High Court building artworks

  • Rear glass façade
  • (1943–2011)
  • Royal Coat of Arms for the United Kingdom
  • 1979–80
  • sandblasted glass and acrylic
  • Commissioned for the opening in 1980, collection of the High Court of Australia

The Royal Coat of Arms for the United Kingdom on the High Court’s rear glass façade signifies the reception of the British common law in Australia and the former right of appeal to the Privy Council in England. The commencement of the Australia Act 1986 (Cth) confirmed the High Court of Australia as the final court of appeal, and that no appeals could be taken from Australian courts to the Privy Council. Les Kossatz designed the Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland mounted on the rear glass façade of the High Court, facing Lake Burley Griffin, as well as the Commonwealth Coat of Arms on the front façade of the building. The form of the Royal Coat of Arms is that used by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Its content has been the same since 1837. The images in the first and fourth quarters are of three passant guardant lions of England (walking with their right paws raised). The second quarter shows the rampant lion (standing erect with a rear paw raised as if to strike) with a double tressure flory-counterflory of Scotland (a double-edged frame adorned with fleur-delis with the flower heads alternating each side of the frame). The third quarter shows a harpfor Northern Ireland. The shield is surrounded by a garter bearing the motto ‘Honi soit qui mal y pense’ (Evil be to him who evil thinks), which symbolises the Order of the Garter, an ancient order of knighthood of which the Queen is Sovereign Head. The shield is supported by the English lion and the Scottish unicorn, and is surmounted by the Royal crown. The unicorn is chained, as legend depicts the unicorn as a dangerous beast. Below the shield appears the motto of the English monarchs ‘Dieu et mon droit’ (God and my right).

The Royal Coat of Arms is made from one central Perspex panel. This has been installed on stainless steel brackets to the metal framed glass façade. The Perspex has a partially matt finish with painted black background and details similar to the Commonwealth Coat of Arms. A lion and unicorn supporting the shield have been black painted on sandblasted glass relief elements and glued to glass panels of the building façade.

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.