia …”
    5. That, in the present circumstances, the Society supports the granting of arms to Australians by the heraldic officers of the Queen of the United Kingdom in the name and with the authority of their sovereign but not the granting of arms by them in the name and with the purported authority of the Queen of Australia.

The Society is evaluating its policy in light of the Prime Minister’s statement.

President: Richard d'Apice AM
president@heraldryaustralia.org

Secretary: Stephen Szabo Esq
secretary@heraldryaustralia.org

2/72 View Street
Annandale
NSW

M: 0431 701 055
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