When the First Fleet arrived at Sydney Cove in Port Jackson on 26 January 1788, the convict and naval artists aboard were quickly set to work. This image, only recently discovered in England, is from a collection of 56 watercolours attributed to George Raper (1769–1797), a midshipman aboard HMS Sirius. The watercolours show birds and flowers of the Port Jackson area between 1788 and 1790—probably between June and November 1789, when the Sirius was under repairs at Careening Cove, now Mosman Bay. Raper’s talent was not unusual in the Royal Navy. Officers who had to record coastal profiles and create maps were taught the basics of drawing and watercolour painting.

1. Display this painting, explaining to your students that it is from the first years of European settlement in Australia. Discuss the following questions with the class:

  • Have you ever seen a waratah? Why do you think Raper chose to paint this flower when he first saw it?
  • What are some other animals, birds and flowers that Europeans might have seen for the first time when they arrived in Australia?
  • Are there plants, animals and birds that are unique to your part of Australia?

Invite students to draw a picture of a plant, bird or animal that is distinctly Australian.

2. Display the following three images of artworks for your students.

As a class, try to identify some of the different plants and animals that have been used in these artworks. Then ask students to select their favourite piece and write a short explanation about why they like it.

3. Conduct a class brainstorm about emblems:

  • What are emblems?
  • Why do we use emblems?
  • What are some examples of emblems (e.g. school emblem, club emblem)?

Research Australia’s national emblems and official symbols, and the emblems of your state or territory.

4. Invite your students to design an emblem for their family. Encourage students to think about plants, animals or other objects that have relevance to them and their family.