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Construction Details of the Australian Flag

Last modified: 2017-09-13 by ian macdonald
Keywords: australia | southern cross | stars: 7 points | construction sheet |
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Construction Details

The Australian flag is defined by the Flags Act 1953, the current version of which can be found at ComLaw. The construction details are defined in the schedule to the act.
Jonathan Dixon, 30 September 2008

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:

  • commonwealth star - centred in lower hoist,
  • alpha - straight below centre fly 1/6 up from bottom edge,
  • beta - 1/4 of the way left and 1/16 up from the centre fly,
  • gamma - straight above centre fly 1/6 down from top edge,
  • delta - 2/9 of the way right and 31/240 up from the centre fly,
  • epsilon - 1/10 of the way right and 1/24 down from the centre fly.
The positions of alpha-epsilon are given with respect to the centre of the square fly, and distances in terms of hoist width of the flag.
Christopher Vance, 26 February 1998

The outer radius of the 7-pointed stars in the Southern Cross should be 1/14 the width of the fly (the "height" of the flag). For the 5-pointed star it should be 1/24. The Commonwealth star should be 3/20. In each case, the inner radius should be 4/9 of the outer radius.
Jonathan Dixon, 3 February 2003

A good template of the Australian flag can be found at http://www.itsanhonour.gov.au/images/flag_template.jpg. Below is a different representation:

 [Construction Sheet for Australian flag] by Mello Luchtenberg and Jonathan Dixon, 3 February 2003

Construction Details in the 1901 Flag

According to flag description charts issued by the Department of External Affairs between 1901 and about 1916, these are the differences between the original 1901 flag design, the 1903 version and the current (1908) one:

  • The 1901 Southern Cross star-points ranged from nine (Alpha) to five (Epsilon) and inner diameter of each was 4/9 of their outer diameters. Beta, Gamma and Epsilon were the same outer diameter as today, Alpha was 1/6 and Delta 1/10 of the fly width. In 1903 Alpha, Beta and Delta were altered to the same design as the Gamma Star (1/7 fly width, seven points) thus making the Southern Cross the same as on the current flag.
  • The 1901 six-point and 1908 seven-point Commonwealth Star outer diameters were both 3/10 of the fly width. However the inner diameters were different. The six-point was half, and the seven-point is 4/9 of the Commonwealth Star outer diameter.
  • The Department of External Affairs specifications do not appear to have been well-known between 1901 and 1934, as several variant designs evolved in Australia and the UK by 1910. Although they all looked similar to the correct flags, their stars differed in size, shape and positions. Some of these flags faded out in the First World War period, the others in the early 1930s. The detailed drawing of the flags in the 1934 Commonwealth Gazette served to assert the correct design. This same method was used the following year to establish the new Civil Air Ensign of the Commonwealth of Australia.
Jeff Thomson, 10 November 2015

Colour of the flag

The usual understanding seems to be that both the Australian and New Zealand flags use Pantone 280 for the blue, to match the British Union Jack, but I'm not sure of an official source for that in the case of New Zealand. The Australian Government does give specific RGB specifications for representing the flag in digital media.
Jonathan Dixon, 17 October 2010

The PMS colours for the Australian National Flag seem to have been the subject of changes over time in the official pronouncements, but these have not been fully reflected by the production methods of Australian flag makers.

Traditionally, the blue version of the Australian flag has been a dark shade of blue. Whilst no Pantone colour shades were published, the Department of the Prime Minister had for a number of years recommended the blue shade to be PMS 281 and the red shade PMS 185. These were the colours used by the main Australian flag manufacturers and they correspond closely to the colours used in the coloured illustration in Schedule 1 of the Flags Act 1953. In 2000, the Australian Government issued the official booklet "Australian Symbols". This publication, for the first time specified the shade of blue as PMS 280 (materially lighter than the traditional shade). John Howard became Prime Minister in 1996.

Why has this occurred? There was never a formal announcement of a change, and it is possible that the change occurred due to bureaucratic ignorance and indifference. Alternatively, there has been a "hidden agenda" which has not been explained.

