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Flags of Australia

The fag is based on the Blue Ensign. It is a plain blue flag with the British Union Jack in the upper corner of the hoist. This symbolises both Australia’s colonial background and the present-day membership of the British Commonwealth. Underneath is the seven-pointed Commonwealth star. Each point represents either a state or territory. On the right hand side there are five white stars in the shape of the Southern Cross, the constellation most characteristic of the Australian sky at night. At the time of Federation in 1901, there was no Australian flag. Because we were then a colony of Britain, we used British flags. The new Government held an international competition which attracted an enormous number of entries, 32,823! From these the present design was chosen – it had been submitted by five different people, including a 14 year old boy, an 18 year old and a New Zealander. King Edward VII approved a modified version of the design in February 1903.

The original design was similar to the current flag, except the Federation Star contained only 6 points and the Southern Cross was represented by stars ranging from 5 to 9 points to indicate their relative apparent brightness in the night sky. At first this flag was known as the Commonwealth blue ensign but later it became the Australian National flag. The Commonwealth red ensign, or merchant flag, was identical except that it had a red background instead of a blue one. Initially confusion reigned over the two Australian flags. At first the blue ensign was intended for official naval purposes only and the red ensign was to be used by the merchant fleet. However, the public also began using the red ensign on land. (The Flag placed in the time capsule left by Antarctic explorer Sir Hubert Wilkins in 1939 was the Red ensign.)

3rd September each year has been declared Australian National Flag Day (not a public holiday). Any Australian citizen or organisation may display the Australian National Flag. This may be done between 8am and sunset, or at night if properly illuminated.

New South Wales
Flag Adopted: 18th February 1876. All State flags, except the Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory, use the Australian flag, based on the Blue Ensign, but have the particular badge of that State on the right hand side where the Southern Cross would be.

The flag of New South Wales is the Blue Ensign with the state badge on the right hand side. The badge of NSW consists of the red cross of St George with a golden lion in the centre within a white circle. On each arm of the cross is an 8-pointed star, representing the Southern Cross. The badge was granted in 1876 and is used both on its own and in the State flag.

Current flag adopted: circa 1953. Victoria was the first State to have its own flag in 1870. Victoria’s flag is made up of the Blue Ensign with the State badge. The badge consists of the Southern Cross with the Imperial Crown above.

South Australia
Flag Adopted: 13th January 1904. The flag of South Australia is the Blue Ensign with the State badge. The badge consists of a white-backed piping shrike (magpie) with wings outstretched, within a golden circle. It is believed to have been designed by Robert Craig of the Adelaide School of Arts.

Western Australia
Current flag adopted: circa 1953. The flag of Western Australia is the Blue Ensign with the State badge. The badge consists of the native Black Swan within a yellow circle. The choice of the black swan was suggested in 1870 by Governor Weld for the badge for the colony.

Northern Territory
The Northern Territory was founded as a Federal Territory on 1st January 1911. It was granted self-government on 1st July 1978. Until then it used the national flag and Coat of Arms. The flag, designed by Robert Ingpen, a Victorian illustrator, was first flown in 1978. It uses black, white and ochre, basic colours of Aboriginal art. It features the Southern Cross in white on a black panel at the hoist. The centre of the fly has Sturt’s Desert Rose with seven petals on a red ochre background.

Current Flag Adopted: circa 1953. The flag of Queensland is the Blue Ensign with the State badge. The badge features a light blue Maltese cross, with the Imperial Crown in the centre of the cross, within a white circle. This badge, proclaimed in 1876, was designed by the then Queensland Colonial Secretary and Treasurer William Hemmant.

Flag adopted 29th November 1875. The Tasmanian flag is the Blue Ensign with the State badge. The badge consists of a red lion within a white circle. This design reflects historical ties with England. The badge was approved by the British Colonial office in 1875. It has remained largely unchanged since then. It was officially proclaimed in 1975.

