History of the academic dress
The gowns worn today have their origins in the lay and monastic costumes of the early middle ages. Education was the preserve of monasteries until the twelfth century, when universities were established at Bologna and Paris, both cathedral cities. The masters and students, those below the rank of priests, dressed in a gown, hood and cap, as did their secular contemporaries, while the Doctors and Masters of Theology, the priests, wore a full cape with slits for the arms and an opening for the head. By the fifteenth century, these fully closed and heavy garments had given way to a tunica which was buttoned at the front. In England, fashion dictated an open academic tunic and gradually the linings became more and more elaborate. Eventually some even showed visible facings of silk or fur.
The trencher has evolved from the pileus or hat worn at Oxford and Cambridge around the seventeenth century. The square cap of the day had grown so large and loose that its corners drooped over the face and a board was inserted into the fabric for support. Beneath this was traditionally worn a skull cap. The trencher or mortar-board grew from the combination of the cap and overlaying square. The hoods, which grew out of the practical all-weather head covering, have now diversified in cut and linings to indicate various degrees and universities.
The colours of academic dress at universities are now fully codified. At Macquarie, Doctors of Laws, Letters and Science, for example, wear gowns of scarlet with the facings and sleeve-linings of amethyst silk (Doctor of Laws), white silk (Doctor of Letters) or tartan green silk (Doctor of Science) while the gown of Doctor of the University is trimmed with gold silk. The gowns' hoods are lined to match and the black velvet bonnet has a gold cord and tassel. Doctor of Philosophy however, wears a gown of claret with the facings and hood linings in a lighter shade of claret silk. The black velvet bonnet worn by the graduands has a claret-coloured cord and tassel. Those who have gained their bachelors or masters degree wear black cloth gowns, a hood of gold silk trimmed with a colour which denotes the faculty in which they were enrolled and a black trencher.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sashes are worn by Indigenous Australian students and staff as a demonstration of cultural pride. The colours in the sashes are derived from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags. The colours in the Aboriginal sash are black, representing the Aboriginal peoples, yellow representing the sun and red representing the earth. In the Torres Strait Islander sash, green represents the land, blue represents the sea and black represents the Torres Strait Islander people.
In 2011 Lachlan McDaniel became one of Australia's first Indigenous students to graduate in a possum skin cloak. His attire represents not only links with Macquarie University's namesake, but a new era for Australian universities in integrating and celebrating Indigenous culture. McDaniel's father sought permission from the Wiradjuri Council of Elders to start a cloak-making project and has since taught Lachlan the art.
The University mace
The ceremonial mace is a highly ornamented staff of metal or wood, carried before a sovereign or other high official in civic ceremonies by a mace-bearer, intended to represent the official's authority. The Mace, as used today, derives from the original mace used as a weapon, carried into battle by mediaeval bishops.
Later, maces began to have a ceremonial function and were borne by sergeants-at-arms within the royal bodyguard. By the late sixteenth century increasing attention was paid to its ornamentation with precious metals, and even jewels. Processions often feature maces, as on parliamentary or formal academic occasions.
For the first 16 years of Macquarie graduations, there was no ceremonial mace as it was deemed to require a single generous benefactor. Instead the graduation attendant carried a staff that was frequently referred to as a 'billiard cue'. The old billiard cue has since transformed into our Ceremonial staff, where the new design lends inspiration from the Mace, and is carried by the Registrar during graduation.
In 1980 the Women's Group funded the design and work for the ceremonial mace you see today, which features the Sirius star at the head and a silver-plated representation of the Macquarie Lighthouse at the base.