Country Digest

Australian Flag

The Australian flag was introduced in 1901 and has been the national flag of Australia ever since. It represents Australia’s British heritage and its position in the Southern hemisphere.

Although there are some within Australia lobbying for the introduction of a new Australian state flag to better represent its current, multicultural identity, demand for a change does not seem strong.

This article contains Australian flag facts and information, as well as links to download your own copies of the flag of Australia. It also contains information about the Aboriginal flag and about the flags of each of Australia’s states.

What does the Australian flag look like?

The Australian flag has a blue background, a union jack in the upper left quarter, the Commonwealth star in the lower left, and five white stars on the right which represent the Southern Cross constellation.

Australian Flag

The exact construction of the Australian flag is set out in Schedule 1 of the Flags Act of 1953. Under the act:

  • the Union Jack must occupy the upper quarter next the staff
  • a large white star (the Commonwealth Star) must be placed in the centre of the lower quarter next the staff. The star must point directly at the centre of St George’s Cross in the Union Jack and must contain seven points
  • 5 white stars (the Southern Cross) must be placed in the half of the flag further from the staff, as follows:
    • Alpha Crucis – On middle line, one-sixth from bottom edge
    • Beta Crucis – One-quarter from middle line, at right angles on left to a point on middle line one-sixteenth above centre of fly
    • Gamma Crucis – On middle line one-sixth from top edge
    • Delta Crucis – Two-ninths from middle line at right angles on right to a point one-fifteenth above a point on middle line one-sixteenth above centre of fly
    • Epsilon Crucis – One-tenth from middle line at right angles on right to a point on middle line one twenty-fourth below centre of fly

All of the Australian flag stars should have seven points, with the exception of the star representing Epsilon Crucis, which should have only five points.

Here is a template which explains how to position each of the elements on the Australian flag.

Template_for_Australian_flag

Australian flag colors

The background of the Australian flag is blue, the Union jack is blue, red and white, and the stars are all white. Here is a table which provides details of the colours that should be used in Pantone, RGB (red, green, blue) and Hex (hexadecimal) format.

 BlueRedWhite
Pantone280 C185 CSafe
RGB0–0–139
255–0–0
255–255–255
Hex#00008B#FF0000#FFFFFF

What does the Australian flag mean?

The flag of Australia was introduced in 1901 to mark its transition into the Commonwealth of Australia. So, what do each of the symbols on the Aussie flag mean?

Union Jack

The Union Jack in the upper left quadrant symbolised Australia’s close relationship with the United Kingdom. When the flag was introduced, the Commonwealth of Australia was an integral, but autonomous, part of the British Empire – because of this, it seemed natural to include the union jack prominantly on the national flag.

Although Australia today is a fully independent country – and has been since 1931 – it remains a member of the British Commonwealth, and the Queen is its head of state. The union jack today represents Australia’s heritage as a former colony and its close links with the United Kingdom.

Commonwealth Star / Federation Star

The Commonwealth Star, in the lower left quadrant, represents the different colonies that joined together to create the Commonwealth of Australia. When the flag was first introduced, it had six points to represent the six different colonies. Because the six colonies were joining together to form a federation, the Commonwealth Star is sometimes referred to as the Federation Star.

A seventh point was added to the Commonwealth Star in 1908 to represent Australia’s territories.

Southern Cross

The five stars in the lower right quadrant represent the Southern Cross. This is a bright constellation that can only be seen in the Southern Hemisphere and, importantly, could not be seen in the United Kingdom. This provided Australian with a graphical representation of its difference from its colonial homeland.

The five stars of the Southern Cross are, from highest on the flag to lowest:

  • Gamma Crucis
  • Delta Crucis
  • Beta Crucis
  • Epsilon Crucis
  • Alpha Crucis

When was the Australian flag introduced?

Australian flag competitionThe flag was first introduced and flown in 1901. To celebrate it’s federation, the Australian Commonwealth government held a competition to choose the national flag.

With a prize of £200, worth more than £20,000 today ($38,000 AUS, $28,000 US) the competition attracted a stunning 32,823 designs.

According to wikipedia, the designs were judged on seven criteria: “loyalty to the Empire, Federation, history, heraldry, distinctiveness, utility and cost of manufacture.”

Five winners, who had submitted very similar designs shared the prize money, and the new design was unveiled and first flown on 3 September 1901 outside the Royal Exhibition building in Melbourne.

Since 1996, this date has been celebrated as Australia’s national flag day (although this is not a public holiday).

A New Australian Flag?

Australia has intermittently debated whether to change its flag to something that better represents its independence from the United Kingdom and its modern, multicultural identity. This debate has gained some additional impetus in recent years as Australia’s neighbour, New Zealand, debates adopting a new flag.

