Flag of Australia

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Flag of Australia.svg
Use National flag and state ensign
Proportion 1:2
Adopted 11 February 1903[1]
in use from 3 September 1901
23 February 1908 (current seven-pointed Commonwealth Star version)
Design A Blue Ensign defaced with the Commonwealth Star (also known as the Federation Star) in the lower hoist quarter and the five stars of the Southern Cross in the fly half.
Civil Ensign of Australia.svg
Variant flag of Australia
Name Australian Red Ensign
Use Civil ensign
Proportion 1:2
Design A Red Ensign defaced with the Commonwealth/Federation Star at the hoist, and the Southern Cross in the fly half
Naval Ensign of Australia.svg
Variant flag of Australia
Name Australian White Ensign
Use Naval ensign
Proportion 1:2
Adopted First used on RAN ships in 1967.
Design A defaced British White Ensign without the cross. The cross is replaced with the Southern Cross and the Commonwealth Star/Federation Star.

The flag of Australia is a defaced Blue Ensign: a blue field with the Union Jack in the canton (upper hoist quarter), and a large white seven-pointed star known as the Commonwealth Star in the lower hoist quarter. The fly contains a representation of the Southern Cross constellation, made up of five white stars – one small five-pointed star and four, larger, seven-pointed stars. There are other official flags representing Australia, its people and core functions of government.

The flag's original design (with a six-pointed Commonwealth Star) was chosen in 1901 from entries in a competition held following Federation, and was first flown in Melbourne on 3 September 1901,[2] the date proclaimed as Australian National Flag Day.[3] A slightly different design was approved by King Edward VII in 1903.[1][4] The seven-pointed commonwealth star version was introduced by a proclamation dated 23 February 1908.[5][6] The dimensions were formally gazetted in 1934,[7] and in 1954 the flag became recognised by, and legally defined in, the Flags Act 1953, as the "Australian National Flag".


The Australian flag uses three prominent symbols: the Union Flag, the Commonwealth Star (also the Federation Star) and the Southern Cross (or Crux).[4]

In its original usage as the flag of United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, the Union Flag combined three heraldic crosses which represent the constituent countries of the United Kingdom (as constituted in 1801):[8]

The Union Flag is thought to symbolise Australia's history as six British colonies and the principles upon which the Australian Federation is based,[4][9] although a more historic view sees its inclusion in the design as demonstrating loyalty to the British Empire.[10]

The Commonwealth Star, also known as the Federation Star,[4] originally had six points, representing the six federating colonies. In 1908, a seventh point was added to symbolise the Papua and any future territories.[4][11] Another rationale for the change was to match the star used on the Coat of Arms, which was created in the same year. The Commonwealth Star does not have any official relation to Beta Centauri, despite the latter's brightness and location in the sky; however, the 1870 version of the flag of South Australia featured the "pointer" stars, Alpha and Beta Centauri.[12][13]

The Southern Cross is one of the most distinctive constellations visible in the Southern Hemisphere,[4] and has been used to represent Australia since the early days of British settlement.[4] Ivor Evans, one of the flag's designers, intended the Southern Cross to also refer to the four moral virtues ascribed to the four main stars by Dante: justice, prudence, temperance and fortitude.[14] The number of points on the stars of the Southern Cross on the modern Australian flag differs from the original competition-winning design, in which they ranged between five and nine points each, representing their relative brightness in the night sky.[4] The stars are named after the first five letters of the Greek alphabet, in decreasing order of brightness in the sky.[4] In order to simplify manufacture, the British Admiralty standardised the four larger outer stars at seven points each, leaving the smaller, more central star with five points. This change was officially gazetted on 23 February 1903.[4]

A complete specification for the official design was published in the Commonwealth Gazette in 1934.[15]


Construction sheet for the flag of Australia. The length of the flag is twice the width.

Under the Flags Act, the Australian National Flag must meet the following specifications:[16]

  • the Union Flag occupying the upper quarter next the staff;[17]
  • a large seven-pointed white star (six representing the six states of Australia and one representing the territories) in the centre of the lower quarter next the staff and pointing direct to the centre of St George's Cross in the Union Flag;[17]
  • five white stars (representing the Southern Cross) in the half of the flag further from the staff.[17]

The location of the stars is as follows:[17]

  • Commonwealth Star – 7-pointed star, centred in lower hoist.[17]
  • Alpha Crucis – 7-pointed star, straight below centre fly ​16 up from bottom edge.[17]
  • Beta Crucis – 7-pointed star, ​14 of the way left and ​116 up from the centre fly.[17]
  • Gamma Crucis – 7-pointed star, straight above centre fly ​16 down from top edge.[17]
  • Delta Crucis – 7-pointed star, ​29 of the way right and ​31240 up from the centre fly.[17]
  • Epsilon Crucis – 5-pointed star, ​110 of the way right and ​124 down from the centre fly.[17]

The outer diameter of the Commonwealth Star is ​310 of the flag's width, while that of the stars in the Southern Cross is ​17 of the flag's width, except for Epsilon, for which the fraction is ​112. Each star's inner diameter is ​49 of the outer diameter. The flag's width is the measurement of the hoist edge of the flag (the distance from top to bottom).[17]


Darker version of the flag using RGB approximations of official Pantone colours

The colours of the flag, although not specified by the Flags Act, have been given Pantone specifications by the Awards and Culture Branch of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.[18] The Australian Government's Style Manual for Authors, Editors and Printers also gives CMYK and RGB specifications for depicting the flag in print and on screen respectively.[19]

Scheme Blue Red White Source(s)
Pantone 280 C 185 C Safe [20][21]
CMYK 100%–80%–0%–0% 0%–100%–100%–0% 0%–0%–0%–0% [19]

