Last modified: 2022-02-12 by ian macdonald
Keywords: australia | southern cross | stars: southern cross | stars: 7 points |
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image by António Martins, 28 Nov 2005
The Australian flag is composed of three parts:
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:
For more details, including a picture and a comparison with the New Zealand flag, see our page on the construction of the Australian 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.
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
No 27 of 29 April 1901 (Page 89)
No 8 of 20 February 1903 (page 93 and colour plate)
No 38 of 15 August 1903 (page 433)
No 65 of 19 December 1908 (page 1709)
No 29 of 22 May 1909 (page 1124 and colour plate)
No 18 of 23 March 1934 (pages 511, 512 and drawing)
GN35 of 4 September 1996 (with S321 of 3 September. Proclamation of Australian National Flag Day)
GN38 of 26 September 2001 (with S382 of 20 September. Centenary Flag Warrant).
GAZETTE INCLUSIONS OF E WILSON DOBBS FLAG
No 39 of 8 August 1908 (alleged colour plates, not in on-line copy)
Public Instruction Gazette (New South Wales); 30 April 1912 (page 111 et seq., drawing)
In the Gazette notifications and the various customs, military and naval regulations made before 1954 the flag we now know as the Australian National Flag was referred to by descriptions such as 'flag of the Commonwealth of Australia (Blue Ensign), 'Ensign of the Commonwealth of Australia' and so on. It was sometimes referred to as the Commonwealth Blue Ensign in government documents, and nowadays is alternatively known as the Australian Blue Ensign.
Many early Australian and external territory regulations included customs and quarantine service ensigns, prescribed as a 'blue ensign' with a particular defacement. As first drafted these implied British Blue Ensigns, but it is confirmed that an Australian Blue Ensign version of the quarantine ensign existed. It is likely the Australian Blue Ensign versions of the 1901-1904 Australian and 1901-1942/1951 Papuan customs flags existed too, although the 1901-1904 Australian one would obviously have been based upon the pre-1908 versions of the Australian Blue Ensign.
The Flags Act 1953 does not specify the proportions of the Australian National
Flag, but government-issued drawings and images show it as 1:2. The majority of
Australian National Flags sold in Australia are of these proportions. Exceptions
are most car-flags including those of the Prime Minister and Chief of Army which
are usually 2:3, and some mainly indoor flags which are also 2:3 and less often,
Jeff Thomson, 3 February 2020
The so-called E Wilson Dobbs flag in the Gazette list above refers to a 1908 variant of the blue and red Australian flags with the seven-point Commonwealth Star and original-pattern 1901 Southern Cross with star-points Alpha to Epsilon of 9-8-7-6-5. This type remained in use with Australia's navy until about 1914. Due to an oversight, detailed drawings of this design were printed for the Department of External Affairs which was then the Australian authority for the flags. These drawings were distributed to the public until around 1911 when a new drawing with the current design of Southern Cross replaced it. Colour plates of this flag type were reportedly enclosed in the 1908 Commonwealth Gazette No 39 in a similar way to the first Commonwealth Coat-of-Arms colour plate in No 36 (25 July 1908), with no explanation, nor later inclusion in the Gazette annual index. However Gazette No 39 also carried the formal notification of the approval of the first Arms, although with no enclosed colour plates of the Arms.