Subscribe      List an Event or Business      Invite a Writer      Write for WN      Writers      Other Locations
list an event      1 million Australian readers every month      facebook

Symbols of South Australia

Home > Adelaide >
by Paula McManus (subscribe)
Photography obsessed writer and urban explorer. Lover of nature, art and long weekends. Adelaide, South Australia.
Published February 17th 2020
SA Great
South Australia. SA Great. Our great state. Our state of the arts, wine, sport and FUIC. A state of Crow-eaters. We love our culture and arts so much that for nearly 25 years every car number plate was printed with "The Festival State". Festival-living is part of who we are and what we do.

South Australia - we're proudly convict free but we hold a modest pride in being known (incorrectly) as the Murder Capital of the World. We South Australians are called Crow-eaters, yet the Piping Shrike is the bird that's emblazoned on all official and some non-official business logos. Where and when did the Piping Shrike become such a visible and striking symbol of South Australia? And .... what exactly is a Piping Shrike?

The State Flag, State Badge and State Coat of Arms of South Australia
The piping shrike is the white-backed magpie. The earliest connection of the Magpie to the name Piping Shrike is from explorer Charles Sturt in the 1840s:

"Gymorhina Leuconota Gould: the White-backed Crow Shrike. This bird is somewhat larger than, and very much resembles a magpie, but the proportion of white is greater, and there is no metallic or varied tint on the black feathers as on the European bird. In South Australia, it is a winter bird, and his clear fine note was always the most heard on the coldest morning, as if that temperature best suited him. All the species of this genus are easily domesticated, and learn to pipe tunes. They are mischievous birds about a house, but are useful in a garden. I had one that ranged the fields to a great distance round the house, but always returned to sleep in it."

The White-backed Magpie or Piping Shrike has been the official badge of the South Australian Government since 1901.

South Australia Coat of Arms
South Australia Coat of Arms (source: Wikimedia)

In 1901, Governor Tennyson in his despatch to the Secretary of State for Colonies said "I herewith forward a flag with the new device upon it – the South Australian Shrike in the rising sun of the Commonwealth and hope that as it is a fine design and one which has been favourably received here…."

The Magpie is one of Australia's most well-known birds and is found in all states and territories. There are nearly 10 subspecies of the Australian Magpie and they are divided into those who have white backs and those who have black backs. Across most of Australia are the black-backed Magpies, while the white-backed Magpie is found in South Australia.

Despite never being officially proclaimed as our state symbol, the Piping Shrike appears on the South Australian State Flag, State Badge and State Coat of Arms and is used by many government agencies and departments as a corporate logo.

Wikipedia's description of South Australia's Coat of Arms is "The piping shrike is the unofficial bird emblem of South Australia and also appears on the State Badge. The crest is the Sturt's desert pea, the floral emblem of South Australia, on top of a wreath of the State colours" Also represented on the Coat of Arms are grapevines, wheat, barley, citrus fruits, and miners' equipment.

SAPOL patrol car
SAPOL patrol car with The Festival State plates and State Badge. Source: Wikimedia

Apart from the Piping Shrike being our State Bird Emblem, we have a total of 7 State Emblems. State emblems are plants, animals or objects that have special meaning for our State. They are things that are particularly abundant or unique to South Australia and favourably represent our State.

South Australia's Floral Emblem
Captain Charles Sturt is featured again with the naming of our state floral emblem. Sturt's Desert Pea (Swainsona Formosa) was officially adopted on 23rd November 1961. The desert pea is found over a greater range of South Australia than almost any other plant. It thrives in the arid areas that receive less than 40 centimetres of rain per year.

The pea was formerly known as Clianthus Dampieri, named after William Dampier who first collected it on his visit to the north-west in the seventeenth century. It was while Captain Charles Sturt was on his "Expedition into Central Australia" that he wrote of the remarkable desert plant with such striking colour. Sturt's name has become synonymous with the desert pea ever since.

Sturt's Desert Pea
Sturt's Desert Pea (©paula mcmanus)

South Australia's Faunal Emblem
The official State faunal emblem of South Australia is the Hairy-Nosed or Plains Wombat (Lasiorhinus Latifrons). Our hairy-nosed wombat lives in the semi-arid and arid zones of South Australia, particularly on the Eyre Peninsula, Gawler Ranges and the Nullarbor Plain. There are small colonies on the Murray River, Yorke Peninsula and in the south-east of Western Australia. The wombat was adopted as our official emblem by the Government on the 27th August 1970.

The Hairy-Nosed Wombat is a thick-set powerful mammal with a broad blunt head, small pointed ears, short muscular legs, strongly clawed feet and a rudimentary tail. It has soft grey-brown silky fur.

hairy nosed wombat
Hairy Nosed Wombat (©paula mcmanus)

South Australia's Gemstone Emblem
Opal was officially named South Australia's gemstone emblem on 5th August 1985. It is also the National Gemstone Emblem with Governor-General, the Hon Bill Hayden AC, proclaiming opal as Australia's national gemstone on 27 July 1993.

Opal is a colourful and valuable precious gemstone. The state's three major opal fields in Coober Pedy, Mintabie and Andamooka supply eighty percent of the total world production.

South Australian Opal
South Australian Opal (©paula mcmanus)

South Australia's Mineral Emblem
Bornite was officially named South Australia's mineral emblem on 28th June 2017

Bornite is known as a Peacock Ore due to is iridescent colours of blue, purple, red, green and yellow. It was due to its strong historic connection which began in Kapunda in 1844 that Bornite was chosen as our mineral emblem.

Bornite. Image by CoffeeVampire from Pixabay

South Australia's Marine Emblem
The Leafy seadragon (Phycodurus eques) was adopted as South Australia's Marine Emblem on 8th February 2001. The Leafy Seadragon is a relative of the seahorse and pipe fish (Syngnathidae) and is found along Australia's southern coast.

Classified as near threatened, leafy seadragons attract divers from all over the world. They come to get a glimpse of this enigmatic marine species, which are usually seen on the Spencer and St Vincent gulfs.

Found among patches of kelp and seaweed, usually in sandy areas and at depths of less than 30m. They live a mainly solitary existence with a life cycle of between five to seven years.

Leafy Seadragon
Leafy Seadragon (©paula mcmanus)

South Australia's Fossil Emblem
Spriggina floundersi was chosen in a public poll and officially declared a State emblem on 14th February 2017. South Australia has a unique fossil heritage and there were ultimately 4 fossil candidates on the shortlist. All of them are fossils of ancient marine creatures who lived in the Flinders Ranges 645 to 542 million years ago when the area was an inland sea.

Found only in South Australia, Spriggina Floundersi is named after South Australian geologist Reg Sprigg who discovered it. It has a curved head and a segmented body tapering towards the tail end.

Spriggina floundersi
Spriggina floundersi. Source: Wikimedia

Help us improve  Click here if you liked this article  117
Share: email  facebook  twitter
Why? State emblems are plants, animals or objects that have special meaning for our State. They are things that are particularly abundant or unique to South Australia and favourably represent our State.
Your Comment
Congratulations, winning second place.
by Bryony Harrison (score: 4|12626) 477 days ago
A very interesting article Paula.
by Gayle Beveridge (score: 3|8098) 478 days ago
Interesting read Paula. Congrats on the silver.
by Diana (score: 2|719) 476 days ago
Great article! Very interesting
by Rota (score: 2|717) 476 days ago
Top Events
Popular Articles