The blue shade also has a web-safe colour of #000099, used for certain digital screens that may have trouble displaying the shade of blue in the table above. The flag may be reproduced in a single colour, with the colour being either black or one of the two colours of the flag, albeit blue is generally preferred for single-colour productions.[19]


Guidelines for flying the flag are laid out in the 1953 Flags Act and in a pamphlet entitled "The Australian National Flag", which is published by the Australian Government on an infrequent basis. The guidelines say that the Australian National Flag is allowed to be flown on every day of the year,[22] and that it "should be treated with respect and dignity it deserves as the nation's most important national symbol".[23]

The National Flag must always be flown in a position superior to that of any other flag or ensign when flown in Australia or on Australian territory, and it should always be flown aloft and free.[23] The flag must be flown in all government buildings and displayed in polling stations when there is a national election or referendum.[24] Private pleasure craft can fly either the Red Ensign or the Australian National Flag.[25] The British Blue Ensign can be flown on an Australian owned ship instead of the Australian Flag if the owner has a warrant valid under British law.[26]

The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet also advises that the flag should only be flown during daylight hours, unless it is illuminated. Two flags should not be flown from the same flagpole.[23] The flag should not be displayed upside down under any circumstances, not even to express a situation of distress.[23] The flag is not to be placed or dropped on the ground, nor should it be used to cover an object in the lead-up to an unveiling ceremony, or to hide other material. Flags that have decayed or faded should not be displayed.[23]

According to a government publication, old or decayed flags should be disposed of in private "in a dignified way"; a method given as an example is to cut the flag into small pieces before being placed in the waste.[23]

The flag flying

When the flag is flown at half-mast, it should be recognisably at half-mast, for example, a third of the way down from the top of the pole. The Australian Flag should never be flown half mast at night. Flags are flown at half-mast on government buildings:[27]

  • On the death of the sovereign – from the time of announcement of the death up to and including the funeral. On the day the accession of the new sovereign is proclaimed, it is customary to raise the flag to the top of the mast from 11 am.
  • On the death of a member of the royal family.
  • On the death of the governor-general or a former governor-general.
  • On the death of a distinguished Australian citizen. Flags in any locality may be flown at half-mast on the death of a notable local citizen or on the day, or part of the day, of their funeral.
  • On the death of the head of state of another country with which Australia has diplomatic relations—the flag would be flown on the day of the funeral.
  • On ANZAC Day the flag is flown at half-mast until noon.
  • On Remembrance Day flags are flown at peak until 10:30 am, at half-mast from 10:30 am to 11:03 am, then at peak for the remainder of the day.[27]

The Department provides a subscription-based email service called the Commonwealth Flag Network, which gives information on national occasions to fly the flag at half-mast as well as national days of commemoration and celebration of the flag.[28]

The Australian National Flag may be used for commercial or advertising purposes without formal permission as long as the flag is used in a dignified manner and reproduced completely and accurately; it should not be defaced by overprinting with words or illustrations, it should not be covered by other objects in displays, and all symbolic parts of the flag should be identifiable.[21][24] It also must sit first (typically, left) where more than one flag is used. For this reason the Collingwood Football Club had to reverse its logo, which features the flag.[citation needed]

There have been several attempts to make desecration of the Australian flag a crime. In 1953, during the second reading debate on the Flags Act, the leader of the Opposition, Arthur Calwell, unsuccessfully called for provisions to be added to the bill to criminalise desecration. Michael Cobb introduced private member's bills in 1989, 1990, 1991 and 1992 to ban desecration, but on each occasion the bill lapsed.[29] In 2002, the leader of the National Party, John Anderson, proposed to introduce laws banning desecration of the Australian flag, a call that attracted support from some parliamentarians both in his own party and the senior Coalition partner, the Liberal Party. The Prime Minister, John Howard, rejected the calls stating that "...in the end I guess it's part of the sort of free speech code that we have in this country".[30] In 2003, the Australian Flags (Desecration of the Flag) Bill was tabled in Parliament by Trish Draper without support from Howard and subsequently lapsed.[31] In 2006, following a flag-burning incident during the 2005 Cronulla riots and a burnt flag display by a Melbourne artist, Liberal MP Bronwyn Bishop introduced the Protection of the Australian National Flag (Desecration of the Flag) Bill 2006. This bill sought to make it "a criminal offence to wilfully destroy or otherwise mutilate the Flag in circumstances where a reasonable person would infer that the destruction or mutilation is intended publicly to express contempt or disrespect for the Flag or the Australian Nation."[32] The bill received a second reading but subsequently lapsed and did not go to vote in the House of Representatives.