Australian Capital Territory
The ACT did not have an official flag prior to the adoption of its new flag by the ACT Legislative Assembly on 25 March 1993. The reason for its long ‘flaglessness’ is simple: it was thought by a number of successive Commonwealth Governments that the ACT should represent all Australia and that the adoption of a specific territorial flag might necessarily detract from its federal representativeness. However, the lack of an identifying flag caused a number of problems. For example, the people of the ACT were singular in not having a unifying official community symbol and this also meant that their sporting teams were not readily identifiable. It was also thought that a flag would give the community as a whole a higher profile. The ACT achieved self-government as recently as 1988. This event undoubtedly enhanced official recognition of the ACT’s ‘personal identity’ and paved the way for the adoption of its own particular territorial flag. Competitions for a new flag were held in 1988 and 1992 and a large number of submissions were received. No consensus was reached within the community regarding any particular design; however, there were some common features among the entries. These elements were incorporated into four base designs, which were informally chosen by members of the Legislative Council, and thereafter presented to the ACT community in February and March 1993. The residents of the ACT were then invited to take part in the selection process of the new flag by informal, non-mandatory vote.

The new flag is unfortunatley not an entirely happy choice. The selection procedure by which the final four designs were chosen has been criticised by many ACT residents and the new flag itself has been described as the ‘best of a bad bunch’. It features the shield of the Coat of Arms of the ACT. The drawing of the crown is the same as that used in the original 1928 grant of arms for the shield and also as part of the crest. The drawing of the ams has not altered from the 1928 grant, and the shape of the crown was not updated after 1953. Therefore, despite the inconsistency created with crowns on other state flag badges, the Tudor style crown (though different again to the Edward VII style of crown we have been talking about recently) was used for the flag in 1993, maintaining consistency with the official drawing of the arms.

Cocos (Keeling) Islands
A Federal territory under the control of an Administrator, who is based on Christmas Island. A local flag has been unofficially in use since 2003. The crescent acknowledges that a majority of the small population are Sunni Muslims, descendents of Malays originally brought to the island to provide labour to copra plantations.

Torres Strait Islands
The Torres Strait Islander flag is attributed to the late Bernard Namok of Thursday Island. The flag is emblazoned with a white Dari (headdress) which is a symbol of Torres Strait Islanders. The white five pointed star beneath it symbolises the five major island groups and the navigational importance of stars to these seafaring people. The green stripes represent the land, the black stripes represent the people, and the blue the sea. The flag as a whole symbolises the unity of all Torres Strait Islanders. As with the Aboriginal Flag, the Torres Strait Islander Flag is beginning to be flown more widely and gaining more recognition as indigenous issues gain more prominence in Australia.

The Federal Government initiated steps in 1994 to give the flag legal recognition. After a period of public consultation, the Government decided in July 1995 that the flag should be proclaimed a “Flag of Australia” under section 5 of the Flags Act 1953. The flag was so proclaimed by the Governor General of Australia, William Hayden, on 14 July 1995.

Norfolk Island
Flag adopted 17th January 1980. Norfolk Island, an Australian external territory since 1913, lies 1400 km east of Australia in the Pacific Ocean and has a permanent population of approximately 2000. Norfolk Island gained a measure of self government when it acquired its own Legislative Assembly in 1979. Soon after, Norfolk Island adopted its own distinctive flag.

Central to the flag is a silhouette of one of Norfolk Island’s most famous symbols – the Norfolk Island Pine tree – which was first used on Norfolk Island’s great seal, granted in 1856. The green stripes on each side symbolise Norfolk Island’s abundant vegetation. The ratio of the widths of the stripes are 7:9:7. The Norfolk Island Flag and Public Seal Act 1979 gives no specifications on the size or exact representation of the tree on the flag, it merely states “the middle panel shall contain a representation in green of a Norfolk Island Pine.”

Lord Howe Island
Flag adopted November 1998. An unofficial flag, it was designed by John Vaughan, a Sydney vexillologist and first flown in November 1998. The central badge represents the island’s topography, whilst the field of the flag alludes to the pre-1801 Union Jack. Lord Howe Island is administered by the Lord Howe Island Board on behalf of the NSW Government.

Christmas Island
The fag has no legal status, however it has in use since 14th April 1986. Christmas Island is an external Australian Territory in the Indian Ocean, 1700 km northwest of Western Australia. It has an area of 135 square kilometres and a population of approximately 1300. The Christmas Island Assembly held a design competition for an island flag and coat of arms in early 1986. The flag competition attracted 69 entries from residents and non-residents who had lived or worked on the island, and carried a prizemoney of $100.

