In 1988, the year of Australia’s bicentenary, the Golden Wattle (Acacia pycnantha) was officially gazetted as Australia’s national floral emblem, enjoying a popular acceptance as the national flower long before then.
We’ve been celebrating the Wattle for different reasons over the last century, and in 2020 for the first time, Brisbane is lighting up in yellow to celebrate National Wattle Day, however, it wasn’t until 1 September 1992 that our National Day has been celebrated together in all of Australia’s States and Territories, before then, it was recognised on different days between July (in Queensland) and October depending on its peak flowering season.
So, with the start of the Australian spring on the first of September, wear a sprig of the flowers and leaves to celebrate the day with us. Alternatively, you could go all out and decorate your car in blooms as they did in Brisbane a century ago.
Selling sprigs of Wattle Flowers, 1914
Wattle Day Procession, 1917
Vida Lahey ‘Wattle in a yellow vase’
Vida Lahey (1882-1968) is one of Queensland’s best loved artists, establishing her national profile with her modernist paintings of flowers in the 1920s and 30s.
Australian floral subjects have been popular since the 1890s, and after Australia attained nationhood through the federation of its six states in 1901, sentiments of national pride, and patriotism soon developed with the Wattle a favourite floral subject and emblem of Australia.
In Lahey’s lifetime, the Wattle flower was a favourite subject, with the Wattle Day League founded in Sydney in 1909, and a Queensland branch of the Wattle Day League established in 1912 by Mrs Josephine Papi. Her husband, Ferdinand, was an associate of the Queensland Art Society, of which Lahey was a member, and it is possible that Lahey contributed Wattle in a yellow vase c.1912-15 to a promotional event at the time, which is one of Lahey’s earliest flower studies.
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Daphne Mayo and Vida Lahey
Besides Vida Lahey’s link to the Wattle Day League in Brisbane with her painting Wattle in a yellow vase, her contemporary Daphne Mayo (1895-1982), another celebrated Queensland artist and one of the country’s leading sculptors of the twentieth century, also had a Wattle connection.
Educated in Brisbane, Mayo received a Diploma in Art Craftsmanship from the Brisbane Central Technical College in 1913, and during her time at the College, Mayo was influenced by LJ Harvey who initiated her interest in modelling. She further developed her skills when she was presented with an opportunity to go to London in 1919 (her departure from Brisbane being delayed for some years by the First World War) where she was accepted into the Sculpture School of the Royal Academy. Mayo had been awarded the Wattle Day travelling art fellowship in 1914, provided by the Queensland Wattle League.
Mayo can be seen at the (old) Town Hall (illustrated) on Brisbane’s second Wattle Day in July 1914. Mayo is dressed as a wattle maid in the centre foreground. The Mayoress of Brisbane and the Central Committee of the Queensland Wattle Day League accompany her.
Mayo and Lahey were active in Queensland art affairs over a long period, both were involved with the Queensland Art Gallery in various capacities and helped to establish the Queensland Art Fund (founded in 1929) with the aim of acquiring major works for the Gallery’s collection.
Edited curatorial extracts, research and supplementary material sourced and compiled by Elliott Murray, Senior Digital Marketing Officer, QAGOMA
Daphne Mayo as a wattle maid
Brisbane Town Hall
Featured image detail: Vida Lahey Wattle in a yellow vase c.1912-15