If you stand in front of the Adelaide Arcade in Rundle Mall, you will see Australia’s Commonwealth Coat of Arms proudly displayed high above on the building’s dome. But how is this possible? The Adelaide Arcade was built in 1885, and the first Coat of Arms was not proclaimed until 1908, 24 years later!
The Adelaide Arcade was built at the end of a time of great prosperity for the colony. Rundle Street had become the city's main retail area. On 6 May 1885, the foundation stone was laid for what would be the largest arcade in the Southern Hemisphere. It was designed by Withall and Wells, who also designed the Jubilee Exhibition Building on North Terrace. The Adelaide Arcade is arguably the firm’s most important surviving work.
At the time there was much discussion about the Australian colonies adopting a coat of arms. Competitions were held, and the Adelaide Arcade promoters decided to adopt a design they thought would win. Messrs W. Pett & Sons manufactured this coat of arms. it was installed on the building's two domes facing Rundle and Grenfell Street.
Unfortunately, it was not the winning design. On 7 May 1908, King Edward VII officially granted the Coat of Arms to the Commonwealth of Australia. However, the design did not refer to the states and had to be changed. On 19 September 1912, King George V granted the second Commonwealth Coat of Arms. We still use this design today.
The most obvious difference between the arcade’s coat of arms and the official design is in the position of the native animals. The coat of arms on the arcade has the emu on the left and a kangaroo on the right. It also includes the words "Advance Australia". The official design reverses the kangaroo and emu and simply reads "Australia".
While not the official design, the inclusion of the coat of arms on the Adelaide Arcade shows the optimism of the South Australian colony at the time and the promise of Australian Federation.