History and role of the Mace
During medieval times, the Royal Serjeants-at-Arms were distinguished by their power of arrest without a warrant. To an increasing extent, their Maces - originally ordinary weapons of war, similar to a club - became their emblems of authority. They were stamped with the Royal Arms; and in an age in which few men could read or write, the Serjeants effected their arrests by showing their Maces and not by producing any form of written warrant.
The evolution of maces from weapons of war to symbolic representations has seen the flanged head decrease in size into an ornamental bracket, while the butt end, which carried the Royal Arms, has expanded to accommodate larger and more ornate Royal Arms and an arched crown surmounted by an orb and cross. As a result of the expansion of the butt end, maces began to be carried upside down with the crown uppermost.
Symbolism and Use of the Mace
The Mace of the House of Representatives is the symbol not only of the Royal authority but of the authority of the House. As it has been stated that 'the authority of the Speaker and of the House are indivisible', it also symbolises the authority of the Speaker.
Before the election of a Speaker, the Mace is placed on brackets under the Table of the House and as soon as the Speaker takes his or her seat after being elected by the House, it is placed on rests on the Table (see Standing Order 12).
When the Speaker is in the Chair, the Mace lies on the Table, with the orb and cross surmounting it pointing to the government side, that is, to the Speaker's right. The only time that the Mace is not removed from the Table when the Speaker leaves the Chair is when he or she has temporarily suspended a sitting of the House (perhaps for a meal break). The Mace remains on the Table during the whole of the suspension.
The Serjeant-At-Arms is custodian of the Mace. Bearing the Mace upon the right shoulder, the Serjeant-at-Arms precedes the Speaker when the Speaker enters and leaves the Chamber at the beginning and the end of a day's sitting.
The Mace, carried by the Serjeant-at-Arms, has become an important symbol of the authority of the Speaker and of the House itself. There is a view that the House is not properly constituted unless the Mace is present on the brackets in the Chamber.
The Mace also accompanies the Speaker on formal occasions such as his or her presentation to the Governor-General after election, when the House goes to the Senate to hear the Governor-General's opening speech, and on the presentation to the Governor-General of the Address in Reply to the opening speech. On these occasions, the Mace is covered with a cloth or left in an antechamber before entering the Governor-General's presence. Being the symbol of the Royal authority, the Mace is unnecessary in the presence of the authority itself.
The Current Mace
The current Mace of the House of Representatives was presented by a delegation of the House of Commons in 1951 after King George VI had directed 'that a Mace, a symbol of the Royal authority, should be presented, on behalf of the Commons House of the Parliament of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, to the House of Representatives of the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia to mark the Jubilee year of the Commonwealth's foundation'.
It is made of silver gilt and weighs approximately 7.8 kg.
From the first sitting on 9 May 1901 until the presentation of the new Mace in 1951 the House used a Mace borrowed from the Victorian Legislative Assembly.