The winning flag was designed by Tony Couch of Sydney, who worked on Christmas Island for four years as a phosphate mining rigging supervisor, and the design was announced by the Assembly on 14 April 1986. The blue and green triangles represent the sea surrounding the island and the vegetation covering the island respectively. In the blue triangle is the Southern Cross in the same form as it appears on the Australian flag, representing the island’s links with Australia. In the green triangle is a representation of the Golden Bosun Bird, which is unique to Christmas Island and has long been one of the island’s most popular symbols.

In the centre of the flag is a gold disc, which has come to represent the island’s phosphate mining history although it was originally included only for aesthetic reasons to provide a background for the green map of Christmas Island. Although there is no legal impediment to the Christmas Island Assembly formally adopting the above flag as the flag of the Territory, no Act has ever been passed on the island to proclaim the flag nor any Ordinance promulgated to regulate its use. To date, the flag is still unofficial and it is not clear why action has never been taken to formalise it.
Historic Flags of Australia

Dutch explorers
The first documented European contact with Australia was by Captain Willem Janszoon who, in 1606, captained the Duyfken when it sailed from Java to what is now known as Cape York. In 1616 Dirk Hartog landed on the Western Australian coast, whilst in 1642 Abel Tasman mapped Van Diemen’s Land (later renamed Tasmania). These and other Dutch explorers were in the service of the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie), whose flag was the Dutch triband with the initials VOC in the centre. Initially the top stripe of the Dutch flag was orange, but by 1660 it had become the red of the current Dutch flag.

Red Ensign (1707-1800)
Lieutenant James Cook on HM Bark Endeavour on his first voyage of discovery was the first European to explore the east coast of Australia. He landed at Kurnell on Botany Bay on 29 April 1770. The Endeavour was in the service of the Royal Navy, but as it was not attached to any fleet, it flew the British Red Ensign (one of three flags then used by the Royal Navy).

Union Jack (1606-1800)
At Possession Island in the Torres Strait, Lieutenant James Cook raised the British flag on 22 August 1770, claiming the entire eastern coastline of Australia as British territory. On 26 January 1788 Captain Arthur Phillip established the first European settlement in Australia at Sydney Cove. The location of the landing and first flag raising is today commemorated with a flagpole in Loftus Street, Sydney. The Union Jack was created on 12 April 1606, three years after King James VI of Scotland ascended the English throne as King James I. The flag combined the traditional English St. George’s Cross with the Scottish St. Andrew’s Cross. It is correct to describe the flag as the Union Jack, but it can more formally be called the Union Flag. The name Queen Anne flag is erroneous.

Union Jack 1801
The Act of Union 1801 merged Ireland with the Kingdom of Great Britain (which was formally created by the union of England and Scotland in 1707) to create the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland with effect from 1 January 1801. The Union Jack was modified to reflect this constitutional change by adding a Cross of St. Patrick to represent Ireland. A red diagonal cross on a white field has never been the traditional flag of Ireland nor even associated with St Patrick prior to 1801. Its use seems to have been only a heraldic convenience. The emblem had been used on some Irish coats of arms, including those of the FitzGerald family, early Royal representatives in Ireland. The traditional emblem of Ireland is a golden harp on a blue or green background; when a female figure is added to the fore-pillar of the harp it is called the Maid of Erin. In Australia, the Union Jack was the sole official flag for use on land until Federation. After the creation of the Australian flag, the Union Jack continued to be regarded as the national flag of Australia, though gradually such usage was shared with the Australian red ensign, and later with the Australian blue ensign. The Flags Act 1953 has a clause that authorises the continued use of the Union Jack in Australia, though its usage has declined from the 1970s.

Red Ensign 1801
The British red ensign was altered in 1801 to include the change to the design of the Union Jack. British legislation required, with a few exceptions, that all merchant shipping throughout the British Empire fly the British Red Ensign, without any defacement or modification. The ensign is sometimes referred to as the red duster. The Royal Navy stopped using the Red Ensign in 1864.

Bowman Flag
The oldest known locally designed flag in Australia was created by John and Honor Bowman in 1806. It was flown from their home near Richmond, NSW to celebrate news of the victory of Lord Horatio Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October 1805. As the Royal Navy fleet moved towards engagement with a combined French and Spanish fleet, he hoisted signal flags that spelled out England expects that every man will do his duty. This famous phrase was embroidered onto a silk flag that included a shield featuring a rose, thistle and shamrocks. The use of the kangaroo and emu as supporters for the shield is the first known use of these animals as symbols of Australia. The original of the Bowman flag is in the collection of the State Library of NSW.

