New Book: Symbols of Australia: Imagining a Nation

Symbols of Australia: Imagining a Nation

Edited by Melissa Harper, Richard White

NewSouth 2021, 2nd edition

Australia is a land of symbols. The Southern Cross. The Sydney Opera House. The kangaroo. Vegemite. But what do they actually mean? Where do they come from? Why are some symbols so hotly contested? Does Australia have more than its fair share?

Symbols of Australia offers illuminating and unexpected insights into the symbols that surround us: from Uluru to the Australian ag, the rainbow serpent to Holden cars, the democracy sausage to the Great Barrier Reef.

Entertaining, provocative, informative, and often surprising, Symbols of Australia reveals a great deal about the ways nations are imagined – and how they imagine themselves.

The star-studded cast of Symbols of Australia shows us the nation in its full dignity, diversity and dagginess.’ — Frank Bongiorno

‘Just when we need it, a lively reassessment of the symbols that de ne us.’— David Malouf

‘Humorous, insightful and profound.’ — Hsu-Ming Teo

‘A sure-footed trek into our constant act of becoming “Australian”.’ — Miriam Corowa

‘Rattling revered icons, Symbols of Australia will make you re-think who we are, and where we came from. Even better, it’s a bloody good read.’ — Monica Dux


1 Land of symbols, Melissa Harper and Richard White

2 Southern Cross, Jane Taylor

3 Kangaroo, Beth Hatton and Linda Thompson

4 Crown, Mark McKenna

5 Map, Alan Atkinson

6 Cooee, Richard White

7 Stamps, Dennis Altman

8 Gum tree, Lucy Kaldor

9 Shark, Helen Tiffin

10 Boomerang, Felicity Errington

11 Billy, Melissa Harper

12 Miss Australia, Marilyn Lake and Penny Russell

13 Flag, Elizabeth Kwan

14 Wattle, Libby Robin

15 Coat of arms, Bruce Baskerville

16 Digger, Graham Seal and Carolyn Holbrook

17 Australia House, Olwen Pryke

18 Vegemite, Robert White

19 Great Barrier Reef, Iain McCalman

20 Sydney Harbour Bridge, Peter Spearritt

21 Lifesaver, Caroline Ford

22 Pavlova, Michael Symons

23 Holden, Robert Crawford

24  Uluru, Roslynn Haynes 

25  Sydney Opera House, Richard White and Sylvia Lawson 

26  Akubra, Philippa Macaskill and Margaret Maynard 

27  Rainbow Serpent, Shino Konishi 

28  Baggy green, Gideon Haigh 

29  Democracy Sausage, Judith Brett 

Melissa Harper has escaped the university and is now an honorary senior research fellow in Australian Studies at the University of Queensland where she was lecturer from 2003 to 2021. Her research interests include everyday cultural practices, in particular on bushwalking and dining out, Australian popular culture and national identity.

Richard White was born in Sydney and taught Australian history and the history of travel and tourism at the University of Sydney for 23 years. He has been known to ponti cate, occasionally intelligibly on national identity, tourism and popular culture. His publications include Inventing Australia, The Oxford Book of Australian Travel Writing, Cultural History in Australia and On Holidays: A History of Getting Away in Australia.