Before 1901, what is now Australia was six separate British colonies. The Union Flag, as the flag of the British Empire,[4] was first used on Australian soil on 29 April 1770 when Lieutenant James Cook landed at Botany Bay, and it was again used at the start of European settlement of the country on 26 January 1788.[33] This was the original Union Flag introduced in 1606 that did not include the Saint Patrick's Saltire, included from 1801 after the Acts of Union 1801. It is the second version post 1801 that is depicted on the Australian Flag. It was often used to represent them collectively, and each colony also had its own flag based on the Union Flag.[33] During the nineteenth century several flag movements were formed and unofficial new flags came into common usage.[33] Two attempts were made throughout the nineteenth century to design a national flag. The first such attempt was the National Colonial Flag created in 1823–1824 by Captains John Nicholson and John Bingle.[33] This flag consisted of a red cross on a white background, with an eight-point star on each of the four limbs of the cross, while incorporating a Union Flag in the canton.[33] The most popular "national" flag of the period was the 1831 Federation Flag, also designed by Nicholson. This flag was the same at the National Colonial Flag, except that the cross was blue instead of resembling that of St. George. Although the flag was designed by Nicholson in 1831, it did not become widely popular until the latter part of the century, as the movement towards federation progressed.[33] These flags, and many others such as the Eureka Flag (which came into use at the Eureka Stockade in 1854), featured stars representing the Southern Cross.[33] The oldest known flag to show the stars arranged as they are seen in the sky is the Anti-Transportation League Flag, which is similar in design to the present National Flag.[33] The differences were that there was no Commonwealth Star, while the components of the Southern Cross are depicted with eight points and in gold. This flag was only briefly in usage, as two years after the formation of the Anti-Transportation League in 1851, the colonial authorities decided to stop the intake of convicts, so the ATL ceased its activities.[33] The Eureka Flag is often viewed as the first "Australian" flag as it was the first notable example of a design that had the Southern Cross while excluding the Union Flag. The Murray River Flag, popular since the 1850s, is still widely used by boats that traverse Australia's main waterway. It is the same as the National Colonial Flag, except that the white background in the three quadrants other the canton were replaced with four alternating blue and white stripes, representing the four major rivers that run into the Murray River.[33]

Australian Colonial Flag.svg Australian Federation Flag.svg Eureka Flag.svg AntiTransportation League Flag.svg Murray River Flag (Combined).svg
National Colonial Flag Australian Federation Flag Eureka Flag Anti-Transportation League Flag Murray River Flag

1901 Federal Flag Design Competition[edit]

The edition of the Review of Reviews front cover signed by Egbert Nuttall, after the winning designers of the 1901 Federal Flag design competition were announced.

As Federation approached, thoughts turned to an official federal flag. In 1900, the Melbourne Herald conducted a design competition with a prize of 25 Australian pounds (2017: A$3,700) in which entries were required to include the Union Flag and Southern Cross, resulting in a British Ensign style flag.[34] The competition conducted by the Review of Reviews for Australasia—a Melbourne-based publication—later that year thought such a restriction seemed unwise, despite observing that designs without these emblems were unlikely to be successful;[34] nonetheless, it suggested that entries incorporate the two elements in their design.[35] After Federation on 1 January 1901 and following receipt of a request from the British government to design a new flag, the new Commonwealth Government held an official competition for a new federal flag in April. The competition attracted 32,823 entries,[35] including those originally sent to the Review of Reviews.[35] One of these was submitted by an unnamed governor of a colony.[36] The two contests were merged after the Review of Reviews agreed to being integrated into the government initiative. The £75 prize money of each competition were combined and augmented by a further £50 donated by Havelock Tobacco Company.[35] Each competitor was required to submit two coloured sketches, a red ensign for the merchant service and public use, and a blue ensign for naval and official use. The designs were judged on seven criteria: loyalty to the Empire, Federation, history, heraldry, distinctiveness, utility and cost of manufacture.[10] The majority of designs incorporated the Union Flag and the Southern Cross, but native animals were also popular, including one that depicted a variety of indigenous animals playing cricket.[36] The entries were put on display at the Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne and the judges took six days to deliberate before reaching their conclusion.[36] Five almost identical entries were chosen as the winning design, and the designers shared the £200 (2009: $25,000) prize money. They were Ivor Evans, a fourteen-year-old schoolboy from Melbourne; Leslie John Hawkins, a teenager apprenticed to an optician from Sydney; Egbert John Nuttall, an architect from Melbourne; Annie Dorrington, an artist from Perth; and William Stevens, a ship's officer from Auckland, New Zealand. The five winners received £40 each.[36] The differences to the current flag were the six-pointed Commonwealth Star, while the components stars in the Southern Cross had different numbers of points, with more if the real star was brighter. This led to five stars of nine, eight, seven, six and five points respectively.[36]

The flag's initial reception was mixed. Readers of the Age newspaper were told that:

"a huge Blue Ensign with the prize design of the Southern Cross and a six pointed star thereon was run up to the top of the flagstaff on the dome and breaking, streamed out on the heavy south-westerly breeze, a brave and inspiring picture." [37]

The report carried by the Argus newspaper was also celebratory in nature stating:

"In years to come the flag which floated yesterday in the Exhibition building over Her Excellency the Countess of Hopetoun, who stood for Great Britain, and the Prime Minister (Mr Barton), who stood for Australia, will, in all human probability, become the emblem upon which the millions of the free people of the Commonwealth will gaze with a thrill of national pride."[38]

Alternatively the then republican magazine The Bulletin labelled the competition winning design:[39]

a staled réchauffé of the British flag, with no artistic virtue, no national significance... Minds move slowly: and Australia is still Britain's little boy. What more natural than that he should accept his father's cut-down garments, – lacking the power to protest, and only dimly realising his will. That bastard flag is a true symbol of the bastard state of Australian opinion.[40]

Melbourne Evening Herald flag (red).svg Flag of Australia (1901–1903).svg Flag of Australia (1903–1908).svg
Melbourne Herald competition winning design[41] Blue version of winning design As approved by King Edward VII

As the design was basically the Victorian flag with a star added, many critics in both the Federal Government and the New South Wales government objected to the chosen flag for being "too Victorian".[42] They wanted the Australian Federation Flag, and Prime Minister Barton, who had been promoting the Federation Flag, submitted this flag along with that chosen by the judges to the Admiralty for final approval.[43] The Admiralty chose the Red for private vessels and Blue Ensigns for government ships.[44] The Barton government regarded both the Blue and Red Ensigns as colonial maritime flags[45] and "grudgingly" agreed to fly it only on naval ships. Later governments, that of Chris Watson in 1904 and Andrew Fisher in 1910, were also unhappy with the design, wanting something "more distinctive" and more "indicative of Australian unity."[46]

The Royal Exhibition Building, Melbourne. Site of the first flying of the Australian flag.