National Colonial Flag
Captain John Bingle, a former mariner, wrote his memoirs in 1881 in which he stated that Captain John Nicholson and he had designed a flag for use as a national colonial flag for Australia. He claimed that the flag had been approved by NSW Governor Sir Thomas Brisbane in 1823, though no other record of the flag or any approval has been found. The flag has been promoted as the earliest Australian flag and the first use of the Southern Cross on a flag. The image is of a reconstruction of the flag by Sydney vexillologist, John Vaughan, based on an interpretation of Bingle’s written description.

NSW Ensign / Australian Ensign
A flag chart contained in an 1832 book, New South Wales Calendar and General Post Office Directory included a flag that was captioned N.S.W. Ensign. It shows a white British ensign with a blue cross overall upon which are five 8-pointed stars. This flag is believed to have been widely used as a local merchant shipping flag in Sydney and on the east coast of Australia, becoming known as the Australian Ensign. The flag however was unofficial and in 1883, the British Admiralty prohibited its continued use by vessels due to its claimed similarity to the Royal Navy’s White Ensign.

Anti-transportation League
Formed in Launceston to oppose the transportation of convicts to Australia, the Australasian League for the Abolition of Transportation had established branches in several colonies by 1851. At a meeting in Melbourne a large flag was unfurled – it was a British blue ensign upon which were four golden stars forming the Southern Cross. This is the first known flag using the Southern Cross in a natural arrangement and it is considered to be a significant antecedent to the current Australian National Flag. The original flag is in the collection of the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston. The League was dissolved when transportation to Tasmania ended in 1853.

Murray River Flag
The first paddle-steamer went into service on the Murray River in 1853 and a flag called the Murray Flag was flown in its honour. Though the flag was used by many of the paddle steamers, no example has survived and there are no contemporary illustrations. The flag was described by a 1854 journalist’s report as “it bears a red cross with four horizontal bars of blue, the cross being charged with five stars as emblems of the different Australian colonies”. The illustration represents a reconstruction by Frank Cayley in 1966. The flag continues to be used by craft on the Murray River, including several historic paddle steamers and more modern tourist boats. A different version of the Murray River Flag is promoted in South Australia, based on an alternate interpretation of the contemporary description.

Eureka Flag
Gold miners in Ballarat, Victoria protested about various grievances, which led to the short-lived Eureka rebellion of 1854. At a meeting of 12,000 miners on 29 November 1854 a new flag was raised as a gesture of defiance against the Victorian Government. The Eureka Flag was dark blue with five stars representing the Southern Cross, the stars joined together by a broad white cross. The rebellion ended on 3 December 1854 with colonial troops and police storming the Eureka Stockade and hauling down the flag from the pole erected there as a rallying point. The Eureka Stockade and its flag have become historical symbols of the wider struggle by Australians for democracy and national identity. The original flag was re-discovered in the early 1960s and is now on public display at the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery. The Eureka Flag continues to evoke strong feelings and it has been used to support a variety of political and trade union causes. In deference to its authentic Australian heritage, some Australians advocate that the Eureka Flag become the Australian national flag.

Queensland Separation Flag
A separate colony of Queensland was established on 10 December 1859. Separation from New South Wales was celebrated by the flying of a new flag – the Queensland Ensign, which has become known as the Queensland Separation Flag. Only a written description exists – “a light blue flag with a red St George’s Cross and union in the corner”; the illustration represents a reconstruction. It is unclear for how long the flag was used. The flag continues to be flown at Newstead House in Brisbane.

Lambing Flat
Strikes and unemployment on the goldields in southern NSW in the early 1860s were the catalyst for violence and riots directed against immigrant Chinese labourers. One of the worst disturbances was at Lambing Flat (now Young) where, on 30 June 1861 miners attacked the Chinese quarter killing and wounding several labourers. A public meeting of miners had been advertised by a banner painted on the side of a tent. At its centre was a Scottish St. Andrews Cross with four white stars. It is possible that this emblem was intended to refer to the Eureka Flag with its white cross and stars of the Southern Cross. Despite the harshness of the “No Chinese” slogan, this remains an important historical relic. Painted on canvas, it is not a flag strictly, but is considered significant in showing the early emergence of the Southern Cross as an Australian symbol. The banner is on display at the Lambing Flat Folk Museum, Young.

