CNN  — 

Australia’s national flower, the golden wattle, has long appeared on stamps, emblems and awards, and is considered a symbol of unity in the country.

But its use in a new logo promoting Australia’s interests overseas has proven divisive, with some even likening the design to depictions of the coronavirus.

The controversial logo, which its designers say was partly inspired by Aboriginal art and culture, was suggested by the Nation Brand Advisory Council and approved by Australia’s trade minister, Simon Birmingham. And while the council’s proposal was submitted back in December 2019 – long before Covid-19 was classified as a global pandemic – social media users were quick to draw comparisons.

“I can’t believe they have changed the Australian made logo to look like this, it looks like a virus,” wrote Marck Coure, a New South Wales MP, on Twitter.

Queensland MP Duncan Pegg meanwhile tweeted, “Wouldn’t it have been better to get school students involved to design a new one?” He added: “I know they would do a better job than this rubbish!”

Both politicians were among a number of social media users to imply the wattle will replace the kangaroo symbol used to signify Australia-made products. But the golden wattle is reportedly intended to supersede the boomerang logo used by Australia Unlimited, which promotes the country’s overseas trade and investment.

In an attempt to quell confusion, Australian Made issued a statement clarifying that the green and gold kangaroo will “continue its pivotal role in Australia’s domestic and overseas branding strategy.”

The Nation Brand Advisory Council, which comprises figures from across business, media and the arts, nonetheless questioned the effectiveness of a kangaroo logo in its rebranding proposal, asking whether the animal would “shift perceptions of our nation, or simply reinforce what people already knew about us.”

Conversely, the report said, the golden wattle symbol “provides a blank canvas, to tell a new Australian story.”

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack told Australia’s 9News that both symbols would be used to promote the country’s interests, saying that the “wattle is to attract attention at international trade shows.” Birmingham earlier confirmed to the channel that kangaroos, meanwhile, would “continue to be a key part of Australia’s marketing and logos from our Air Force to our tourism campaigns, our national airline and our sporting teams.”

Historic significance

Despite proving unpopular online, the golden wattle logo was intended to symbolize the flower’s historic importance to both indigenous and non-indigenous Australians. According to the Nation Brand Advisory Council’s proposal, the dotted design was inspired by Aboriginal art and was created in partnership with an indigenous design firm.

Found across the country, the golden wattle was traditionally used by Aboriginal communities, who would produce a toffee-like substance from its gum. Tannin from its bark was also known for having antiseptic properties. Colonial settlers later cultivated the plant for use in the tanning industry and to produce glue and honey, according to Australia’s government.

“The wattle has a long held significance for those that walk our land,” read the council’s proposal, which also outlines a new color palette and typeface for Australia’s so-called Nation Brand. “In Indigenous tradition the blooming of the wattle denotes that the bush has come alive with growth. Each dot represents individuals and the coming together of diversity. The animals are plentiful and the fish are full and fat.

“The hearty resilience of the wattle has come to represent the enduring spirit of the Australian people,” it added.

The council’s report said that market testing had indicated a positive response to the new branding, with approval rating of over 70% among respondents. “Appeal for the wattle logo is strong,” it claims.

Some on social media were more supportive of the idea. MasterChef Australia winner Adam Liaw took to Twitter to defend the thinking behind the design.

“Unpopular opinion, but pre-COVID this would’ve been great,” he wrote. “Gold and the ‘Au’ mark (also the elemental symbol for gold) establishes Australia as a premium brand, particularly through Asia.”

Australia Unlimited, the Nation Brand Advisory Council and the trade minister’s office have not yet responded to CNN’s request for comment.