The University of Sydney's coat of arms

The University of Sydney
Desription of the arms from the Grant

Argent on a Cross Azure and open book proper, clasps Gold, between four Stars of eight points Or, on a chief Gules a Lion passant Guardant also Or, together with this motto "Sidere mens eadem mutato" ... to be borne and used forever herafter by the said University of Sydney on their Common Seal, Shields or otherwise according to the Law of Arms.

- From the Grant of Arms, 1857

  • The lion in the top third of the shield ("the chief" in heraldic terms) symbolised England and Cambridge simultaneously.
  • The open book in the centre of the cross was said to be taken from the arms of Oxford, although it is used extensively in academic arms.
  • The blue cross with stars had been used for some time as an unofficial symbol for New South Wales, although there were usually five stars, one in the centre and one on each arm, and these stars were either five- or six-pointed.
    (The arrangement of eight-pointed stars may have been meant to recall the arms granted to the Church of England Diocese of Australia two decades before.)
  • The motto, "Sidere Mens Eadem Mutato" as devised by Merewether was left unchanged.

The motto has been variously translated over the years. A good motto will rarely bear literal translation, more important is the general sense and implication of the sentiment it expresses or the admonition it conveys.

If a literal translation is required, then "The constellation is changed, the disposition is the same" is perhaps appropriate. The ablative absolute in Latin can be used in place of a number of other constructions. Here it probably has a concessive force. "though the constellation is changed..." sidus means primarily in Latin 'a group of stars', 'a constellation'. To translate simply 'star', as many of the suggested translations do, is incorrect. Again, mens in latin has a much wider range of meanings than 'mind', 'the mental functioning of human animals': here, the sense is clearly disposition, e.g. towards learning and scholarship.
Hence it is easy to arrive at the general sense: "The traditions of the older Universities of the Northern Hemisphere are continued in here in the Southern."

Suggestions over the next several years to seek the addition of a Crown to the coat of arms, initially rejected and then endorsed by the Senate, were never followed through. While the acquisition of the grant of arms was, in itself, a significant boost to the university’s prestige, the inclusion of a Royal Crown, requiring permission directly from the Sovereign herself, would have been a great mark of favour.