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Western Australia (Australia)

Last modified: 2016-02-27 by ian macdonald
Keywords: western australia | swan (black) | blue ensign | disc (yellow) |
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[Western Australia Flag] image by Martin Grieve, 1 Mar 2006

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Description of the flag

The Western Australian state flag was created as a colonial flag - a British Blue Ensign with the badge of the colony added to the blue field. In Australia, Western Australia's badge [a black swan on a yellow background] was the only design intended to clearly symbolise the colony. WA was originally called the Swan River Settlement and the black swan found upon the river had become recognised as representing the Colony.
Ralph Kelly, 19 September 1999

The flag is described in Part I of the Schedule to the 2006 State Flag Bill as introduced to the parliament as

a blue flag with
(a) the Union flag occupying the upper quarter next to the staff; and
(b) depicting a black swan (Cygnus atratus) on a circle of yellow situated centrally in the fly (the half of the flag furthest from the staff) and facing the staff.
Jonathan Dixon, 5 June 2006

In creating an accurate drawing of the state flag for the final version of the State Flag Act 2006 (the official reproduction can be seen at the website of the Deparment of the Premier and Cabinet), several details of the specification have now been fixed:

  • The colours are Pantone Blue 281c, Red 032c, Yellow 109c and Black.
  • The drawing of the swan is standardised to that of the British Admiralty's Flags of all Nations Volume II, 1958 [hms58] (page 17).
  • The badge size is 4/9ths the width of the flag.
  • There is no black reference line around the badge when used on the flag.
  • The swan is contained within an imaginary circle that is 59% of the size of the badge. That imaginary circle is off-centre relative to the badge (to the right and above the centre of the badge circle).
Ralph Kelly, 10 September 2006

The specification sheet drawn by Ralph Kelly as part of the advice from Flags Australia is available from Western Australia's Department of the Premier and Cabinet as a PDF file.
Jan Oskar Engene and Ralph Kelly, 10 September 2006

Detail of the badge

[Detail of the WA badge] image by Martin Grieve, 1 Mar 2006

The black swan is the official bird emblem of Western Australia. It is described as follows in the Australian Fauna website:

"Black Swan (Cygnus atratus)
European explorers were amazed (Vlaming in 1697) to discover that in Australia swans are black1. They are common birds across all of coastal Australia, and nest in swamps or river estuaries. They are not common in the North West. They make their nests out of coarse reed stems on a dry bit of a small island, or on a river bank. They lay a clutch of about five eggs which are greenish white in colour, usually in autumn (March-April) or in winter. They can travel in enormous flocks and move from one feeding ground to another. They will feed in the shallows, or eat grass on the banks. They are not popular with farmers. Swans are a protected species in Australia."
1 Australian swans are the only non-white swans in the world.
Ivan Sache, 15 August 2005


Badge sizes

It is worth noting that whilst the various badge defacements on the fly of blue or red ensigns of The United Kingdom's Overseas Territories flags were enlarged circa 1999, this was not the case for any of Australia's State flags or flags of Governors, which retained the 4/9 hoist width = diameter convention.
Martin Grieve, 1 March 2006

Not quite in the case of state flags if you don't mind me saying so, Martin. The diameter of the Western Australia badge (as given in The State Flag - State of Western Australia issued by the Prime Minister's Department in June 1982) is 1/2 the hoist width.
Christopher Southworth, 1 March 2003

Christopher may have a point here. I have 2 fully printed WA flags here with me. One is 27×54 inches while the other is 3×6 feet. On the 27×54, the disk is exactly 13.5 inches in diameter while the 3×6's disk measures out at exactly 18 inches. I had never noticed this before.

My guess is that this modification took place when some WA bureaucrat was asked to write a spec sheet for the flag. They took a quick glance at an existing flag, sized the disk up as "half", and the rest is history. I would be interested to measure the disk on an older WA flag.
Clay Moss, 1 March 2006

I came across an older WA flag today with a 4/9 badge which leads me to believe that any recent change that took place in the flag's description was done erroneously.
Clay Moss, 3 March 2006

No specifications are given for the size of the disc in Part I of the Schedule to the original 2006 State Flags Bill. However, a "reproduction" is set out in Schedule 2, in which diameter of the disc appears to be half the hoist width.
Jonathan Dixon, 5 June 2006

Black fimbriation?

