The Australian National Flag

The Australian National Flag

The flag was first flown in 1901 and it is Australia’s foremost national symbol and has become an expression of Australian identity and pride.

It identifies a free and democratic people in a nation united by purpose and a sense of belonging. Our national flag belongs equally to all Australians whatever their origins.  It is a right and privilege of every Australian to fly the Australian National Flag.

The flag is paraded by our defence force and displayed around the country at sporting events and by service organisations, schools, community groups and private citizens.

Specification of Australian National Flag

Symbolism

The flag has three elements on a blue field (background)

The Union Jack – occupying the upper hoist first quarter – known as canton, represents the history of British settlement, Parliamentary Democracy, Rule of Law and Freedom of Speech.

The Commonwealth Star – occupying the lower hoist third quarter – The white Commonwealth, or Federation, star. It has seven points representing the unity of the six states and the territories of the Commonwealth of Australia. The star is also featured on the Commonwealth Coat of Arms.

The Southern Cross – occupying the second and fourth quarter, in the fly. The stars are shown in white, and they represent the constellation of five stars that can only be seen for the southern hemisphere and is a reminder of Australia’s geography.

History of the Flag

  • The Commonwealth Government announced a Federal Flag design competition on 29th April 1901.
  • The Review of Reviews for Australia a Melbourne journal has also initiated a competition in 1900.
  • It was agreed that these entries would also be included in the competition.
  • The competition received 32, 823 entities from all the community.
  • An expert panel was put in place to assess the guidelines around history, heraldry, distinctiveness, utility, and cost of manufacture.
  • A public ceremony was held in Melbourne and opened by Lady Hopetown the wife of the Governor- General to display the entries.

In February 1903 it was announced in the Commonwealth Gazette that King Edward VII had approved the design for the Flag of Australia.

  • The Commonwealth Blue Ensign
  • The Commonwealth Red Ensign – for the merchant Navy.

On both ensigns the stars of the Southern Cross were simplified to four seven-pointed stars and one five-pointed star. In 1908 a seventh point was added to the Commonwealth star to represent the Australian territories.

Australian Flag 1901 to 1903

This image of a very rare original Australian Flag from 1901- 1903 the result of five designers in the Federal Flag competition of 1901, the year of Australian Nationhood.

A huge 12 yard (10800 x 5400mm) 24 breadth flag was raised for the first time on 3 September 1901 at 2.30pm over the main dome of the Royal Exhibition buildings, Melbourne.

It was the highlight of a special ceremony to reveal the national flag of Australia.

The five entrants who had submitted similar designs were declared the designers of of Australia's own flag on 3 September 1901 by Lady Hopetoun wife of the Governor - General.

The five entrants who had submitted similar designs were declared the designers of of Australia’s own flag on 3 September 1901 by Lady Hopetoun wife of the Governor – General.

  • The Prime Minister of Australia Mr Edmund Barton announced that five entrants who had submitted similar designs would be declared the designers of Australia’s own flag.
  • Mrs Annie Dorrington, Perth, Western Australia.
  • Ivor Evans, Haymarket, Victoria.
  • Mr Leslie J. Hawkins, Leichhardt, New South Wales.
  • Mr Egbert J. Nuttall, Prahran, Victoria.
  • Mr William Stevens, Auckland, New Zealand.
  • Of the five two were youth Ivor Evans a 14 year old schoolboy and Leslie Hawkins an apprentice.

The Commonwealth Ensigns

In February 1903 it was announced in the Commonwealth Gazette that King Edward VII had approved the design for the Flag of Australia.

  • The Commonwealth Blue Ensign
  • The Commonwealth Red Ensign – for the merchant Navy.

On both ensigns the stars of the Southern Cross were simplified to four seven-pointed stars and one five-pointed star. In 1908 a seventh point was added to the Commonwealth star to represent the Australian territories.

However, people were confused about the use of two Australian flags. The blue ensign was meant for official and naval purposes and the red ensign was meant to be used by the merchant fleet, but the general public began using the red ensign on land.

The Flags Act 1953

In 1941, Prime Minister the Rt Hon Robert Menzies issued a press statement recommending the flying of the blue ensign as a national emblem. The flags Act 1953 was passed by Parliament and was one of the few Commonwealth Bills signed by the Monarch rather than the Governor-General. This document was signed by Queen Elizabeth herself during the 1954 Royal Tour of Australia. The Australian blue ensign was now the Australian National Flag and the Australian Red Ensign as a flag for merchant ships registered in Australia.

Her Majesty’s signature would validate the transition in national flags which was taking place, from Union Flag to the Australian National Flag.

In 1998 an amendment was passed to ensure that the Australian National Flag can only be changed with the agreement of the Australian people.

The Commonwealth Flag Network

You can register for the Commonwealth Flag Network for up-to-date advice on how to fly the flag on special occasions. After registering you will receive an email at the same time as flag marshals around the country. Follow the link: nationalsymbols@pmc.gov.au.

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