The kangaroo has been a symbol of Australia since 1773, after an official accont of Captain Cook's voyage to Australia was printed in England. In the account was the first ever published illustration of a kangaroo, using an engraving made of a specimen that was brought back to England from the Endeavour River (in Far North Queensland). The distinctive features of this unusual marsupial helped it capture the imagination of the public across Britain and Europe.
The first published illustration of a kangaroo, in 1773.
The kangaroo was included in Australia's Coat of Arms in 1908, giving it official recognition. Along with the emu which sits on the other side of the shield, these two native Australian animals represent the nation moving forward. Both the kangaroo and emu can only move backwards with great difficulty.
A Lancaster bomber of the RAAF No. 463 Squadron with nose art showing a kangaroo. In its pouch is a joey punching Adolph Hitler.
In the Second World War, some units of the Australian airforce based in Singapore and Malaya began to paint boxing kangaroos on the their fighter planes, as "nose art", in an effort to distinguish them from British planes. This practice soon spread across other units of the airforce, as well as the Royal Australian Navy. The official symbol now used on RAAF planes and RAN ships is a red kangaroo.
A German poster of a kangaroo boxing a man, from the 1890s.
Contrary to popular belief (both in Australia and overseas), kangaroos do not actually punch or box. When male kangaroos engage in combat, they instead balance on their tales and use their powerful hindlegs to kick at their opponent and attempt to tear them apart, using their sharp claws. They often use their smaller forelegs to try hold their opponent in place, which is what gives the impression that they are "boxing". Sometimes kangaroos try to claw their opponent's eyes out.
Even though kangaroos tend to kick and scratch, rather than box or punch as we perhaps like to imagine, they still make for a spectacular show when they are sparring - as you can see in this video filmed by a woman in NSW.
The Australia II, which won the Americas Cup in 1983.
The Boxing Kangaroo flag was made famous by the Australia II team when they won the America's cup in 1983. The Australian crew raised the Boxing Kangaroo on their yacht, instead of the Australian national flag, and declared the Boxing Kangaroo to be their official mascot. Australia's victory in the famous yacht race was remarkable for it ended the 132-year defence of the cup by the New York Yacht Club.
The Boxing Kangaroo flag at the Vancouver 2010 Athletes Village.
The Boxing Kangaroo, sometimes affectionately known as "BK", is often flown by Australians who feel there is something inherently wrong with our national flag. At international sporting events the Boxing Kangaroo is almost as prevalent amongst Australian spectators as the national flag. The Boxing Kangaroo is said to embody the self-confidence and "have a go" fighting spirit of Australians.
If you're interested in owning a Boxing Kangaroo flag, you can buy one here.