On this day: Wattle Day

By Courtenay Rule 7 November 2013
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The first day of spring is the little-known but uniquely Australian celebration – National Wattle Day.

WATTLES HAVE ALWAYS BEEN part of our country’s landscape and the lives of its people. For Indigenous Australians, wattle trees were a source of food, medicines, and wood for many different utensils and weapons.

Colonists, too, soon came to value wattle as an easily recognisable national symbol for Australia and its people, particularly as the colonies moved towards Federation. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, patriotic Australians in Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney formed associations to promote wattle as a national emblem and to advocate the recognition of a National Wattle Day. The first ever Wattle Day celebrations took place in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia 100 years ago today, on 1 September 1910.

Wattle Day enthusiasm soon spread to the other states and reached a peak during World War I, when the day was used as a focus for raising money for Australia’s war effort. After the war, Wattle Day continued to be associated with fundraising for charitable causes. Following World War II, however, the tradition tapered off. It wasn’t until the 1980s that a campaign to revive Wattle Day began, led by Maria Hitchcock of the Australian Plants Society.

In 1988 the Golden Wattle (Acacia pycnantha) was made Australia’s official floral emblem, and in 1992 the Commonwealth Government formally designated 1 September as National Wattle Day. (See a detailed timeline of Wattle Day’s history. It’s also largely the source of our green and gold colours.

National emblem

The official Wattle Day Association suggests a number of reasons for celebrating wattle as our emblem. Like Australians themselves, wattles are diverse – there are nearly 1000 different species of all shapes and sizes, found all over our land from the outback to the tropics, yet all recognisable as part of the same family.

They’re resilient and hardy, with many species brightening our winter or welcoming the spring with their golden blossoms, and are among the first plants to regenerate after a bushfire. What’s more, wattle isn’t tied to a particular historical event or any one group of people – it’s a unifying symbol that all Australians can share.

So today, how about wearing a wattle sprig or green and gold to celebrate? Check out the Wattle Day Association’s suggestions for ways to celebrate, including fun activities for schoolkids. Planting some wattles would be a great idea – see the Australian National Botanic Gardens for info on commonly grown species. You could even host a picnic or BBQ with some wattleseed recipes. Happy Wattle Day!