Drawings of the state flag as used by official sources, i.e. the Government of Western Australia, show a black ring [on the outside of the yellow disc containing the black swan]. In particular, if you go to this page of the Department of Premier and Cabinet: you may download .jpg and .tiff files of the State Flag emblem. That of the State Flag, whilst being of what some might term questionable technical quality, does show a black edging to the yellow ring of varying degrees of thickness.

Insofar as unofficial sources of the flag image are concerned, there are a number of what would appear to be printed flags of Western Australia on eBay Canada showing the black line, for example. Of the other flag images available elsewhere on the internet, some show the black line and some do not. It appears to be fairly evenly split.

The State Records Office has a number of files on the state's emblems and the Colonial Secretary's Office file Accession 752, 744/1924 (AN 24/2), in particular, relate to the State Flag. Unfortunately, these are not available on their web site - although an early version of the Swan badge is - and it seems that a visit to the reading room in Perth is necessary to view them.
Colin Dobson, 2 March 2006

As far as the black ring on the flag is concerned- I believe that this does not constitute part of the flag and in merely a construction line, but perhaps this is actually how these flags are manufactured?
Martin Grieve, 2 March 2006

I am very cautious as to how "official" the drawing which depicts the black outline around the disk actually is, even if it originates from an official web-site. I have a hunch that this is due to sloppy artwork, where the artist draws the badge and encompasses it with a black ring, then places the entire device onto the fly of the blue ensign, neglecting to erase the ring.
Martin Grieve, 3 March 2006

In that image, the yellow disc itself is shown at 4/9, with the ring (which does vary slightly), at about 1/27 the disc extra to that. However, I have written information on Western Australia (dated June 1982) which most definitely makes the disc one-half of the fly, and makes no mention whatever of a black line.
Christopher Southworth, 2-3 March 2006

No black fimbriation is mentioned in Part I of the Schedule to the original 2006 State Flags Bill. However, a "reproduction" is set out in Schedule 2, in which there is a black fimbriation, as in the documents described by Colin Dobson [above].
Jonathan Dixon, 5 June 2006

Variations in the swan

W. Smith says that Western Australia uses more then one variation of the flag, but shows only one: a 'blue duster' with black swan in yellow disk, but they are just different artistic renditions of the black swan.
Brendan Jones, 19 March 1996

Swan with ripples

[Variant WA flag with ripples] image by Clay Moss and Martin Grieve, 1 Mar 2006

This is another version of Western Australia's flag that I have seen several times. I believe it's a rare version, but I have seen enough or these to merit a comment. I have also seen the badge with "ripples" on paper.
Clay Moss, 1 March 2006

Brown Swan

[Variant WA flag with brown swan] image by Clay Moss and Martin Grieve, 2 Mar 2006

[Variant WA flag with brown swan and ripples] image by Clay Moss and Martin Grieve, 2 Mar 2006

These are 2 other WA flags that are seen from time to time. You'll notice that the swan, and swan & "ripples" are brown. I have seen several of each of these flags over the years. I don't think it was the intention of any manufacturer to print brown swans or ripples, but it happened nevertheless, and said flags made it into circulation.

My guess is that there must have been some issue with the black dyes that were being used, and they dried looking brown. Whatever the case, these flags are out there in numbers worth noting.
Clay Moss, 2 March 2006

Swan with “colour”

[Variant WA flag with markings on swan] image by Clay Moss, 23 Dec 2009

One very nice picture that I receive from the Fremantle Ports folks shows a gentleman building a Western Australia flag. Unlike today's most used design, his version had a bit of color in it. My image more or less shows what he put together.
Clay Moss, 23 December 2009

History of the flag

1870s flag

[First WA flag, 1870] image by Martin Grieve, 28 Feb 2006

The first State flag of Western Australia was a blue ensign defaced with a yellow disk upon which a silhouetted Black Swan was emblazoned, facing the fly.

From the Ausflag web-site:

The original name of the State was in fact "The Swan River Settlement", and in 1870 Governor Weld suggested that the black swan would be the obvious choice of badge for the colony as it "has been always considered as its special badge, or cognizance."

Western Australia's first flag, adopted in 1870, was little different from its current flag - it had the black swan facing towards the fly of the flag rather than the hoist. It is not clear why the flag was originally made this way. In the colonial seal and postage stamps of the time the swan was generally shown facing left, but the state badge approved by the Admiralty on 3 January 1870 showed a right facing swan.