Victorian red ensign
On 1 February 1870 Victoria adopted two flags – a blue flag with the Southern Cross for use by the first Australian colonial warship (HMCS Nelson) and a red version for use by the mercantile marine. The Victorian Red Ensign was approved by the British Board of Trade, even though this was contrary to the normal practice that colonial shipping was required to use the British Red Ensign without a badge. It was used (without any crown) until 1903 and it came to be flown on land, particularly in the lead-up to Federation.

This red ensign was a clear antecedent of the winning design in the 1901 competition for an Australian flag. The Australiian flag design was merely the Victorian Red Ensign with the addition of the six-pointed Federal Star. It should be noted that the arrangement of stars was 9,8,7,6 and 5-pointed and the badge extended over the full area of the fly of the flag – identical to the layout of the winning Australian design (though the stars on the blue Victorian state flag had altered to 8,7,7,6 and 5 points in 1876).

Queensland 1870
The badge for the first flag for Queensland was adopted on 22 March 1870 by Governor Samuel Blackall. It consisted of a portrait of the young Queen Victoria crowned with the Diamond Diadem together with the inscription Queensland. The badge clearly attests that the colony had been named in honour of the Queen. However it was difficult to produce on bunting a fair representation of the head of Her Majesty and the decision was made in 1876 to replace the badge with the current design.

Tasmanian Colonial Flag
On 9 November 1875, the Tasmanian government proclaimed a new Colonial Flag for use by local ships. It was a British red ensign with the addition of a white cross overall and the Southern Cross. However, it was revoked on 23 November – only 14 days later – when it was realised that the flag was contrary to British Admiralty rules for colonial flags. The flag however did have some continued existence – on the label of Cascade Brewery’s Sparkling Pale Ale beer during the 1920s through to the 1940s.

South Australia 1876
The British Admiralty rules required that the colonial flags be the British Blue Ensign with a badge consisting of the public seal of the colony or some other drawing to represent the colony. In 1870 Victoria, NSW, New Zealand and South Australia each submitted to London badge designs that featured the Southern Cross. In response to criticism from the British Admiralty, on 24 March 1876 South Australia decided to use its seal on the flag. This was a complex allegorical scene of Britannia meeting an Australian Aboriginal seated on a rock on a beach. This flag was in use until 1904 when it was replaced by the current design.

Federation Flag
In the mid-1880s efforts to join the separate Australasian colonies into an Australian federation increased. The earlier Australian Ensign was revived for use on land and in printed materials to promote federation, particularly in NSW and Queensland. In the absence of an official Australian flag in January 1901, this Federation Flag was widely used. When Prime Minister Edmund Barton submitted the winning design in the Federal flag competition to the British authorities in 1902, he also included the Federation Flag as Design B – an alternative for adoption as the new Australian national flag. It was rejected without any consideration as it did not conform to the style of official British flags. Usage as an unofficial Australian flag continued until Word War I.

Herald Federal Flag
With Federation approaching questions arose as to what the flag of a federated Australia should be. In 1900 the Melbourne Evening Herald newspaper conducted a public competition for a Federal Flag. Mr F. Thompson won the £25 prize and the flag has become known as the Herald Federal Flag. Federation was symbolised with six red stripes below the Union Jack and Australia was represented by the Southern Cross. Two versions were created, one with the Southern Cross on a blue background for use by the Government and another for general use with a red backgound. The design was both praised and criticised, leading to another competition by the Review of Reviews for Australasia magazine that was later incorporated into the Federal Government’s flag design competition in 1901.

Royal Standard 1901
The inauguration of the Commonwealth of Australia took place on 1 January 1901, with the formal ceremony in Centennial Park, Sydney. As there was no official Australian flag, this and other celebrations were marked with the use of the Federation Flag, the Victorian Red Ensign and the Union Jack. Above the Swearing-in-Pavilion, the flag flown was the British Royal Standard, marking the presence of the Governor-General, the Earl of Hopetoun.