The ignorance and indifference explanation would centre on the proliferation of cheap imported flags, and some nameless public servant (or consultant on publications) looked at such a flag and estimated PMS 280 as the shade, ignoring the corporate memory that had been built up by previous governments. The "Australian Symbols" booklet had been prepared with the assistance of Four Design Group, who did a good job on the graphic design, but would have had no knowledge of flags. I am unaware of there having been any consultation with flag experts or manufacturers in the drafting of that publication. Another possible explanation, based on ignorance, could be that someone asked what the PMS colours of the Union Jack are. Though there was no formal process, the shade of the Union Jack was lightened about 15 years ago, making the colour closer to that of the European Union flag. A public servant or consultant, being unfamiliar with flags, would therefore have copied the current British colour and been unaware that he or she was effectively changing the official colour of the Australian national flag.

One possible "hidden agenda" could be that the lighter shade of blue is closer to the colour known as "Royal Blue", and hence a move away from the more republican darker shade used by the United States (PMS 281) and France (PMS 282). The change also may have been part of the Howard government's campaign to entrench the flag and to encourage the development of a conservative mythology around the flag and its history. Since much of that mythology is based on omissions and distortions and politicisation, there may have been a hidden agenda that went beyond mere ignorance of the real traditions and history surrounding the national flag.

The issue came up explicitly in mid 2006 when I provided advice to the Western Australian Premiers Department about the State Flags Bill and it became necessary to specify the shades of blue and red. The WA government also consulted the Commonwealth Government (who were apparently ignorant as to why the colour shades were those stated in their own publications) and the local flag manufacturers, who confirmed that they had been ignoring the colour specification from the Commonwealth government on the grounds that they believed the Commonwealth's use of PMS 280 was an administrative error and contrary to the long term practices of Australian manufacturers. The WA government specified PMS 281 for the blue and 032 for the red, in line with their previous advice to flag makers and publishers.

I am not in a position to make definitive comments about the New Zealand flag. However, my observation is that a similar "colour drift" has been occurring in respect of the New Zealand flag. It is my belief that traditionally the New Zealand flag was specified as "Navy Blue" and this would correspond to PMS 281 or PMS 282. However, I note that the French Pavillons Album states the shade of blue to be PMS 287 - a lighter shade than PMS 280. My personal observations have been that normally, a well produced New Zealand flag has the same shade of blue colour as an Australian flag, or if there is a difference the New Zealand blue is typically darker than the Australian blue.

The 1989 edition of BR20 "Flags of all Nations" Change 5 defined "Navy Blue" as PMS 282C and "Royal Blue" as PMS 280C. I note that Graham Bartram's "British Flags and Emblems" defines the Union Jack blue as PMS280.
Ralph Kelly, 18 October 2010

The protocol manual for the London 2012 Olympics (Flags and Anthems Manual London 2012 <bib-lna.html#loc12>) provides recommendations for national flag designs. Each NOC was sent an image of the flag, including the PMS shades, for their approval by LOCOG. Once this was obtained, LOCOG produced a 60 x 90 cm version of the flag for further approval. So, while these specs may not be the official, government, version of each flag, they are certainly what the NOC believed the flag to be.
For Australia, PMS PMS 280 blue, 185 red. The vertical version has the UJ at the top left corner with the narrow red stripe in the upper left, the Commonwealth star at top right; the Southern Cross is shown horizontally with the top star on the left.
Ian Sumner, 10 October 2012


Comparison with New Zealand's flag

The Australian and New Zealand flags are both blue with the Union Jack in the canton and the southern cross in the fly. The federation star in the lower hoist is unique to the Australian flag. When comparing the representations of the southern cross on the flags of Australia and New Zealand, we find that

  • The cross is slightly "taller" on the Australian flag (the distance between Alpha and Gamma Crucis is 2/3 of the hoist, rather than 3/5).
  • In the NZ case, the positioning of Beta and Delta Crucis is described in terms of a line which forms an angle of 82º with the vertical, which is the same as the angle formed by the line between Beta and Delta in the Australian flag, to an accuracy of 1 degree.
  • The abovementioned line is slightly higher on the NZ cross than on the Australian - splitting the vertical line between Alpha and Gamma 2:1 compared to roughly 11:6 (actually 1759:961).
  • On the NZ flag, the line between Beta and Delta is cut by the vertical line in the ratio 7:6, compared with 9:8 for the Australian flag.
  • The overall horizontal distance between Beta and Delta is greater on the Australian flag, 17/36 (roughly 0.47) of the hoist length, compared with roughly 0.43 of the hoist length for NZ. This is entirely due to the NZ cross being smaller overall, as the width of the cross is 17/24 (roughly 70.8%) of the height in the Australian case, compared with roughly 71.5% for NZ.