On 3 September 1901, the new Australian flag flew for the first time from the dome of the Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne.[36] The names of the joint winners of the design competition were announced by Hersey, Countess of Hopetoun (the wife of the Governor-General, the 7th Earl of Hopetoun) and she unfurled the flag for the first time.[47] Since 1996 this date has been officially known as Australian National Flag Day.[48]

The competition-winning designs were submitted to the British Colonial Secretary in 1902. Prime Minister Edmund Barton announced in the Commonwealth Gazette that King Edward VII had officially approved the design as the flag of Australia on 11 February 1903.[1] The published version made all the stars in the Southern Cross seven-pointed apart from the smallest, and is the same as the current design except the six-pointed Commonwealth Star.[11]

Blue or red ensign?[edit]

In the decades following federation the red ensign was the preeminent flag in use by private citizens on land.[45] This was largely due to the Commonwealth government and flag suppliers restricting sales of the blue ensign to the general public.[49] By traditional British understanding, the blue ensign was reserved for official government use although the red ensign was nevertheless still in military circulation until after the 1953 legislation, meaning the 1st and 2nd Australian Imperial Forces served under both the blue and red versions.[50] State and local governments, private organisations and individuals were expected to use the Red Ensign.[45]

The original, official painting of the opening of Old Parliament House by Harold Septimus Power, showing numerous Red Ensigns alongside Union Flags.
A colour lithograph by an unknown artist of the opening of provisional parliament house in Canberra, 9 May 1927.

One of the most enduring debates in Australian vexillology concerns the so-called "parliament house puzzle" and the official painting of the opening of Australia's Parliament House in 1927, which shows Red Ensigns and Union Flags being flown.[45][51] However a lithograph by an unknown artist featuring only Blue Ensigns has since emerged. According to Dr Elizabeth Kwan "the use of British as well as Australian flags was a last minute decision. A Federal Capital Commission sketch showing the position of the flags for the opening ceremony suggested only Australian blue ensigns accompanying the duke's standard. The Royal Visit Cabinet Committee confirmed in March 1927 that the "Commonwealth flag", not the Union Jack, would fly with the duke's flag on Parliament House in the morning and at the armed forces review in the afternoon." Kwan theorises that the commissioned artist, Septimus Power, may have chosen the red ensign for dramatic effect or because it was the popular favourite with the Australian people. There was a black and white photograph taken at the opening that, based on the contrasts involved, appears to reveal a Blue Ensign hanging behind a Union Jack at the easternmost end of the building.[52] However the correspondent for The West Australian attested to the presence of red ensigns in a report that stated: "The sunlight streamed through the crimson of drooping flags”.[53] Taken altogether this means there is a strong possibility that both ensigns were actually used on the day.[54][55]

Despite executive branch proclamations as to the respective roles of the two red, white and blue ensigns there remained confusion until the Flags Act 1953 declared the Blue Ensign to be the Australian National Flag. It has been claimed that this choice was made on the basis that the predominately red version carried too many communist overtones for the government of the day although no cabinet documents yet released to the public including the more detailed minutes have ever been adduced in support of this theory.[56] Whatever the case it would be styled under the legislation as the Australian Red Ensign and retained for use by the Australian mercantile marine.[57][58] The tradition of the red ensign being used in Anzac Day marches alongside other flags that the Australian military has used still continues.[59]

Technically, private non-commercial vessels were liable to a substantial fine if they did not fly the British Red Ensign. However, an Admiralty Warrant was issued on 5 December 1938, authorising these vessels to fly the Australian Red Ensign. The Shipping Registration Act 1981 reaffirmed that the Australian Red Ensign was the proper "colours" for commercial ships over 24 metres (79 ft) in tonnage length.[60]

As a result of the declaration of 3 September as Merchant Navy Day in 2008,[61] the red ensign can be flown on land alongside the Australian national flag on this occasion as a matter of protocol.[62]

Replacement of the Union Jack[edit]

The Blue Ensign replaced the Union Jack at the Olympic Games at St Louis in 1904.[63] On 2 June 1904, due to lobbying by Richard Crouch MP, it had the same status as the Union Flag in the UK, when the House of Representatives proclaimed that the Blue Ensign "should be flown upon all forts, vessels, saluting places and public buildings of the Commonwealth upon all occasions when flags are used".[64] The government agreed to fly the Blue Ensign on special flag days, but not if it meant additional expense, which undermined the motion.[64] The Blue Ensign could only be flown on a state government building if a state flag was not available.[45]

Initially the Department of Defence resisted implementing the resolution, considering the blue ensign to be a marine ensign and favouring King's Regulations that specified the use of the Union Jack. After being approached by the Department of Defence, Prime Minister Chris Watson stated in parliament that he was not satisfied with the design of the Australian flag and that implementation of the 1904 resolution could wait until consideration was given to "adopt another [flag] which in our opinion is more appropriate."[65] In 1908, Australian Army Military Order, No 58/08 ordered the blue "Australian Ensign" to replace the Union Flag at all military establishments. From 1911 it served as the saluting flag of the Australian army at all reviews and ceremonial parades (M.O.135) with the Union Jack being reserved for "all occasions when a representative of His Majesty the King reviews the Commonwealth forces" (M.O.391).[66][67]

