[Editor: This article, by K. R. Cramp, about Wattle Day, was published in The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, NSW), 1 August 1936.]
An emblem and its meaning.
(By K. R. Cramp, O.B.E., Vice-president, Wattle League.)
It is just over the quarter of the century since the Wattle Day League had its birth. It arose out of a discussion between Mrs. J. W. Kettlewell, Mrs. Clunies Ross, and the late Mr. J. H. Maiden, all of whom considered that this land of ours — one continent with its one people and its one destiny — deserved its symbolic emblem of idealism and noble aspiration. To many the waratah makes a strong appeal; it is unique and beautiful, and awakens a certain pride and satisfaction as a purely Australian flower. But it was felt it had its limitations; firstly, because the area of its growth was so restricted that it would mean little to those beyond its pale; secondly, because its stiff propriety hardly represented the freedom and spontaneity of the average Australian; and thirdly, because we could not have an effective “Waratah Day” for the whole Commonwealth, when Australians from the easternmost Cape Byron to the extreme south-western corner at Cape Leeuwin could wear the floral emblem in common, and feel that it and they were “a little bit of Australia,” as Sir Joseph Carruthers once said in reference to the wattles planted in Gallipoli. The waratah will ever be the worthy emblem of our “red blood of love,” but the wattle bloom is a more effective emblem of the Australian “heart of gold” in the east, west, north, and south.
The Wattle Day League held its first meeting on August 30, 1909, and issued its appeal to the Australian people in the following terms:— “With the view of stimulating Australian national sentiment and connecting it with a love of our beautiful flora, we suggest the desirability of setting apart, throughout the Commonwealth, a day on which an Australian national flower — the wattle blossom — might be worn and its display encouraged.”
Since 1909, the league — now known as the “Wattle League” (the word “Day” having been dropped) — has had a continuous existence, and once a year, on August 1, the citizens are encouraged to wear the wattle sprig. The wattle is essentially Australian, as at least 500 varieties of Australian wattles are named, and it grows in every State. The Acacia podalyriaefolia of Queensland and the Acacia baileyana of the Cootamundra and Temora districts are but the aristocratic leaders of a great army of wattles. And the fact that varieties grow in other countries does not discredit the wattle as a national emblem, unless, of course, we are prepared to deny England her “rose” for the same reason.
The wattle has, indeed, become established. It is on our coat of arms; it has appeared on our postage stamp; soldiers have been permitted to wear it on their uniforms on occasions; wattle decorations were made a distinct feature for the Prince of Wales on the occasion of his visit to Sydney, both at Government House and in his cabin on H.M.S. Renown; seeds have been planted at Gallipoli; and clumps of wattles have been planted by the league at Government House, Hyde Park, at various times in the Centennial Park, in the vicinity of the northern and southern pylons of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and various other places.
Is all this effort worth-while? Yes, truly, if we think of all that the wattle and Wattle Day may stand for. It is the most fitting blossom we have to express to the full Australian character and sentiment. Its golden bloom suggests the land of gold, the land of the golden fleece, and the heart of gold of its people. Its existence in every State renders it a fitting symbol of our national consciousness, while its variety, manifested in the fluffy ball of some species, the long fingers of yellow down in others, and the tiny feathery tufts in others, suggests variety within that unity, and this aptly represents the federal nature of our union, each State maintaining its own individuality, yet remaining in essence and spirit one with the rest of the States. The little blossoms have been designated little lumps of solidified sunshine, typifying the cheerful spirit of a nation that will not be depressed by the depression. Its profusion is a symbol of the big generous heart of the people in its acts of charity as well as in its sportsmanship at sport. Its fragrance is the token of the sweetness of a nation’s disposition and good will to all. And what can better suggest the irrepressibility of the nation’s heart than the phoenix-like wattle, which, like one of Dickens’s characters, teaches us that there is some credit in being jolly when you suffer hardship, for does not the wattle thrive best when subjected to the hard trail of the bushfire, which merely serves to crack the hard integument enveloping the fallen seeds and give them freer opportunity to germinate!
With the typically Australian spirit of independence, it thrives best when uncontrolled. The Australian soldier may have been less submissive to routine than his English brother, and, given free rein, performed the greater service under the freer condition. This, at least, is Lord Roberts’s testimony, for he once said of our lancers in the Boer war: “All the colonials did extremely well … they were very intelligent, and they had what I want our men to have — more individuality. They could find the way about the country far better than the British cavalryman could do.” The wattle, too, exemplifies the spirit of endurance. Mr. Froggatt declares that “wattle seldom die from drought living under semi-desert arid conditions; they have evolved a root system that collects and stores up every drop of rain or dew, and the close hard bark and stiff leaves waste no moisture.” The plant is a lesson in conservation of resources.
Symbol of patriotism.
And, as a final point, “Get the Australian wandering in foreign lands, who perhaps believes himself to be the very embodiment of unimaginative prose, to tell you how the sudden sight of a spray of wattle will ‘flood his heart abrim’ with the complex yet primitive emotion we call patriotism. Here is the sentiment, authentic, virile; here is the flower beautiful, suitable. Link them together and you have a combination of which future historians will have much to say.”
Let us then hold the wattle bloom as dear to us in that it is a beautiful symbol of all that we would like to see embodied in Australian life and character.
