Emblazon: Melbourne’s coat of arms

City Gallery Melbourne Coat of ArmsExploring an often-unnoticed aspect of the city’s history, Melbourne’s coat of arms have been brought to life in the latest exhibition at the Town Hall’s City Gallery in Emblazon: Melbourne’s coat of arms.

Melbourne’s little-known and underappreciated coat of arms have been featured on everything from a spectacular porcelain vase gifted to Melbourne by the government of France to street signs, hitching posts, electricity supply boxes, cast iron verandas and even Princes Bridge.

First laid down by Councillors in 1842 as the newly created city found its feet, the coat of arms was designed to represent the anticipated economic prosperity of Melbourne: with wool, whale oil, animal fat and the shipping industry key pillars of the new town. Heraldic designs for civic institutions imply history and permanence, although this one was soon outdated, as Melbourne’s economy altered and developed.

Chair of the Arts, Culture and Heritage portfolio, Councillor Rohan Leppert, said Emblazon offers a fascinating glimpse into a side of Melbourne’s history not many appreciate. “Our city’s coat of arms can inspire questions from tourists and locals alike, unsure how it got to be the way it is and why it’s featured so prominently across Melbourne,” said Cr Leppert.

“While our city’s population, economic prosperity and cultural diversity has changed dramatically since 1842, the coat of arms has remained largely the same for 176 years. Emblazon will give people insight into an aspect of Melbourne’s past which is little understood, and prompt keen observers to spot the sometimes bizarre and surprising locations where the coat of arms is on display across our city.”

Curator Alisa Bunbury said Emblazon guides visitors through the symbolism and evolution of Melbourne’s coat of arms. “Heraldic designs for civic institutions imply history and permanence, but as time has passed we’ve seen Melbourne’s coat of arms lose its relevance to our modern day city,” said Ms Bunbury.

“What Emblazon does is dive deep into how this coat of arms has changed, from being a symbol of Melbourne’s bright outlook and future, to its often unnoticed presence around our city. It also provides contemporary responses in newly commissioned works of art where the focus of the coat of arms shifts to Aboriginal loss, popular culture and the pre-colonial landscape.”

Alisa Bunbury is a curator fascinated by the history of Melbourne. She has previously been a curator at the Art Gallery of South Australia and the National Gallery of Victoria, and is currently employed at the University of Melbourne as well as in diverse freelance work.

Emblazon: Melbourne’s coat of arms
City Gallery – Melbourne Town Hall, 90-120 Swanston Street, Melbourne
Exhibition continues to 30 January 2019
Free admission

For more information, visit: www.melbourne.vic.gov.au for details.

Image: Melbourne’s Coat of Arms (supplied)