As a summary, the Southern Cross on the Australian flag is larger than the NZ one, and has a slightly thinner shape. The intersection of the "arms" forms the same angle in both flags, but is both slightly lower and slightly more horizontally central than the intersection in the NZ cross, which is more skewed towards the hoist, although these differences are fairly negligible.

Of course, the main difference between the two crosses is that the New Zealand version has all the stars with 5 points, in red rather than white, and has one less star, meaning the New Zealand flag contains two less stars overall.
Jonathan Dixon, 12 February 2003, 31 December 2006


Variants

Australian flag with "straight-lined" stars

[Variant of the Australian flag with image by António Martins, 29 Jul 2008

If made according to the official statistics, star Epsilon Crucis on the flag of Australia (as with the other stars) should have a centre imaginary circle equal to four-ninths the outer, however, many illustrations show it with a standard five-pointed shape. It occurred to us, therefore, to ask whether the official prescription was observed in Australian flags actually flown?
Christopher Southworth, 27 July 2008

I have not closely examined this question, but from my casual observations, it appears that most better quality printed flags do show the stars correctly drawn. However, it seems that the practice has developed of "straight-lining" the star points for sewn (appliqué) flags. Thus, not only is the Epsilon star made in the style of a US star, but all the seven pointed stars are also made with a series of straight stitches, effectively making the inner circle have a smaller diameter than the official 4/9ths of the outer diameter. This effect is partly for the convenience of sewing and partly an affectation that the stars then "look better". In drawn images, the smaller inner diameter stars is probably due to the limitations of drawing tools such as found in Microsoft Word - which can only draw a US style 5-pointed star automatically and can only construct a 7-pointed star with a series of lines.

In the case of lower quality flags, the size, shape and placing of the stars becomes very varied and casual. It is not unusual to see a cheap imported flag with the Federation Star the same size as the Crux Australis stars, which are often positioned smaller in the field than is correct.
Ralph Kelly, 28 July 2008

Where my really new or modern all sewn (Australian made) are concerned, most are made with stars appliquéd via the "straight line method" as Ralph refers to it. With that said, I have several older all sewn samples where the builder took time to appliqué the 7 pointed stars correctly. In one of those cases, the 5 pointed star is also sewn on the flag correctly while on others, it is straight lined.

Others may have a different experience, but it has been my observation that if a batch of all sewn/appliquéd flags is made up specifically for the Australian government or military, they will have stars that are fully correct in every way. We have a brand new white ensign and a brand new "naval jack" (the Australian national flag) in Dalat's connection. Both are built with fully correct stars. Additionally each piece has a special label on the heading identifying them as "government" property. We also have 3 fully sewn RAAF flags at our disposal, all with correct stars.
Clay Moss, 28 July 2008

Clay Moss commented that this flag is not used under "strict government requirements". However, that is not the case with flags used by leading politicians. As recently as a few days ago, the Australian Treasurer (Federal Finance Minister) was interviewed on television at Parliament House in front of two Australian sewn flags which clearly showed the same "straight edging" of the Federation Star. I believe that all similar internal display flags used by federal ministers are the same. The flags were probably supplied by John Vaughan of Australiana Flags who has previously confirmed to me that this treatment of the stars is both for sewing convenience and because they "look sharper".
Ralph Kelly, 29 July 2008

Errors in specifications

Note that the official specification drawing in the first edition (1995) of the Government publication "Australian Flags" [ozf95] had a typographic error which showed the inner diameter of the Federation Star to be 4/5ths of the outer diameter, rather than 4/9ths. This was corrected in the second edition, but the original drawing is still sometimes reproduced.
Ralph Kelly, 28 July 2008

