National Wattle Day: A celebration of a floral emblem


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

Raising funds for organisations such as the Red Cross during First World War by selling sprigs of wattle on Wattle Day, Courier Building, Brisbane / The Queenslander Pictorial, supplement to The Queenslander, 1 August, 1914 / Photograph courtesy: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Brisbane

Wattle Day Procession, 1917

The Queenslander Pictorial, supplement to The Queenslander, 21 July, 1917 / Photograph courtesy: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Brisbane

Vida Lahey ‘Wattle in a yellow vase’

Vida Lahey, Australia 1882-1968 / Wattle in a yellow vase c.1912-15 / Oil on canvas on plywood / 24 x 29cm / Gift of the Estate of Shirley Lahey through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation 2012 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © QAGOMA

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

Daphne Mayo (left) and Vida Lahey (middle) c.1940s / Daphne Mayo Collection, UQFL119 / Courtesy: The University of Queensland, Brisbane

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

Daphne Mayo (dressed as a wattle maid, the centre foreground) participating in Wattle Day celebrations in Brisbane, 1914. Mayo was awarded the Wattle Day travelling art fellowship in 1914, provided by the Queensland Wattle League / Courtesy: State Library of Queensland, Brisbane

Brisbane Town Hall

Brisbane’s Old Town Hall, Queen Street, 1930s / Courtesy: Queensland State Archives

Featured image detail: Vida Lahey Wattle in a yellow vase c.1912-15


  1. Hello QAGOMA staff
    Thankyou so much for featuring Wattle Day in this Blog. There were quite a lot of activities that happened in SEQ to celebrate Wattle Day, which included
    • The Brisbane City Council lit up the Story Bridge, the Victoria Bridge, the Mt Coot-Tha Botanical Gardens Dome
    and Reddacliff Place statues.
    • The Morton Bay Regional Council lit up the Caboolture Hub
    • The Queensland State Government lit up the Kurilpa Bridge.
    • A morning tea was held on Russell Island.
    • I spoke on the ABC Breakfast Program and also recited my poem Spirit of Wattle
    • I spoke on the Australia All Over Program.
    • A walk with a small group through the Mt Coot-Tha Botanical Gardens
    • A talk to the Paddington Probus Club
    • The Queensland Art Gallery posted a lengthy Blog about Wattle Day which featured Daphne Mayo the first
    Queensland scholarship winner
    • I issued an opinion piece about Australia Day being changed to 1 September
    • I have gathered a small band of people to join with me to promote Wattle Day in 2021 across Queensland

    Mike Gilmour
    Organiser Wattle Day events SEQ

  2. I really just want to know the location of a shop/organisation that sell a Qld Wattle. Can you suggest a nursery. I am not having any any luck, I just need to know where to acquire an outlet. Its very important to me and my garden and must be close to Brisbane and be approx 2-3 mt ht

  3. Hi Dell, thanks for making contact and reading our National Wattle Day blog, check out these Native Nurseries who might be able to help and also deliver. Regards QAGOMA

    Tel: 3806 1414

    Tel: 02 6677 1088

    Tel: 3823 3233

  4. Hi Dell
    I have just returned to the Blog and saw your message. I brought a wattle seedling from Oxley Nurseries.
    Brisbane Wattle – acacia fimbriata. feel free to contact me on my email if you are interested in being part of the Queensland Wattle Day Group. Mike Gilmour