In the Australian War Memorial collection there is a photograph taken in the vicinity of Port Adelaide circa 1901 showing HMCS Protector, a gunboat in the South Australian navy which had served in China during the Boxer rebellion, flying the Australian flag from the stern during its earliest days after the Federal Flag Design Competition, before the formation of the Royal Australian Navy.[68] When the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) was eventually promulgated on 5 October 1911, Naval Order 78/1911 directed all vessels to fly the British White Ensign on the stern and the flag of Australia on the Jackstaff.[69][70][71][72] The Argus newspaper, edition of 29 July 1911, had notified readers that the “navy orders that the Australian flag is to be the saluting flag at all reviews and ceremonial parades on shore”, with it also being required that the Union Jack is flown at the saluting point “when representatives of His Majesty the King review the Commonwealth forces.”[73] Despite the government wanting to use the Blue Ensign on Australian warships, officers continued to fly the Union Flag, and it was not until 1913, following public protest in Fremantle after its use for the review of HMAS Melbourne, that the government "reminded" them of the 1911 legislation.[74] The British White Ensign was finally replaced by a distinctively Australian White Ensign on 1 March 1967.[71]

The Australian flag at war[edit]

The Australian flag at war has been a much chronicled subject by military vexillologists, historians and war correspondents ever since the Federal Flag Design Competition in 1901.

World War I[edit]

The Australian flag was associated with an act of war for the first recorded time as it flew above the fort at Queenscliff in Victoria which opened fire to prevent the German steamer, Pfalz, from leaving port on 6 August 1914.[63] It was raised along with the Union Jack by the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force on Kawieng, New Ireland in September 1914.[75] It was a not unknown for RAN captains to fly the Australian flag from the foremast of single masted ships and the mainmast of two masted ships as the battle flag when at action stations instead of the Royal Navy white ensign as happened at the battle of the Cocos between HMAS Sydney and the German cruiser SMS Emden.[76] There is photograph held by the Australian War Memorial of an Australian flag draped over a dugout at Gallipoli dated circa May 1915.[77] On the western front the blue ensign and Union Jack were both displayed on 29 August 1917 when Field Marshal Douglas Haig reviewed the 5th Australian division at Ebblinghem.[78] It was also flown over the headquarters of the Australian Corps during the fighting in 1918. General Birdwood dispatched an Australian flag to the 15th Infantry brigade with orders that it be flown over Harnonnieres an honour that the commander of the 59th battalion would bestow on the first man to reach the objective.[79] The Australian flag also flew over Chaleroi in Belgium in 1918. As the 2nd Division entered the city the locals turned out to greet them waving Australian flags made out of brown paper bags.[80] The children of Villers-Bretonneaux still maintain the tradition of raising the Australian flag in memory of the Australians who died in liberating the area in world war one.[81] Also under preservation is the Australian flag carried by General Monash's lance bearer in the 1919 London Victory Parade. Another Australian flag was also featured on a commemorative postcard of the occasion where an Australian soldier is seen using his rifle as a stave.[82][83]

World War II[edit]

Indicative of the place the Australian ensigns came to occupy in the Anzac tradition by the time of the second world war was an article which appeared in Sydney Sun, edition of 5 May 1941, where the author stated:

"Today we do homage to it. It fluttered from the main-mast of the first HMAS Sydney as she went into action against the German raider Emden in the last war, and later from the mast of her namesake as she went into action against the Bartolomeo Colleoni. It has been carried into battle at Gallipoli, in Palestine, Egypt. Libya and Greece."[84]

There were a number of Australian flag raisings in the Pacific and Middle Eastern theatres during the second world war. The Australian flag was hoisted as the battle ensign of HMAS Hobart during the invasion of Guadalcanal in August 1942.[85] It was flown over Kokoda in 1942[86][87] and Lae in 1943 where "The Australian flag was hoisted on the pole of the control tower on Lae airfield and American and Australian troops gave victory cheers as the flag floated in the breeze".[88] There has since been a commemorative plaque laid at Lae with the inscription reading: "Here on 16th September 1943 the Australian National Flag was raised by Commander 25th Aust. Inf. Bde to mark the capture of this important base from the Japanese." There was a report in the Army News on 30 January 1943 that stated "A famous Australian flag now flies over Tripoli" raised by an Australian fighter squadron who were the first 2nd AIF contingent to enter the city after it fell to the British 8th army.[89] The Australian War Memorial holds a photograph of a flag raising ceremony at Gravesend airfield in Kent, England which is believed to have been taken on Anzac Day 1944. The flag was presented to the 464 RAAF squadron by a widow of a pilot killed in action while flying a mosquito warplane over Germany and may be the same one held by the Australian War Memorial which was also flown over Melsbrock, Belgium.[90] On 24 February 1945 The Mail in Adelaide published a photograph under the heading "OUR FLAG ON THE PHILIPPINES" of an Australian flag with the caption stating that: "The first Australian flag to reach the Philippines was draped in front of Australia House, residence of Australian war correspondents. They look very happy about it."[91]

During the invasion of Tarakan a photograph of Lieutenant K. McKitrick raising the Australian flag on Sadau Island appeared on the front page of Perth's Sunday Times, edition of 20 May 1945, under the headline "OUR FLAG ON TARAKAN" as he was being watched by the men of 2/4 commando squadron shortly after landing with the caption reading: "A.I.F. VETERANS of the 9th Division fly an Australian flag on Tarakan Island (Borneo) on which, today's cables say, they have achieved their objectives." [92][93]

In the Australian War Memorial collection is a photograph of a flag raising ceremony that took place at Lingkas, Tarakan in the Netherlands East Indies on 1 May 1945 with the caption stating: "Happy soldiers of the 9th Australian Division raise the Australian flag on a bamboo pole on the first day of Operation Oboe One, the Division's successful attack and landing on Tarakan Island then occupied by Japanese forces."[94]