The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, NSW), 1 August 1936, p. 13 (Late Edition)
Centennial Park = a park in Sydney (NSW) which was established to commemorate the 100th anniversary (the centenary) of the founding of a British colony in New South Wales in 1888 (the founding of the Australian nation); the park was officially opened on 26 January 1888
See: “Centennial Parklands”, Wikipedia [see section: Centennial Park]
Commonwealth = the Commonwealth of Australia; the Australian nation, federated on 1 January 1901
depression = the economic depression of 1929-1939 (also known as “the Great Depression); as a term, “depression” can refer to other economic depressions, such as the depression of the 1890s
See: “Great Depression”, Wikipedia
Dickens = Charles John Huffam Dickens (1812-1870), English author, well known for his novels and short stories of the Victorian era
See: “Charles Dickens”, Wikipedia
flood his heart abrim = a quote derived from a poem by Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936), “The Flowers” (1895), which includes the lines “Weed ye trample underfoot Floods his heart abrim”
See: Rudyard Kipling, “The Flowers: 1895”, Bartleby
Froggatt = Walter Wilson Froggatt (1858-1937), entomologist; he was born in Melbourne (Vic.) in 1858, and died in Croydon (Sydney, NSW) in 1937
See: 1) D. I. McDonald, “Froggatt, Walter Wilson (1858–1937)”, Australian Dictionary of Biography
2) “Walter Wilson Froggatt”, Wikipedia
Gallipoli = the Gallipoli peninsula (in western Turkey), which is located in the southern part of East Thrace, the European part of Turkey; it was the scene of heavy fighting during the Gallipoli Campaign (February 1915 to January 1916), during the First World War (1914-1918); running along the eastern coast of the Gallipoli peninsula is the Strait of Gallipoli, also known as the Dardanelles (or, the Dardanelles strait)
Government House = the official residence and offices of a Governor-General, Governor, or Lieutenant-Governor (especially in a country, state, or province of the British Commonwealth), often used as a venue for hosting official functions
H.M.S. Renown = a battlecruiser of the Royal Navy (UK); it was launched in 1916, served in the First and Second World Wars, and was sold for scrap in 1948
See: “HMS Renown (1916)”, Wikipedia
Hyde Park = a park in Sydney (NSW); it was named after Hyde Park in London (England); the park has also been known as Sydney Common, The Common, and Government Domain
See: “Hyde Park, Sydney”, Wikipedia
integument = a natural protective outer layer or covering of a plant or a body (such as a feathers, hide, husk, rind, shell, or skin); any coating, covering, enclosure, or shell)
J. H. Maiden = Joseph Henry Maiden (1859-1925), botanist, public servant, and Wattle Day campaigner; he was born in St John’s Wood (London, UK) in 1859, came to Australia in 1880, and died in Turramurra (Sydney, NSW) in 1925
See: 1) Mark Lyons and C. J. Pettigrew, “Maiden, Joseph Henry (1859–1925)”, Australian Dictionary of Biography
2) “Joseph Maiden”, Wikipedia
Joseph Carruthers = Sir Joseph Hector McNeil Carruthers (1856-1932), lawyer, politician, and Premier of NSW (1904-1907); he was born in Kiama (NSW) in 1856, and died in Waverley (Sydney, NSW) in 1932
See: 1) John M. Ward, “Carruthers, Sir Joseph Hector (1856–1932)”, Australian Dictionary of Biography
2) “Joseph Carruthers”, Wikipedia
K. R. Cramp = Karl Reginald Cramp (1878-1956), public school inspector and historian; he was born in Reigate (Surrey, England) in 1878, came to Australia with his parents in 1887, and died in Bellevue Hill (Sydney, NSW) in 1956
See: Ruth Teale, “Cramp, Karl Reginald (1878–1956)”, Australian Dictionary of Biography
lancer = a type of cavalryman who is armed with a lance; a member of a military unit which has retained the historical “lancers” title, such as the Royal Lancers of the British Army (some modern cavalry units use lances for ceremonial purposes)
See: “Lancer”, Wikipedia
Lord Roberts = Frederick Sleigh Roberts (1832-1914), 1st Earl Roberts, known as Lord Roberts, a British military officer, he was promoted to the rank of Field Marshal in 1895; born in India to British parents in 1832, he died in France (of pneumonia) in 1914
See: “Frederick Roberts, 1st Earl Roberts”, Wikipedia
Mrs. Clunies Ross = Hannah Elizabeth Clunies Ross (née Tilley) (1862-1947), Wattle Day campaigner; daughter of Charles Tilley (1824-1891), wife of William John Clunies Ross (1850-1914)
See: “Wattle Day”, The Institute of Australian Culture
Mrs. J. W. Kettlewell = Agnes Louisa Kettlewell (née Storrie) (1864-1936), poet, author, journalist, and Wattle Day campaigner; she was born in Glenelg (South Australia) in 1864, married John Wilson Kettlewell in Glenelg (Adelaide, SA) in 1890, and died in Woolwich (Sydney, NSW) in 1936
See: “Agnes Louisa Storrie (Kettlewell)”, The Institute of Australian Culture
O.B.E. = Order of the British Empire (a British order of chivalry)
See: “Order of the British Empire”, Wikipedia
red blood of love = a quote from a poem by Henry Lawson (1867-1922), “Waratah and Wattle” (1905), which includes the lines “That the Wattle-bloom means that her heart is of gold, And the Waratah red blood of love.”
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