High Court building artworks

  • Front glass façade above forecourt
  • (1943–2011)
  • Commonwealth Coat of Arms 1979
  • 1979
  • sandblasted glass and acrylic
  • Commissioned for the opening in 1980, collection of the High Court of Australia

The stylised Commonwealth Coat of Arms mounted on the southern glass façade of the High Court, above the main entrance, facing Parliament House, was made by Les Kossatz, as was the Royal Coat of Arms for the United Kingdom mounted on the rear façade, facing Lake Burley Griffin. Each is approximately 13m from ground level.
The Commonwealth Coat of Arms affirms that the Court is a branch of the Australian Crown. The Royal UK Coat of Arms affirms that the Commonwealth of Australia has HM Queen Elizabeth II as head of state; also representing the legal system of the United Kingdom that Australia received on settlement.
Coats of Arms emerged during the Crusades and heraldry became an established tradition in Britain in the Middle Ages under the Plantagenet Kings. The term ‘coat of arms’ derives from the historic custom of displaying heraldic arms on tunics or coats worn over armour. The Commonwealth Coat of Arms was granted first by King Edward VII in 1908. In 1911 the Commonwealth Government approved alterations to the design of the shield that recognised the states, and the Coat of Arms was granted again by King George V in 1912. The main features of the state symbols on the shield in the centre of the 1912 Coat of Arms are the Cross of St George with lion and stars (NSW), the constellation of the Southern Cross and an Imperial Crown (Vic), a blue Maltese Cross surmounted by an Imperial Crown (Qld), a Piping Shrike (SA), a black swan (WA) and a red lion (Tas). The border of the shield symbolises federation. A kangaroo and emu support the shield – two native species. The crest on the Arms is a seven-pointed gold star symbolic of national unity. It represents the six states of Australia and the territories of the Commonwealth.
The Commonwealth Coat of Arms on the High Court's glass façade is constructed from two 25mm thick Perspex panels, a shield and a seven pointed star. These have been installed on stainless steel brackets attached to the metal framed glass façade of the building. The Perspex has a partially matt finish with painted black background and details. The kangaroo and emu supporting the shield and standing on a grass mound have been painted black on sandblasted glass relief elements, and glued to six glass panels of the building façade.

Other Commonwealth Coats of Arms in the High Court building

The Commonwealth Coat of Arms in Court 2 was designed by Derek Wrigley (b.1924) and carved from Toona ciliata (Australian red cedar, New England ranges) by Peter Otto (1918–98), and Laurens Otto (b. 1946). It was commissioned for the opening in 1980.
The Commonwealth Coat of Arms in Court 3, made from copper rods is also by Derek Wrigley. It was also commissioned for the opening in 1980.
The woven tapestry in Court 1 is a stylised representation of the Commonwealth Coat of Arms. It takes the form of a banner 4.3 metres long and 2.5 metres wide, and incorporates the badges of the states that make up the shield of the Commonwealth Coat of Arms, surmounted by the crest of the Commonwealth. The tapestry design and interpretation was by Ron Brooks. The weavers were Gordon Cameron, Christine Harris, Nichole Johnson, Elizabeth Lipscombe and Irja West of the Victorian Tapestry Workshop, Melbourne.

About the artist

  • The late Les Kossatz was a well known Melbourne-based artist and academic whose work is represented in many regional and state galleries and the National Gallery of Australia. He studied art at the Melbourne Teachers’ College and the RMIT, and went on to teach at the RMIT and Monash University. Kossatz’s first significant commission was for the stained glass windows at the Monash University Chapel in Melbourne. Later commissions included works for the Australian War Memorial, the High Court, the Ian Potter Foundation at the National Gallery of Victoria and the Darling Harbour Authority, Sydney. His sculpture, 'Ainslie’s Sheep', commissioned by Arts ACT in 2000, is a popular national capital landmark in the centre of Civic. A major retrospective of Kossatz’s work was held in 2009 at the Heide Park and Art Gallery, Melbourne.