Australian flag debate

There are two main organisations promoting the development of a new flag – the Australian National Flag Association (australianflag.org.au)and Ausflag (ausflag.com.au). Their main arguments for dropping the current flag in favour of a new one seem to be primarily about the inclusion of the Union Jack. There are very few complaints about the stars on the Australian flag. The key arguments used are that the Union Jack:

  • makes the Australian flag too similar to the flags of other British colonies and existing British territories;
  • implies that Australia is not fully independent from the UK;
  • doesn’t reflect Australia’s moden, multicultural society;
  • doesn’t reflect Australia’s aboriginal peoples.

The main argument for maintaining the current flag seems to be that, despite it’s similarity to other flags, it has established itself as a broadly popular symbol of Australia, and that no widely supported alternative has been identified or designed.

Overall, there is not strong demand in Australia for a change, so the current flag seems secure – for the time being at least.

Australian Red Ensign

In its design, the Red Ensign is almost exactly the same as the Australian national flag. It contains the Union Jack in its upper left corner, the Confederation Star, and the six stars of the Southern Cross. The only difference is that the background of the red ensign is red, instead of blue.

Australian Red Ensign Flag

Historically, the blue Australian flag (the blue ensign) was reserved for official state and government usage, and the red ensign was reserved for the use of private citizens.

The 1953 Flags Act clarified that the blue ensign was the official national Australian flag, and the red ensign would become the official flag of the Australian merchant navy.

Australia flag map

Here is a picture of an Australian flag map. It contains a copy of the Austlalian flag on a map of Australia. To download the map, click on the picture – you will be taken to a separate page where you can then save the image.

Please note that not all of the stars of the Southern Cross are visible on this map because of the shape of the Australian continent!

Australia Flag Map

Alternatively, if you’d prefer, here is an upside-down flag map of Australia!

Upside-down Australia flag map

Australian state flags

Each Australian state has its own flag. In common with the national flag, each state flag is a blue ensign (that is to say, it has a blue background) and contains a union jack in the upper left quadrant. On the right hand side of each state’s flag there is an emblem to represent the individual state.

Some Australian state flags were adopted before Australia’s national flag.

New South Wales

Adopted 18 February 1876.

Australia New South Wales flag 1024

The New South Wales state flag contains a badge with the red cross of St George on a white background. A golden lion is positioned in the centre, surrounded by four eight pointed golden stars on each arm of the cross.

The NSW state badge was designed by James Burnett and Captain Francis Hixson.

Queensland

First adopted 29 November 1876, current version adopted 1953.

Australia Queensland flag 1024

The Queensland state flag contians a badge with a light blue Maltese Cross on a white disc. A St Edwards crown is positioned at the centre of the cross. The design of the crown changes to reflect the crown chosen by the reigning monarch.

The Queensland state badge was designed by William Hemmant.

South Australia

Adopted 1904.

Australia South Australia flag 1024

The South Australian state flag contains a piping shrike (a bird similar to a magpie) on a yellow disc. The piping shrike is the state bird of Southern Australia.

The South Australian state badge was designed by Robert Craig.

Tasmania

Adopted 29 November 1875.

Australia Tasmania flag 1024

The Tasmanian state flag contains a red lion on a white disc. The lion is thought to symbolise the colony’s ties with Britain.

Victoria

First adopted 30 November 1877, current version adopted in 1953.

Australia Victoria flag 1024

The Victoria state flag contains a St Edwards Crown atop a constellation of the five white stars of the Southern Cross. Unlike the Australian flag, the number of points on each of the stars varies – from five points to eight.

The design of the crown on the Victoria flag changes to reflect the crown chosen by the reigning monarch.

Australian Aboriginal flag

The Australian Aboriginal flag was designed by Harold Thomas in 1971 and is widely regarded as a symbol of Australia’s aboriginals.

Australian Aboriginal Flag 1024

The flag is divided into two horizontal bars, or black and red, with a yellow disc in the centre. According to Thomas, the different elements of his flag represent:

  • Black – represents the Aboriginal people of Australia
  • Yellow circle – represents the Sun, the giver of life and protector
  • Red – represents the red earth, the red ochre used in ceremonies and Aboriginal peoples’ spiritual relation to the land

The aboriginal flag was first used on 12 July 1971, at an event in Adelaide to represent National Aborigines Day. Cathy Freeman carried the Aboriginal and Australian flags together at the Commonwealth Games in 1994 to celebrate her victory lap after winning both the 200 and 400 metre sprint events.

It was given official status in 1995, and then again in 2008, as “the flag of the Aboriginal peoples of Australia and a flag of significance to the Australian nation generally.”

Harold Thomas continues to work as an artist. You can see and buy his work here: http://www.territorycolours.com/harold_thomas.htm

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