Symbolic honours

Symbolic honours

Keys to the city

Presenting a symbolic key to the city is the highest honour a city can confer upon an individual or an organisation.

The tradition dates back to medieval times when many cities were enclosed within walled fortifications. The key symbolised the political relationship between a city and the king or ruler of the land where it was located.

When the ruler visited the city for the first time after assuming power, authorities would formally greet him at the gates and hand over a key to signify the city was now under his control. The key would then be returned by the ruler to acknowledge he intended to respect the political authority of those who administered the city.

The key to the City of Sydney is traditionally presented by the Lord Mayor at a civic ceremony to acknowledging the contribution an individual or organisation has made to further the ideals of the City, or to recognise outstanding achievement in sport or humanitarian work at an international level.

Main picture shows Lord Mayor Harry Jensen presenting Tania Verstak, Miss Australia and Miss International, with a key to the city in 1962.

Keys of the city

Among others, the key to the City of Sydney has been awarded to Nelson Mandela (1990), Dame Joan Sutherland (1991), Jørn Utzon (1998), Juan Antonio Samaranch (2000), Aung San Suu Kyi (2003), John Bell AO (2015), Jan Gehl (2017) and various Australian Olympic, Paralympic and other sporting teams and personalities. 

Freedom of the city

Freedom of entry to the city is a ceremonial honour that became popular during the 19th century, which draws some inspiration from medieval history.

A military or civilian unit accorded this privilege is granted the right of entry to the city "with bayonets fixed, colours flying and drums beating".

This award is restricted to Australian military and civilian units that have, through their command, a significant attachment to the city. It is conferred in recognition of their achievement while on active service or overseas duty, or as a mark of respect and gratitude for their efforts in the defence of Australia.

Freedom of entry to the city is celebrated with a parade of the unit through the city streets to Sydney Town Hall and the presentation of a scroll and the city's flag.

Freedom of entry parade Navy officers lead a Freedom of Entry parade for the Australian Navy Fleet in 1992.

Last updated: Wednesday, 9 August 2017