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History of the Maltese Cross

We're all familiar with the Maltese Cross, but perhaps many of us don't know the history of this symbol through which we identify ourselves as an organisation - or even why we've come to wear this striking symbol on our uniforms.

To get the answers we need, we have to track back to the eleventh century. If we can put ourselves in this era for a moment: the Sistine Chapel was a couple of hundred of years away from being built (let alone painted by Michelangelo), rock art in the Arnhem Land Plateau begins to depict a new musical instrument called the didgeridoo and the 1066 Battle of Hastings is still a fresh memory for William the Conqueror.

To cross the globe some 3,500 kilometres, we now find ourselves in Jerusalem. The year is 1099 and two years previously, a host of crusaders left Western Europe to travel towards Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul) and then, onto Jerusalem. The month is now June of this same year, and the crusaders have descended on Jerusalem. Amidst this tumultuous backdrop, a group of monks (anecdotally called the ‘Hospitallers'), based in Jerusalem, are treating ill pilgrims in their city as they have done for centuries. Now the crusaders have descended, they will go to support the thousands of crusaders who inevitably will require treatment.

These ‘Knights of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem' (as the monks were officially called) were required to go onto the battlefields and tend to the sick and injured. They immediately realised two important points for consideration: Firstly, they would need to dress in armour from head to toe and secondly, they needed a symbol to show that they were friend, not foe. In fact, their lives depended on it.

So they chose the "Cross of Calvary" as the symbol to identify themselves with. Upon wearing this symbol, which accompanied them to the frontline in the name of first aid, the Knights "received status that became the envy of kings, princes and princesses". They were master mariners, builders, and navigators. They were the first firefighters and the first paramedics - at least the first organised group." (The Knight in History, Frances Gies, 1984). As a reward for their selflessness, the cross worn by these Knights was decorated and inscribed by their admirers. It came to be known as the most honorable badge of acclaim that could adorn a uniform.

So how did this Cross come to be known as the Maltese Cross? The answer is quite straightforward. After the fall of Jerusalem in 1187, the Knights evolved to safeguard the perilous routes taken by medieval pilgrims and they eventually came to Malta in 1530, where they stayed for 268 years.

The humanitarian deeds of the now named, ‘Knights of Malta' continued throughout these two centuries, as they built numerous hospitals and healthcare facilities across the Mediterranean. Throughout this time, they continued to wear this symbol with pride, to publicly denote their real concern for the welfare of others.

Within this historical context, we can now place the Ambulance Service of NSW in the picture. If we fast forward several hundred years, to 1895, we find ourselves in a borrowed police station; located off a ramp near Central Station in the heart of Sydney - and the home of our first ambulance station.

Our ambulances were then horsedrawn and two permanent officers were on-call at any given time to respond to medical emergencies across Sydney. During this period the ‘Ambulance Bearers' (as they were then called) wore a red cross on their badge to signify their humanitarian role to others.

By the turn of the century we were fast evolving, and in 1920 our organisation reached a pivotal year in its history. The (then called) NSW Ambulance Transport Service had its first board meeting on Monday 15 March of this same year, and some two months later, on Wednesday 12 May at 8pm, the Board met to confirm the design through which we would continue to identify ourselves - the Maltese Cross.

The minutes of this historical meeting were then typeset and bound into a hard-cover book, now consisting of some 500 faded pages. It is within these pages, that our first design of the Maltese Cross is enclosed. And it is within these same pages that the original design still remains bold, vibrant and relevant; despite the passing of time since this pivotal meeting. The design has further evolved in the decades that passed since this meeting, now culminating in the symbol NSW paramedics wear today; the symbol through which we identify ourselves as an organisation.

The Maltese Cross is indeed an admirable symbol in support of an honourable vocation; a vocation which (officially, at least) began close to 1000 years ago.

The four arms traditionally represent:
Faith, Justice, Temperance and Fortitude.

The eight points traditionally represent Chivalric values:
Observation, Tact, Resource, Dexterity, Sympathy, Perseverance, Discrimination and Explicitness.

ib au prayer

The four arms traditionally represent: Faith, Justice, Temperance and Fortitude.

The eight points traditionally represent Chivalric values: Observation, Tact, Resource, Dexterity, Sympathy, Perseverance, Discrimination and Explicitness.