It was also reported on 8 May 1945 in the Melbourne Argus under the headline "AUSTRALIANS CAPTURE TARAKAN AIRSTRIP: Victorian Battalion in Thick of Fight" that, after using tanks as mobile artillery in a struggle that lasted over five days: "That night the troops who had won the air strip enjoyed their first night's unbroken rest since they landed on the island at dawn on Tuesday. They forgot their weariness, their sweat-sodden clothes, and unshaven faces, in the cheer they gave as they watched the Australian flag and their own battalion emblem being hoisted over the strip."[95]

At the 1946 London Victory Parade there were Australian flags strung across the thoroughfare and carried by the Australian Contingent. It is featured along with the flags of allied nations in a portrait commissioned by the Australian War Memorial to mark the occasion.[96][97] There was also a report of the Australian flag being flown over Japan in April 1946 along with other Commonwealth of Nations flags.[98]

POW camp flags[edit]

In 1945 at the end of the war there were multiple reports of Australian flags being made in prisoner of war camps including one from Naoetsu that was hand sewn from pieces of coloured parachutes used to drop supplies to the Australians whilst still detained by the Japanese.[99] The Canberra Times published a report dated 18 June 1945 from their correspondent on Labuan Island stating that after the Australians were liberated in the camp there were found "a few knapsacks, some old boots,and photographs, also an Australian flag."[100] The first Australian flag to fly over Singapore after news of the imminent Japanese surrender was received in August 1945 is held by the Australian War Memorial. It was flown for several days over the X3 camp by captain Frederick Stahl and written in black ink on the headband are the words "Dear Stahl Good Luck. A very game action to fly this flag. F.G. Galleghan Lt Col A.I.F. (P.W.) Malaya 20 Aug 1945."[101] According to an eyewitness statement also in August 1945 there was an Australian flag that had been concealed by an Australian prisoner "raised over a group of skeletal sick Australians in a Japanese POW camp in Thailand and all wept unashamedly" which may be the same one featured in a photograph held by the Australian War Memorial taken at number 8 camp in Saigon.[102][103] There is another photograph of ex-POWs displaying an Australian flag constructed while they were in captivity as published on the front page of the Argus, edition of 15 September 1945.[104] Another Australian flag said to have originated in Changi is on display at the Heritage Lodge being unveiled at a ceremony in 2008 attended by ex-Changi prisoner Henry Cook who believes the specimen was constructed after his stay of several months in the camp and was quoted as saying "We suffered for that flag."[105]

Korea and Vietnam[edit]

The first Australian flag to fly over Pyongyang during the Korean war was hoisted by Lieutenant W.L. Brodie OC, of the Australian Visitors and Observers Section, over a dwelling that had previously been occupied by the Mongolian Embassy to North Korea.[106] During the Vietnam war the headlines "Hill 323 Under Aust. Control" and "Australian flag over base" appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on 23 March 1968, with the report stating: "LONG HAI, Friday. – Task Force troops moved to the top of Long Hai hills today and wedged the Australian flag in a clump of rocks on Hill 323 in the middle of an abandoned Vietcong supply base." Shortly thereafter the battalion HQ received a request for ground clearance from a US warship lying off the shore to enable them to fire at a Viet Cong battle flag which had just been raised.[107][108] In the Australian War Memorial collection is a photograph of Warrant Officer Class One Jim Geedrick, an Indigenous serviceman from Rockhampton who was an adviser with the 1st Battalion, 2nd Regiment of the South Vietnamese Army, raising the Australian flag on Anzac Day 1969, after missing the ceremony held at Da Nang held by the Australian Army Train Team, Vietnam. According to Geedrick such displays were rare as "every time I put the flag up they shoot holes through it."[109] At the 1965 memorial for Kevin "Dasher" Wheatley, after making his last stand in the Vietnam war that earned him a posthumously awarded Victoria Cross, a South Vietnamese officer would pin a valour medal to the Australian flag covering his casket upon which was placed a wreath.[110][111]

Flags Act 1953[edit]

The Flags Act 1953 specified the Blue Ensign as the Australian National Flag and the Red Ensign as the merchant shipping flag.

Despite the new Australian flag's official use, from 1901 until the 1920s the Federation Flag remained a most popular Australian flag for public and even some official events. It was flown at the 1907 State Premiers conference in Melbourne and during the 1927 visit to Australia of the Duke and Duchess of York, the future King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.[112]

In the 1920s there was debate over whether the Blue Ensign was reserved for Commonwealth buildings only, culminating in a 1924 agreement that the Union Flag should take precedence as the National Flag and that state and local governments were henceforth able to use the blue ensign.[45][113] As the Union Flag was recognised as the National flag, it was considered disloyal to fly either ensign without the Union flag alongside, and it was the Union Flag that covered the coffins of Australia's war dead.[45][114]

In 1940 the Victorian government passed legislation allowing schools to purchase blue ensigns.[115] The following year prime minister Robert Menzies issued a media release recommending that the blue ensign be flown at schools, government buildings and by private citizens and continued use of the red ensign by merchant ships, providing it was done so respectfully.[11][45]

Prime Minister Ben Chifley issued a similar statement in 1947.[11][116]

On 4 December 1950, the Prime Minister Robert Menzies proclaimed the Blue ensign as the National flag and in 1951 King George VI approved the Government's recommendation.[71]

When the Flags Bill was introduced into parliament on 20 November 1953, Menzies said:

"This bill is very largely a formal measure which puts into legislative form what has become almost the established practice in Australia ... The design adopted was submitted to His Majesty King Edward VII, and he was pleased to approve of it as the Australian flag in 1902. However, no legislative action has ever been taken to determine the precise form of the flag or the circumstances of its use, and this bill has been brought down to produce that result."[117]

This status was formalised on 14 February 1954, when Queen Elizabeth II gave Royal Assent to the Flags Act 1953, which had been passed two months earlier.[118][119] The monarch's Assent was timed to coincide with the Queen's visit to the country and came after she had opened the new session of Parliament.[118] The Act confers statutory powers on the Governor-General to appoint "flags and ensigns of Australia" and authorise warrants and make rules as to use of flags. Section 8 ensures that the "right or privilege" of a person to fly the Union Flag is not affected by the Act.

