This page is part of © FOTW Flags Of The World website

Australia

Commonwealth of Australia

Last modified: 2019-11-10 by ian macdonald
Keywords: australia | southern cross | stars: southern cross | stars: 7 points |
Links: FOTW homepage | search | disclaimer and copyright | write us | mirrors



[Australian flag] image by António Martins, 28 Nov 2005


See also:

Other sites:


Design of the flag

The Australian flag is composed of three parts:

  • The Union Jack (British flag) in the top left corner,
  • The 'Star of Federation' in the bottom left corner, and
  • The Southern Cross, taking up the right half of the flag.
The Union Jack shows that the first colonisation by Europeans was by Britain. In case you didn't know, Australia started as a penal colony. The Star of Federation is a seven pointed star. They came to the number seven, by giving each state (six in all) a point on the star, and having one more point for Australia's territories (of which there are several). There are two mainland territories, and several overseas, including two in Antarctica. The Southern Cross is a constellation that can be seen from all of Australia's states and territories.
Giuseppe Bottasini

All the stars have an inner diameter (circle on which the inner corners rest) of 4/9 the outer diameter (circle of outer corners), even the 5-point star. The positions of the stars are as follows:

  • commonwealth star - centred in lower hoist,
  • alpha - straight below centre fly 1/6 up from bottom edge,
  • beta - 1/4 of the way left and 1/16 up from the centre fly,
  • gamma - straight above centre fly 1/6 down from top edge,
  • delta - 2/9 of the way right and 31/240 up from the centre fly,
  • epsilon - 1/10 of the way right and 1/24 down from the centre fly.
The positions of alpha-epsilon are given with respect to the centre of the square fly, and distances in terms of hoist width of the flag.
Christopher Vance, 26 February 1998

For more details, including a picture and a comparison with the New Zealand flag, see our page on the construction of the Australian flag.


History of the flag

Below is a summary of the history of the Australian flag. We have a separate page with a more detailed history. The links in the summary below point to the appropriate sections of the detailed history.

Chronology

  • 1900: Competition held by the Evening Herald in which entries are required to contain the Union flag and Southern Cross.*
  • October 1900: A broader competition launched by the Review of Reviews in response.*
  • 29 April 1901: Commonwealth of Australia Gazette No. 27 Design competition for The Flag of Australia announced by the first Australian Prime Minister, Edmund Barton.
  • 3 September 1901: First official raising of the blue Australian Flag at the Royal Exhibition Building, Melbourne (at the announcement of the winning design*).
  • 8 February 1902: Prime Minister requests Governor General to send the design (and the 'Federation flag' design) to London for Imperial Approval.*
  • King's Approval given between 21 August and 3 September 1902.*
  • 6 October 1902: Telegram to Governor General advising that design has been approved.*
  • 20 February 1903: Proclamation that King Edward VII had approved design for the Flag of Australia together with the warrant for Australian registered ships to fly the red ensign. (the design approved by the King differed from the original design in the number of points on the stars and the warrant was republished in Commonwealth of Australia Gazette No. 8*)
  • 2 June 1904: Federal Parliament passes a resolution to fly the flag in all public places whenever flags were used, giving the flag the same status as the Union Jack in Britain.*
  • 1 June 1908: Australian Army Military Order, No 58/08, directs all military establishments to fly the 'Australian Ensign' in place of the Union Jack.*
  • 19 December 1908: Commonwealth of Australia Gazette No. 65 (page 1709) announced addition of 7th point to the Commonwealth Star to represent Australian Territories.
  • 1911:Naval Order 78/1911 directs all vessels of the Royal Australian Navy to fly the flag of the 'Australian Commonwealth' at the jack staff and the White Ensign of the Royal Navy at the stern as the symbol of the authority of the crown.
  • 23 March 1934: Commonwealth Gazette No.18 gives descriptions and specifications of the Australian Blue Ensign and the red merchant flag of Australia.
  • 14 April 1954: Commonwealth Government 'Flags Act 1953' (Commonwealth of Australia Gazette No 24*) the status of The Flag confirmed by legislation and title to be the Australian National Flag.
  • 3 September 1996: Commonwealth of Australia Gazette No. S321 Proclamation of Australian National Flag Day - (Anniversary of our Flag). Commemorating the day in 1901 on which the Australian National Flag was first flown.
  • 24 March 1998: Flag Amendments Bill amended the Flags Act 1953 to ensure that the Australian National Flag can only be changed if the electorate approves.
  • 20 September 2001: Commonwealth Gazette No. S382 (Special) Proclamation of the Centenary Flag Warrant. The Centenary Flag is the flag presented on 3 September 2001 to the Prime Minister by the Australian National Flag Association, being an Australian National Flag suitably inscribed with flag centenary message.
Nigel Morris, 7 June 2002
* added by editor.

Flying the Union Jack in Australia

The (Australian) Flags Act,1953; Section 8 (p. 2) states “This Act does not effect the right or privilege of a person to fly the Union Jack.”

I understand that this particular Section was drafted during the period of Prime Minister Robert Menzies to ensure that any Australian could continue to fly the Union Jack if they so desired.

One could run the argument that prior to the Proclamation of the Flags Act, 1953 ( in 1954 ); that the Union Jack was actually the National Flag of the Commonwealth of Australia, being a Dominion, and that the Australian Red Ensign ( Maritime and de facto Civilian ), and the Australian Blue Ensign ( Government ) were, being Ensigns, subsidiary to the National Flag, being the Union Jack.

If you look at photos pre-1954 you will notice that where both the Union Jack and the Red or Blue Australian Ensign appear together, the Union Jack is to the left of the Australian Ensign; however, post proclamation, the Union Jack is displayed to the right of the Australian Blue Ensign, which is now called the Australian National Flag.

Therefore, the practical effect of the Flag Act, 1953 is that while recognising the former Australian Blue Ensign as the Australian National Flag , the continued flying of the Union Jack was specifically authorised to continue, and furthermore, this is still the case to this day.
Philip Miller, 9 October 2018

Indeed, the Flags Act 1953 had the effect of reversing the protocol priority of what had de facto developed as a dual national flag: the Australian blue ensign and the Union Jack, as explained by Mr Miller. Over time, the usage of the Union Jack in Australia diminished, so by the 1970s it was rarely seen alongside the Australian National Flag.
Ralph Kelly, 10 October 2018

When first enacted the Flags Act 1953 Section 8 amounted to a declaration of loyalty, and of reassurance to the very many Australians of the time who still thought of themselves as British. It gave all Australians a legislated 'right or privilege' to fly the Union Jack that British nationals did not have. As the relationship between Australia and the United Kingdom evolved over time (with complete legislative independence from 3 March 1986) it became difficult to see any particular reason (other than historic or commemorative) why an Australian should want or need to fly the Union Jack. The UK is now a foreign nation in relation to Australia, so essentially Australians have the legal 'right or privilege' to fly a foreign nation's de facto national flag.

The specified Pantone number for the red of the Australian National Flag and presumably the Australian Red Ensign is 185, a brighter red than the 186 specified for the British and New Zealand flags. Many Australian flags do in fact use this lighter red which looks particularly striking in the case of the Australian Red Ensign. However this also implies that there is an 'Australian Union Jack' using Pantone 185 red, as found in the Union cantons of many Australian flags.
Jeff Thomson, 21 July 2019