Australian_Coat_of_Armspre-fed coat of arms

Recently I was watching Bill Hague, the British foreign minister, on TV and he was speaking from a dais decorated with the British coat of arms and it started me thinking. The Aussie coat of arms has a kangaroo and emu on each side of the shield which contains the badge of each of the six states. The shield propper uppers are probably the best known unique native animals. 

The British coat of arms by contrast has a lion and a unicorn propping up the shield. A lion? When was there last a lion in England? Apparently it is a reference to King Richard known as the lion-hearted, it’s a bit like a football team emblem. The unicorn is meant to represent Scotland where unicorns once ran free. It is chained up because as everyone knows, free unicorns are dangerous. The shield has four quarters (How many quarters can you have?) with the English lions, the scottish lion, the Irish harp and then – the English lions again. Do I detect bias?
I started to wonder about the symbols of other countries and whether there was more humour to be mined. The U.S.A. has the “Great Seal” rather than a C of A. It shows a bald eagle holding an olive branch and a bunch of arrows balancing peace with war. There is a strong representation of the 13 original colonies but no reference to the current 50 states – maybe that is a number in flux. There are 13 stripes on the shield, 13 stars above, 13 leaves and 13 olives on the branch. Interestingly the stripes have the white on the outside unlike the flag which has the red on the outside. The back of the seal is the weird pyramid with one eye as seen on the dollar bill. There have been reams written about what this might mean so I will desist.
The German C of A is a simple black eagle on a yellow background. Pretty simple. But the old Imperial German one had a near nude wild man on each side. Kinky! The French don’t have a current coat of arms but the old one was a bunch of fleur-de-lis on a blue background. I have no idea what that represents which is typically Gallic. Monaco’s is a hoot with two monks holding swords. Apparently the monks invaded Monaco in 1297 hiding swords under their cloaks. And we thought the modern church had issues!
The Russian C of A is like the U.S. eagle except it has two heads and instead of the olive branch and arrows it holds an orb and a sword, symbols of power and control. The Mexican arms also have an eagle but this time it is sitting on a cactus and holding a snake in its beak. It is said to represent the victory of good over evil though this may be an evangelical interpretation of older Aztec traditions. Poland’s C of A has a white eagle with gold beak, talons and crown.
There is a trend here. Eagles. What is it about eagles? If not eagles it is lions. There is something about the choice of animals that transmits feelings of power, strength and grace. In this context the cute kangaroo and emu seem a bit tame but perhaps they are a true reflection of the Australian psyche.
Since writing this about a week ago I have admired the beautiful carved coats of arms on the old customs house next door. But they are different!  Of course, the building went up before Federation so there could be no representation of the states – they did not exist. Apparently there was a generally accepted but not official c of a which failed to comply with heraldic tradition. The shield contained symbols of Australia’s four main industries; transport, grazing, agriculture and mining. It is pictured above. Today, a similar approach would require symbols for banking, higher education, welfare and maybe still mining. ( for now)