Governor General 1903
A flag for the Governor-General was adopted in 1903 in the usual form for colonial governors. It was a Union Jack with a central disc containing the badge of Australia – a six pointed star surmounted by a crown. Initially, the Governor-General was the representative of the British Government in Australia and all major correspondence between the Australian Government and Britain passed through the office of the Governor-General. The Statute of Westminster 1931 changed the relationship between the Dominions and Britain and this was reflected by the appointment of a separate British High Commissioner in 1931 and a change in the flag of the Governor-General in 1936.

Australia: People’s Flag
The 1901 flag competition winning design was announced on 3 September 1901 and the selected design was subsequently modified and formally adopted from 20 February 1903, with a further change to the current design from 23 February 1908. Initially the blue version of the Australian flag was limited to government use and the red was only intended for use by private shipping. At sea the use of the Union Jack was prohibited except on warships of the Royal Navy and there was uncertainty as to whether ordinary people could use the Union Jack on land.

The practice developed during the 19th century in Britain and other parts of the Empire for the British Red Ensign to be used on land when private citizens wanted to fly a flag from a building. This practice explains why the flag of Canada until 1965 was a red ensign. Accordingly, the Australian Red Ensign was the flag used when businesses and individuals wanted to fly a local flag, either in addition to or in place of the Union Jack. The Australian Red Ensign historically can be considered to be the People’s Flag, though there was no contemporary use of this description.

British White Ensign
The Royal Australian Navy was formally established in July 1911. The first Australian warships, HMAS Parramatta and HMAS Yarra, were built in Scotland and arrived in Australia in December 1910. A Naval Conference between the British Admiralty and Australia determined in June 1911 that Australian warships would fly the White Ensign of the Royal Navy as their principal flag. When warships are in port, an additional flag is flown on the jackstaff – this was the blue Australian National Flag. The British White Ensign was used by the Royal Australian Navy until 1 March 1967 when the Australian White Ensign came into use.

RAF Ensign
The Royal Australian Air Force was established in 1921. In March 1922 the RAAF’s Air Council decided that the flag of the Royal Air Force would be used in Australia. A proposal to use a flag that included the Commonwealth Star and added the Southern Cross to the roundel had been rejected by the British authorities. A distinctive ensign for the RAAF was not adopted until 1949.

The Aboriginal Flag
The Aboriginal Flag was designed by Harold Thomas, an artist and an Aboriginal, in 1971. It has become a symbol for modern Aborigines in their fight for land rights and equality. Black is for the colour of the people. Red is for the land and for the blood that has been shed since the arrivals of Europeans. Yellow is for the sun, the life-giving source uniting both the land and the people.

First flown in 1972 at the Tent Embassy in Canberra, the Aboriginal flag is increasingly being flown by both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. In 1994 the Government took steps to give the flag legal recognition. After a period of public consultation the Government, in July 1995, decided that the flag should be proclaimed a “Flag of Australia” under section 5 of the Flags Act 1953. The flag was so proclaimed by the Governor General of Australia, William Hayden, on 14 July 1995.

Air Force Ensign
The Air Force Ensign is for use by the Royal Australian Air Force at its facilities in Australia and overseas. The design of the Air Force Ensign has been changed twice since the Royal Australian Air Force was established in 1921. The RAAF used the ensign of the Royal Air Force of Britain until 1949, whereupon the Southern Cross and Commonwealth star were added to the ensign and the British roundel (military aircraft insignia) was moved to the lower fly. During the Vietnam War the RAAF ceased using the British roundel on its aircraft, as Britain was not involved in the Vietnam war and the continued use of the British roundel on Australian military aircraft highlighted its inappropriateness. The central red circle of the British roundel was substituted with a leaping red kangaroo to create a new Australian roundel. The Air Force Ensign with its British roundel, however, was not altered until 1982. The new Air Force ensign with the Australian roundel was proclaimed as an official Australian flag under Section 5 of the Flags Act 1953 on 6 May 1982.