As the Australian Coat of Arms were designed in 1901, the states' shield shows a right facing swan for Western Australia, reflecting the design of the badge at the time. In 1953 the direction of the swan was reversed to conform to the vexillological guideline that animals on flags should face the hoist (i.e. be left facing on the obverse), so that when carried forward on a pole, the animal will point in the same direction as the bearer.

No official documentation of this change has yet been discovered, hence the exact date of the change is unknown.

Alfred Znamierowski however, in The World Encyclopedia of Flags [zna99] informs the reader that

As early as 1830, a black swan (Cygnus atratus) became the emblem of the Colony. Aboriginal legend tells how the bibbulman tribe of Western Australia were originally black swans who changed into men.

The badge, introduced on 27 November 1875, was yellow with the black swan turned out to the fly; in 1953 a mirror image of this was produced instead.

Barraclough and Crampton in Flags of the World, 1978 [bcr78] speak of the modern version: "Oficially adopted on 27 November 1875, but with the black swan, the distinctive native bird, facing the sinister. This was corrected in 1953."

We still don't have an exact date here, but it sounds like sometime in 1953.
Martin Grieve, 28 February 2006

As some of you may be aware a Private Members Bill sponsored by the Hon Colin Barnett (the Hon Barry House MLC had carriage through the Upper House) was passed by the Western Australian Parliament last Thursday - 1st June, Foundation Day in WA.

The Western Australian State Flag Bill gives the WA Flag legislative status which will prevent anyone in the future from changing the flag without Parliamentary approval.
Nigel Morris, 5 June 2006

This Bill was previously introduced in 2004, but lapsed when Parliament was prorogued. The Bill, which makes the flag recognised in law, rather than just as convention, was agreed to by the Legislative Council on Foundation Day 2006, and will come into effect when given Royal Assent.

Colin Barnett, when introducing the bill (see the second reading speech), mentioned recent debates on changing the flag and desecration of flags, but pointed out that this bill does not address either issue, merely giving proper recognition to the current flag and establishing the process for any future change.
Jonathan Dixon, 5 June 2006

Flags Australia made a submission in respect of the State Flag Bill 2006. The Secretary of Flags Australia, Tony Burton, wrote to the co-sponsors of the private members bill (The Hon Colin Barnet MP and The Hon Barry House) in early June 2006. Flags Australia had become aware that the State Flag Bill 2006 had been approved by Western Australian parliament, but with a very poor quality drawing of the Western Australian flag set out in Schedule 2 of the Bill. The drawing in the Bill contained a thick black line enclosing the yellow disk and other details of the flag design were either unclear or not in conformity with past state flag usage.

As Mr Morris stated, the Bill codified the state flag and could not be changed in the future without parliamentary approval. However, due to the poor quality of the official drawing, the Bill was, in effect creating a new flag of a design that was inferior to that used to date by Western Australians.

Flags Australia's letter was referred by the Bill sponsors to officials in the Western Australian Government, who agreed that Royal Assent of the Bill should be delayed and the Schedule 2 drawing should be replaced with a new drawing that accurately reflects the correct technical specifications of the Western Australian state flag. Tony Burton and I have provided assistance to the Western Australian Government in resolving this problem, and we understand that the Bill will be returned to the WA parliament for amendment.
Ralph Kelly, 16 August 2006

I have now been informed by the Protocol Office in the Department of the Premier and Cabinet, Western Australia that Royal Assent was given to the State Flag Act 2006 on 24 August 2006. This followed the reintroduction of the Bill into Parliament to correct Part 2 of the Schedule. A new drawing was substituted to replace the poor quality image in the original Bill.

I am pleased to advise that the new flag drawing was created by myself and that the corrections were made following the intervention of Flags Australia (Flag Society of Australia Inc.)
Ralph Kelly, 10 September 2006

Secessionist Flag of the 1930s

This flag came about by a campaign lead by The Dominion League and a successful referendum in Western Australia (April 1933) for the State to leave the Commonwealth of Australia and return to Britain as a directly governed territory. Despite the success of the referendum, the W.A. government of the day never enacted the result because neither King George V or his government were interested in requiring this former colony. The design consists of a Black Swan (facing the fly) on a Yellow Disc surrounded with a Black Ring, all centred on a British Union Flag.
Ralph Bartlett, 4 January 2001