Charles Sturt University
Charles Sturt University

The Australian Flag

Australian Flag

The Australian Flag came into being after the the federation of the Australian States into the Commonwealth of Australian on 1 January, 1901. The Commonwealth Blue Ensign was selected a result of a public competition (over 30 000 designs were submitted); although selected in 1901 and gazetted in 1903, it was not given Royal assent and adopted as the definitive Australian flag until 1954 in the Flags Act 1953 (Act No. 1 of 1954).

The Australian flag is based on the Blue Ensign of the United Kingdom, is twice as long as it is wide, and consists of a dark blue field that can be notionally divided into four quadrants. There is a different motif in each of the upper and lower hoist quadrants and the remaining two quadrants of the fly share another different constellation motif.

Elements of the flag

The present Australian flag can be considered to consist of three main elements:

Union jack

Union Jack
The Union Jack in the upper hoist quadrant or first quarter (also know as the Canton), denoting Australia's historical links with Great Britain. The Union Jack itself is composed of red and white intersecting and overlayed vertical and diagonal crosses on a blue background.

Southern Cross

Southern Cross
The Southern Cross in the second quarter (also known as the top or head) and fourth quarter. Consists of five stars in a more or less kite-like pattern - Alpha Crucis (7-point), Beta Crucis (7-point), Gamma Crucis (7-point), Delta Crucis (7-point) and the smaller Epsilon Crucis (5-point). The outer diameter of each of the 4 major stars is 1/7 the width of the fly and the inner diameter is 4/9 outer diameter; the diameter of Epsilon Crucis is 1/12 the width of the fly and the inner diameter is 4/9 the outer diameter. The constellation of the Southern Cross is a significant navigational feature of the southern hemisphere, strongly places Australia geographically and has been associated with the continent since its earliest days.

Commonwealth Star (Star of Federation)

Commonwealth Star
The Commonwealth Star or Star of Federation, central in the third quarter or lower hoist, has seven points to denote the six states and the combined territories of the Commonwealth of Australia. The seventh point was added in 1909. The outer diameter is 3/10 the width of the Union Jack (3/5 the width of the fly) and the inner diameter is 4/9 the outer diameter.

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Defence Ensigns

The Australian Army is represented by and protector of the Australian National Flag. In addition to the the Commonwealth Ensign, there are three other official Australian ensigns:

  • The Australian Red Ensign (Merchant Ships) - as for the Australian flag, but with a red field with white stars. Proclaimed in the Flags Act 1953. Covers Australian registered ships under section 30 of the Shipping Registration Act 1981.
  • The Australian White Ensign (Navy) - as for the Australian flag but with a white field and dark blue stars. Gazetted in 1967.
  • The Blue Ensign (RAAF) - as for the Australian flag but with a pale blue field, the southern cross rotated clockwise c. 20 degrees and the blue roundel with white inner and red kangaroo of the Royal Australian Air Force in the lower fly. Gazetted in 1982.

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Flags similar to the Australian Flag

Several nations and territories have flags with similar appearance to the Australian National Flag, reflecting either a common British colonial history or previous association with Australia. Most notable is the New Zealand National Flag, a Blue Ensign with a Southern Cross of four red stars.

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State and Territory Flags

Each of the six states of Australia has its own state flag and emblem consisting of a Blue Ensign defaced with the badge or heraldic device of the state concerned; the heraldic devices are those represented in the Commonwealth Arms.

The flags of the Australian territories and of more individual nature and are not based on the Blue Ensign.

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Other Australian Flags

Australian Aboriginal Flag (see below), Torres Strait Islander Flag, The Civil Air Ensign, The Australian Customs Flag and The Australian Federal Police Flag

The Australian Aboriginal Flag

This flag was adopted as the symbol of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people when it was first flown in 1971. It is a strident 3-colour flag composed of a large central yellow circle imposed on a background of a red lower half and a black upper half; the black represents the Aboriginal people, the yellow the sun as a life force, the red the earth and the blood of the Aboriginal people. It has no official government standing but is becoming widely recognized and acknowledged by the community and is perhaps the only symbol commonly accepted by the diversity of Aboriginal people.

The Queen's Personal Flag for Australia

This flag is for the Queen's personal use when in Australia and was approved by her in 1962. It is based on the Australian Commonwealth Arms in the form of a banner in the ratio 31:22 of the Arms in rectangular form with the Ermine border, superimposed with a large gold 7-pointed star at the centre, the star bearing a blue roundel with the gold initial "E", the Royal Crown and a circle of gold roses. It is use in the same manner as the Royal Standard in the United Kingdom, to denote the monach's presence.

The Governor General's Flag

This flag was gazetted for the personal use of the Queen's representative in Australia in 1936. It is a royal blue, twice as long as wide. It bears the Royal Crest in gold ("on a St Edward's Crown a Lion statant guardant also crowned") beneath which is a gold scroll with the words "COMMONWEALTH of AUSTRALIA" in dark blue letters. It is flown continuously whenever the Governor General is in residence and on vehicles in which they are travelling.

The "Eureka Flag"

This is a famous but unofficial Australian flag, that features a white vertical cross on a blue background five white, blue-margined, 8-pointed stars superimposed at the end of each arm of the cross and at the intersection of the arms, a stylized Southern Cross. First used in Victoria in 1854 by a group of rebellious gold-miners protesting the cost of prospecting licences at the "Eureka stockade", this flag has become the symbol of Australians prepared to fight to defend rights and liberties. It has been adopted as a symbol by some of the more militant trade unions and has also been used as symbol of the republican movement.

The Centenary Flag

The Centenary Flag was presented to the Prime Minister on behalf of the people of Australia by the Australian National Flag Association on 3 September 2001 to mark the 100th anniversary of the day the Australian National Flag was first flown. The Centenary Flag was proclaimed on 13 September 2001.

The Republican Movement

Associated with recent republican activities in Australian there have been several campaigns to find a new Australian flag and other icons that reflect the "true Australian identity". The Eureka flag has been suggested as a suitable replacement for the current Australian flag. One proposal includes a flag with a blue field with a central enlarged Southern Cross. This issue of a new Australian Flag has created a great deal of spirited debate.

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