A more significant error in specification occurred with the Flags Act 1953 which had an error in Schedule 1. The outer diameter of the Commonwealth Star (also known as the Federation Star) was described as three-eighths of the width of the flag, rather than the correct three-tenths. This required the Parliament to pass an amendment in Act 58 of 1954 to fix the error.
Ralph Kelly, 29 July 2008

Unfortunately the 1998 & 2006 booklets have errors too! These are as follows:

The mistaken '3/8' in the original version of the Flags Act may have been a throwback reference to the six-point star as shown in overseas ANF artworks. These always seemed to portray the six-point Federation Star as 3/8 flag width rather than the 3/10 that current on-line artworks of the 1901 & 1903 designs show them as (e.g. the printed flag used for the 1907 'Papua badge' artwork).

Australian Flags Booklets - Flag Template Errors
In the 1998 edition [ozf98] Delta Crucis inner diameter is shown as 1/9 outer diameter (not 4/9).
In the 2006 edition [ozf06] Epsilon Crucis outer diameter is shown as 1/7 width of fly (not 1/12).
In both, Delta Crucis is shown as 1/9 from the middle line of the fly (not 2/9).
At least the on-line 2006 version at 'It's an Honour' has its fractions right! No doubt it is subject to running amendments that will be included in future booklet reprints.
But in all the above, the '1/15 of fly' text is awkwardly placed and potentially misleading.

Another corrected error related to the artwork of flying the Red Ensign (page 17) in the 2006 edition. This showed a yacht with the ARE at the bow, which is of course incorrect. On the website, the artwork has been amended. (In the 1995-1998 editions, the crude yacht painting gives an impression of the stern being a blunt bow).
Jeff Thomson, 24 October 2012


Australian flag images before 1934

The correct dimensions of the Australian blue and red ensigns have existed since 1901 (modified in 1903 & 1908) but it was 1934 when these dimensions were first notified in the Commonwealth Gazette. Before 1934 there were many flag artworks and actual flags that were not of the correctly-specified dimensions. British and Australian government-issued colour images of the flags were as varied and inaccurate as those printed commercially, or by other nations. About the only common feature of these flags was that they had a Union canton and six white stars. The star sizes, shapes, positions and numbers of star-points varied widely. Of these non-standard variants, precise dimensions have only been found for the flags of the Commonwealth Lighthouse Service. The spread-out Southern Cross design of the Commonwealth Lighthouse Service flags (with an oval badge in the fly centre) appears to have been a blend of the correct Australian Blue Ensign design of 1908 and the artwork shown in the 1910 Admiralty Flag Book.
Jeff Thomson, 4 September 2017

E Wilson Dobbs flag

In 1908 Mr. E Wilson Dobbs designed a large Australian Red Ensign for the Melbourne Metropolitan Board of Works. His design reinstated the original 1901 Southern Cross, combined with the new seven-point Commonwealth Star. This star layout coincided with that of the non-standard Australian Blue Ensigns flown by Australia's Navy from 1908. Some Government memos refer to the E Wilson Dobbs flag, but it is unclear whether they meant his actual red ensign, the Navy's flags, or any Australian flag with a seven-point Commonwealth Star. A British colour image of this variant was produced, and unlike the other images of the Australian flags of the time, it showed the blue and red flags accurately!
Jeff Thomson, 4 September 2017


Defaced Australian flags

There have been Australian Blue (& Red) Ensigns with added badges or letters since mid-1904 and possibly earlier, to the present. These were used as service ensigns, personal flags and reportedly by the pre-war Papuan administration as an alternative to their British Blue Ensign colonial flag. There has never been any centralised control of them, and no standardised method of authorising them. Use of such flags began to fall from favour after the war, and by 1960 the Australian Government had adopted a 'no-defacement policy' and several existing badged flags disappeared by the mid-1980s. Although the Flags Act 1953 provides for defacements to be authorised by warrant, the only known flag to be so warranted is the one-off presentation Centenary Flag which actually has a 'defaced headband'. The two remaining defaced Australian National Flags (as at 2017) are the Chief of Army's personal flag which can be traced back to 1941, and the Australian Border Force's flag which can be traced back through Customs Regulations to 1901. Neither has any direct involvement with the Flags Act.
Jeff Thomson, 4 September 2017