The Red Ensign
The Australian Civil Ensign, or Australian Red Ensign, is simply a red version of the Australian National flag. It is for use only at sea and officially never on land, but can be used by private citizens. At sea, it is the only flag allowable for merchant ships registered in Australia under the Navigation and Shipping Act 1912 and The Shipping Registration Act 1981. Pleasure craft, however, may fly either the Red Ensign or the National Flag. The history of the Red Ensign is intertwined with the history of the Australian National flag. From 1901 to 1954 the Red Ensign was in practice, used as Australia’s Civil Flag, i.e. the flag to be flown by private citizens on land. The Blue Ensign was for Government use only, reflecting British practice with its ensigns. The design of the Australian Red Ensign was always kept in step with the Blue Ensign (i.e. with respect to the number of points on the stars, etc.) but there was often public confusion about which was the `correct’ flag to fly. Many thought the choice was merely one of fashion or preference. In 1941, Australia’s Prime Minister Robert Menzies added to this confusion by directing that there should be no restriction on private citizens flying the Blue Ensign, though most people continued to use the red ensign. This Government consent was reaffirmed by Prime Minister Ben Chifley in February 1947. However, the confusion really wasn’t ended until the Flags Act 1953 (enacted 15th April 1954) gave legal effect to this directive, with the Red Ensign becoming reserved as the Civil Ensign.

The Naval Ensign
The Naval Ensign is a white ensign version of the Australian National Flag, for use by official Government naval defence forces (i.e. the Royal Australian Navy) and on RAN on-shore establishments. From the time the Royal Australian Navy was formed in 1911 until 1967, all its ships flew the White Ensign of the UK, i.e. the Royal Navy Ensign. In March 1967, the Holt Government adopted a new design, one consistent with the design of the other two Australian Flags but with a white field. This change was made at the request of the British Government which was concerned about the possibility of attacks on Royal Navy vessels near Vietnam, though the United Kingdom was not involved in the Vietnam War.

Boxing Kangaroo
In 1983 the yacht Australia II won the America’s Cup in Newport, Rhode Island – a sporting achievement that inspired the nation. The promotional mascot for the challenge was the Boxing Kangaroo – a cartoon of a kangaroo wearing boxing gloves. This irreverent symbol was placed upon a green flag and it become symbolic of national pride and enthusiasm for Australian achievement in many fields of endeavour. Subsequently the copyright to the image was purchased by the Australian Olympic Committee and it continues to be used in sports promotions. An earlier example of a boxing kangaroo image is from World War II when it was painted onto the fuselage of some RAAF aircraft.

Bicentennial Flag
The 200th anniversary of European settlement in Australia was celebrated on 26 January 1988. The logo for the Bicentennial celebrations was a stylised map of Australia, consisting of a ribbon with stripes of different widths. The ribbon alluded to the diagonal stripes of the Union Jack and the seven golden stripes signified the six states and the territories. The logo was initially placed on a blue field to create a flag, but this was changed to green in 1984 after green and gold were declared the national colours of Australia.

Centenary of Federation Flag
The 100th anniversary of Federation – the establishment of the Commonwealth of Australia, was celebrated on 1 January 2001. The logo for the Federation Centenary celebrations was a stylised map of Australia, consisting of a ribbon of various colours. The ribbon colours alluded to the Australian landscape. The use of an eight-pointed Federation star caused some confusion, with the additional point representing the Commonwealth, additional to the six states and the territories. Some versions of the flag added a coloured bar at the top and bottom to relieve the plainness of a white field with a mostly white logo. The use of text to explain the logo highlighted its inadequacies as a graphic design.

Sydney 2000 Olympics
The 2000 Summer Oympics were held in Sydney over 16 days from 15 September. The logo of the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (SOCOG) was placed on a white background to create a Sydney 2000 flag. The general public however was not allowed to own Olympic flags, so usage was limited to Olympic venues and public sites. The logo was incorporated into a vast array of souvenirs and other merchandise sold over the four years prior to the Games. The logo was described as the Millennium Athlete – a running man made from stylised boomerangs.

Melbourne Commonwealth Games
The Eighteenth Commonwealth Games were held in Melbourne from 15th to 26th March 2006. The central design of the logo of the Games consisted of two stylised athletes forming the letter M representing movement and the host city. The colours represented the Australian landscape – earth red and rainforest green and the duality reflected the Melbourne passion for both sport and culture. The flag and logo appeared all over Melbourne and on handwaver flags. Athletes from 71 countries and territorites of the Commonwealth of Nations attended these Games.

Material on historic flags of Australia Copyright to the Flag Society of Australia Inc and Pennant Advisory Services Pty Limited. Text and illustrations by Ralph Kelly.

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