I was delighted to be the guest speaker at the launch of the City Gallery’s latest exhibition “Emblazon: Melbourne’s Coat of Arms“, curated by Alisa Bunbury and running through to 30 January 2019. I was also very heartened to hear Lord Mayor Sally Capp’s enthusiastic endorsement of the work of the City Gallery team and the critical role that the gallery has played for over a decade in fostering the heritage/identity/culture nexus.
Our own Melbourne History Workshop team has been directly involved in five exhibitions since 2005: Read All About It! Melbourne’s Newsboys (2005, curated by Andrew May), Rubbish: Cleaning Melbourne’s Streets (2006, curated by Public History & Heritage MA student Caitlin Stone), Flush (2006, curated by the Rexroth Mannasmann Collective, Nicky Adams and Andrew May), Paper City (2011, curated by Christine Eid, Stephen Banham and Andrew May), and City Songs (2017, curated by Zoe Ali, Christos Tsiolkas and Andrew May, with catalogue essay by Nicole Davis, James Lesh, Andrew May, Henry Reese, Susan Reidy, Weiyan Sun, Volkhard Wehner and Roland Wettenhall).
The Corporation Seal, adopted at a Town Council meeting on 9 February 1843, featured the St George’s Cross with an imperial crown at its centre, set on a silver shield ornamented with wattle branches. In successive quarters were a golden fleece, a whale, a bull and a ship, the shield surmounted with a kangaroo demi coupée (or half cut off) at its crest. As Alisa Bunbury has so wonderfully elaborated in this exhibition, while in some ways the coat of arms has become anachronistic over time, it still importantly speaks to the town’s history and origins. At the outset, the seal was seen to reflect both the history as well as the current resources of the town. Symbols were important, and while the city may now boast ‘a softer, postmodern image‘, the original Coat of Arms of Melbourne connects us to a time when people were citizens of cities well before they were citizens of nations.