HRH The Duchess of Kent with a koala at Expo 88, Brisbane. Queensland State Archives Item ID 1460293.
The koala is an Australian icon.
So, when Australian states came to choose their animal emblems in the late 1960s, the fight was on. Two states in particular were prepared to take it to the final round. The prize? The right to declare the koala as their own.
The action kicked off when the topic of state faunal emblems was first raised at the Conference of Tourist Ministers’ Council (CTMC) on Dunk Island, 14 July 1969. Victoria’s Minister for Agriculture, Gilbert L. Chandler, started with a classic one-two: the Leadbeater Possum and the Helmeted Honey Eater.
He also moved …
At the time, the states were punching above their weight. The Federal Government had not officially recognised national floral or faunal emblems. It would take until 1988 for the Golden Wattle to be proclaimed as Australia’s floral emblem. National faunal emblems have still not been officially proclaimed.
But that didn’t stop the states. The other ministers at the meeting liked the idea of faunal emblems and went back to their respective Cabinets to take action.
On 29 January 1970, Minister for Labour and Tourism, John Herbert, went to Queensland’s Cabinet to talk tactics.
Cabinet decided …
However, in the months preceding the 1970 CTMC, it became clear both Queensland and New South Wales were vying for the koala as their first preference. Queensland Cabinet struck hard and early when it decided …
This took the form on an opinion poll in The Courier Mail. Respondents favoured the koala ‘two to one’ over any other options.
Armed with these poll results, Minister Herbert went to the 1970 CTMC to deliver the blow.
Despite compelling alternative nominations, such as …
… the people of Queensland had spoken, and …
Although backed into a corner, New South Wales’ Minister for Tourism, E. A. Willis, hit back.
… and …
The sparring continued, with some contention over which state had the largest koala colony.
The chairman, Vance Dickie, stepped in to separate the two.
But not before Minister Herbert slipped in a surly jab:
Australian Tourist Commission chairman C. A. Greenway also tried to intervene; not by throwing in a towel, but a platypus. He offered …
But neither Queensland, nor New South Wales, were interested in the weird, duck-billed monotreme. They had eyes for only one prize.
The meeting was adjourned, with the fight to be continued by the heavyweights – the Premiers.
Unfortunately, the records at Queensland State Archives don’t tell us what happened next between the Premiers. We dare say the gloves were off.
What we do know is that after the final round, in 1971, Queensland stood victorious. The koala faunal emblem was ours!
New South Wales got the platypus.
- Queensland State Archives, Item ID ITM314270
- Queensland State Archives, Item ID ITM314271
- Queensland State Archives, Item ID ITM406416
- Queensland State Archives, Item ID ITM406421