South Australia chose to continue with the Union Flag as National flag until 1956, when schools were given the option of using either the Union or Australian flags.[120] The Union Flag was still regarded as the National flag by many Australians well into the 1970s, which inspired Arthur Smout's campaign from 1968 to 1982 to encourage Australians to give the Australian flag precedence.[121]

By the mid-1980s, the Commonwealth Government no longer reminded Australians they had the right to fly the Union Flag alongside the National Flag or provided illustrations of how to correctly display them together.[122]

In 1998, the Flags Act was amended to provide that any change to the national flag must be approved by a plebiscite which must offer the existing flag alongside any alternative designs. Neither the requirement for or outcome of such a plebiscite is binding on the Parliament, which would still need to amend the Flags Act by the required majorities and with royal assent to alter the design.[123]

Flag Day[edit]

In 1996, the Governor-General, Sir William Deane, issued a proclamation recognising the annual commemoration of Australian National Flag Day, to be held on 3 September.[124] Flag Day celebrations had been occurring in Sydney since 1984.[citation needed] The inaugural event was held under the auspices of the New South Wales branch of the Australian National Flag Association to commemorate the anniversary of the flag being first flown in 1901.[125] On Flag Day, ceremonies are held in schools, major centres, and the Governor-General, Governors and some politicians attend or release statements to the media.[126] The Australian Defence Force marks the occasion by firing an artillery salute at a flag station, when directed by the Governor-General.[127] Australian National Flag Day is not a public holiday.

Centenary and other notable flags[edit]

Centenary flag of state[edit]

On the centenary of the first flying of the flag, 3 September 2001, the Australian National Flag Association presented the Prime Minister with a flag intended to replace the missing original flag. This flag was not a replica of the original flag, on which the Commonwealth Star had only six points, but is based on the dejure Australian National Flag design with a seven pointed Commonwealth Star. The flag has a special headband,[128] including a cardinal red stripe and the inscription

The Centenary Flag. Presented to the Hon John Howard MP, Prime Minister of Australia on behalf of the people of Australia by the Australian National Flag Association on 3 September 2001 at the Royal Exhibition Building, Melbourne to commemorate the first flying of the Australian National Flag on 3 September 1901 attended by the Rt Hon Sir Edmund Barton MHR, Prime Minister of Australia.[128]

A warrant authorising the use of the Centenary Flag under section 6 of the Flags Act was issued by the Governor-General and the flag is now used as the official flag of state on important occasions.[129] These include the opening of new parliamentary terms and when visiting heads of state arrive.[130] The flag has been transported across the country and flown in every state and territory. It was later used on Remembrance Day in 2003 for the opening of the Australian War Memorial in Hyde Park in London.[130]

Parliament house centenary flag[edit]

The Parliament House centenary flag is the flag that flew over Parliament House, Canberra on 3 September 2001, the 100th anniversary of the day on which the first Australian flag was flown at the Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne. On 18 September 2001 during the centenary of federation the federal member for Hinkler, Paul Neville, asked of the speaker that:

"before it [the flag] becomes too faded or too tattered, [it] be taken down and perhaps offered to a museum or an art gallery as the seminal flag that flew over this building 100 years from the time the first flag was flown?"[131]

The flag was subsequently entrusted to the Australian Flag Society and has been paraded at schools to mark Australian National Flag Day on a tour of the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales and Queensland.[132][133][134][135][136][137][138]

Townsville flag[edit]

The first formal vice regal Australian flag raising ceremony took place in the presence of Lord Hopetoun at Flinders Street in Townsville on 16 September 1901. This historic specimen was provided by local flag and sail maker William McKenzie and subsequently donated to the Royal Australian Historical Society in 1922. It flew again at a reenactment in 1951 with a bronze commemorative plaque being placed outside the Townsville Municipal Chambers that was removed in 1977 and situated at the base of a flagpole in the city mall. However the Townsville flag was not available for the centennial Festival of the First Flag reenactment at Strand Park on 8 August 2001 where another plaque was unveiled as its whereabouts is currently unknown.[139][140]

Moon flag[edit]

A miniature Australian flag was taken to the moon and back on board the Command Module America during the Apollo 17 mission lasting from 7–19 December 1972. Upon returning to earth it was framed and signed by all the Apollo astronauts, then given as a personal gift to prime minister Gough Whitlam in recognition of Australia's contribution to the NASA space exploration program. It now resides in his prime ministerial collection at the University of Western Sydney.[141]

Sir Charles Kingsford Smith flags[edit]

In the collection of the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences is a collection of seven flags comprising two Australian flags, two New Zealand flags, two Union Jacks and a Royal Air Force Ensign that accompanied pioneering aviators Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith and Charles Ulm aboard their aircraft The Southern Cross during the historic first Trans Tasman flight in 1928. The following year three of these flags accompanied Kingsford-Smith and Ulm on the first circumnavigation of the globe, crossing both hemispheres.[142]

