When the Chief Justice accepted the presentation of an oar mace of Admiralty by members of the New South Wales judiciary and legal profession in Sydney on 6 October 1994, the Federal Court joined other courts with similar symbols of the jurisdiction in New South Wales, New York, Massachusetts, Canada, Calcutta, Sri Lanka and Bermuda. A second Federal Court Southern Ocean Oar Mace was presented to the Court by the Maritime Law Association of Australia and New Zealand in Melbourne in a ceremonial sitting on 29 October 1999. A third oar mace was also presented to the Court by the Maritime Law Association of Australia and New Zealand in a ceremonial sitting in Brisbane on 6 September 2006 to honour the memory of the late Justice Richard Cooper of this Court.
The Admiralty mace is derived from maces used in battle in England from the twelfth century. The oar mace of the English Admiralty Court was first mentioned in a letter describing Court proceedings in 1459. The first representation of the mace can be found on the tomb of Doctor Lewis, an Admiralty Judge in the sixteenth century.
The design of the Federal Court oar maces of Admiralty are based on the silver oar of the High Court of Admiralty of England and bear the foul anchor that has been the seal of the Lord High Admiral since the sixteenth century.
The Federal Court maces are the first ever to bear the arms of Australia, thus signifying the sovereign source of admiralty jurisdiction in Australia today, and the jurisdiction of the Court in admiralty.
The oar mace figures in seventeenth century accounts of trials for piracy and murder, and it was established practice to carry the oar at executions ordered at Admiralty sessions, including the execution of the pirate Captain William Kidd in 1701.
The stand for the Federal Court mace has a history of its own. It is made of timber from the HMAS Brisbane, the first navy cruiser to be built in Australia. The Brisbane carried out patrol duties in the Indian Ocean during World War I, later patrolling the Pacific Islands following the reported presence of a German raider in September 1917. After World War I she served with the Royal Navy's China Squadron in 1925 and was the first RAN ship to visit Japan. She was finally decommissioned in September 1935 and broken up in 1936.
The oar maces for the Federal Court of Australia were hand crafted by Mr Ernst Pfenninger a designer, goldsmith & silversmith from Sydney, Australia, who was commissioned to make these unique items of historical value and significant importance.