Australian National Flag
The Australian National Flag (the flag) was first flown in 1901 (see also Australian National Flag Day). It is Australia's foremost national symbol and has become an expression of Australian identity and pride.
The flag is paraded by our defence forces and displayed around the country at sporting events and by service organisations, schools, community groups and private citizens.
The flag has three elements on a blue background: the Union Jack, the Commonwealth Star and the Southern Cross.
The Union Jack in the upper left corner represents the history of British settlement.
Below the Union Jack is a 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 is shown on the flag in white. It is a constellation of five stars that can only be seen from the southern hemisphere and is a reminder of Australia’s geography.
In 1901 Australia’s first Prime Minister, the Rt Hon Sir Edmund Barton, announced an international competition to design a flag for the new Commonwealth of Australia. There were 32,823 entries and five nearly-identical entries were awarded equal first.
The five joint winners came from different parts of the community and they shared a £200 prize. On 3 September 1901, the Prime Minister announced the five joint winners of the competition and the key elements of their designs were used to create the new flag for the Commonwealth of Australia.
The joint winners were: Annie Dorrington who was a well-known artist from Perth; Ivor Evans a 14 year old Melbourne school boy whose father owned a flag making business; Lesley Hawkins an 18 year old from Leichhardt in Sydney who was apprenticed to a Sydney optician at the time; Eggbert Nutall an architect with the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works; and William Stevens, a first officer with the Union Steamship Company of New Zealand.
The flag was flown for the first time on 3 September 1901 at the Exhibition Building in Melbourne, which was then the seat of the federal government. In this original design the stars of the Southern Cross had different numbers of points to signify their brightness.
The Commonwealth ensigns
In 1903 King Edward VII approved two designs for the flag of Australia: the Commonwealth blue ensign, and 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 to be 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.
Proclamation: 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 subesquently proclaimed the Australian blue ensign as the Australian National Flag and the Australian red ensign as the flag for merchant ships registered in Australia
An amendment to the Flags Act 1953 was passed in 1998 to ensure that the Australian National Flag can be changed only with the agreement of the Australian people.
Other official Australian flags include the Australian Aboriginal Flag, the Torres Strait Islander Flag and the ensigns of the Australian Defence Force.
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, with flag protocols for special occasions such as ANZAC Day and NAIDOC Week or occasions when flags should be half-mast.
Previous flag announcements are available online after they are sent.