Gallipoli flags[edit]

There are a number of Gallipoli flags still under preservation including one held at the University of Queensland's Emmanuel College which was taken to Gallipoli and France by Reverend E.N. Merrington. Following the armistice it was flown over the Australian General Headquarters.[82] There is also an apparently bullet ridden Australian flag on display at the Geraldton RSL club that returned to Australia after being taken to Gallipoli and France.[143]

On 11 April 2000, there was a ceremony held at the Australian War Memorial where the last surviving Gallipoli veteran, Alec Campbell, symbolically handed over an Australian flag to a serving member of the Australian Defence Force. It now resides in Canberra for safe keeping and has been raised at Gallipoli every Anzac Day since.[144]

Darwin bombing flag[edit]

During 19 February 1942 Japanese bombing raid on Darwin the Australian flag that was flying outside the residence of the Administrator of the Northern Territory, Charles Abbott, became the first to be damaged by enemy fire on home soil. Abbott later arranged for it to be presented to the Australian War Memorial where it now remains on permanent display to the public.[145] For the peace treaty ceremonies in 1946 it was displayed alongside the blue ensigns which had flown at Villers-Bretonneux in 1917 and onboard HMAS Sydney during her victory over the Italian cruiser Bartolomeo Colleoni in 1940.[146]

Other Australian flags[edit]

Under Section 5 of the Flags Act 1953, the Governor-General may proclaim flags other than the National Flag and the Red Ensign as flags or ensigns of Australia. Five flags have been appointed in this manner. The first two were the Royal Australian Navy Ensign and the Royal Australian Air Force Ensign, the flags used by the Royal Australian Navy and the Royal Australian Air Force. The Australian Army has no ensign of its own, but they are given the ceremonial task to be the defender of the National Flag.[147] The Air Force and the Navy flew the appropriate British ensigns (the White Ensign and the Royal Air Force Ensign) until the adoption of similar ensigns based on the Australian National Flag in 1948 and 1967 respectively.[148] The current Navy and Air Force Ensigns were officially appointed in 1967 and 1982 respectively.[149]

In 1995, the Aboriginal Flag and the Torres Strait Islander Flag were also appointed flags of Australia.[150] While mainly seen as a gesture of reconciliation, this recognition caused a small amount of controversy at the time, with then opposition leader John Howard describing it as divisive.[151] Some indigenous people, such as the flag's designer Harold Thomas, felt that the government was appropriating their flag,[151] saying it "doesn't need any more recognition".[152]

The Australian Defence Force Ensign was proclaimed in 2000. This flag is used to represent the Defence Force when more than one branch of the military is involved, such as at the Australian Defence Force Academy, and by the Minister for Defence.[153]

The Legislative Instruments Act 2003 required the proclamations of these flags to be lodged in a Federal Register. Due to an administrative oversight they were not, and the proclamations were automatically repealed.[154] The governor-general issued new proclamations dated 25 January 2008, with effect from 1 January 2008 (or 1 October 2006 in the case of the Defence Force Ensign).[155]

Naval Ensign of Australia.svg Air Force Ensign of Australia.svg Australian Aboriginal Flag.svg Flag of the Torres Strait Islanders.svg Link to file Royal Standard of Australia.svg
Royal Australian Navy Ensign Royal Australian Air Force Ensign Australian Aboriginal Flag Torres Strait Islander Flag Australian Defence Force Ensign Queen's Personal Australian Flag

In addition to the seven flags declared under the Flags Act, there are two additional Commonwealth flags, the Australian Civil Aviation Ensign and Australian Border Force Flag,[156] eight Vice-Regal flags and nine state and territory flags that are recognised as official flags through other means.[157]


Ausflag's 2000 professional designers' competition was won by Franck Gentil with a design that substitutes the Union Flag with a gold Commonwealth Star
A poster calling for a redesign of the Australian Flag, released by Ausflag in 2000 to coincide with the 2000 Summer Olympics.

There have been mild but persistent debates over whether or not the Union Flag should be removed from the canton of the Australian flag.[158] This debate has culminated on several occasions, such as the period preceding the Australian Bicentenary in 1988, and during the Prime Ministership of Paul Keating,[158] who publicly supported a change in the flag and said:

I do not believe that the symbols and the expression of the full sovereignty of Australian nationhood can ever be complete while we have a flag with the flag of another country on the corner of it.[159]

There are two lobby groups involved in the flag debate: Ausflag (est. 1981), which supports changing the flag,[160] and the Australian National Flag Association (ANFA) (est. 1983), which wants to keep the existing flag.[161] The primary arguments for keeping the flag cite historic precedence, while those for changing the flag are based around the idea that the status quo does not accurately depict Australia's status as an independent and multicultural nation,[162] nor is its design unique enough to easily distinguish it from similar flags, such as that of New Zealand, Cook Islands and Tuvalu. The similarity between the flag of Australia and those of other countries is often derived from a common colonial history.[163]

Ausflag periodically campaigns for flag change in association with national events such as the 2000 Summer Olympics,[164] and holds flag design competitions,[160] while ANFA's activities include promotion of the existing flag through events such as National Flag Day.[165] A 2004 Newspoll that asked: "Are you personally in favour or against changing the Australian flag so as to remove the Union Jack emblem?" was supported by 32% of respondents and opposed by 57%, with 11% uncommitted.[166][167] A 2010 Morgan Poll that asked: "Do you think Australia should have a new design for our National Flag?" was supported by 29% of respondents and opposed by 66%, with 5% uncommitted.[168]

The connection with the Australian flag is also notable the highest response to it is "extremely proud" and it is the "most embraced Australian symbol."[169]


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