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Commonwealth of Australia

Last modified: 2022-02-12 by ian macdonald
Keywords: australia | southern cross | stars: southern cross | stars: 7 points |
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[Australian flag] image by António Martins, 28 Nov 2005

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Design of the flag

The Australian flag is composed of three parts:

  • The Union Jack (British flag) in the top left corner,
  • The 'Star of Federation' in the bottom left corner, and
  • The Southern Cross, taking up the right half of the flag.
The Union Jack shows that the first colonisation by Europeans was by Britain. In case you didn't know, Australia started as a penal colony. The Star of Federation is a seven pointed star. They came to the number seven, by giving each state (six in all) a point on the star, and having one more point for Australia's territories (of which there are several). There are two mainland territories, and several overseas, including two in Antarctica. The Southern Cross is a constellation that can be seen from all of Australia's states and territories.
Giuseppe Bottasini

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

For more details, including a picture and a comparison with the New Zealand flag, see our page on the construction of the Australian flag.

History of the 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.


  • 1900: Competition held by the Evening Herald in which entries are required to contain the Union flag and Southern Cross.*
  • October 1900: A broader competition launched by the Review of Reviews in response.*
  • 29 April 1901: Commonwealth of Australia Gazette No. 27 Design competition for The Flag of Australia announced by the first Australian Prime Minister, Edmund Barton.
  • 3 September 1901: First official raising of the blue Australian Flag at the Royal Exhibition Building, Melbourne (at the announcement of the winning design*).
  • 8 February 1902: Prime Minister requests Governor General to send the design (and the 'Federation flag' design) to London for Imperial Approval.*
  • King's Approval given between 21 August and 3 September 1902.*
  • 6 October 1902: Telegram to Governor General advising that design has been approved.*
  • 20 February 1903: Proclamation that King Edward VII had approved design for the Flag of Australia together with the warrant for Australian registered ships to fly the red ensign. (the design approved by the King differed from the original design in the number of points on the stars and the warrant was republished in Commonwealth of Australia Gazette No. 8*)
  • 2 June 1904: Federal Parliament passes a resolution to fly the flag in all public places whenever flags were used, giving the flag the same status as the Union Jack in Britain.*
  • 1 June 1908: Australian Army Military Order, No 58/08, directs all military establishments to fly the 'Australian Ensign' in place of the Union Jack.*
  • 19 December 1908: Commonwealth of Australia Gazette No. 65 (page 1709) announced addition of 7th point to the Commonwealth Star to represent Australian Territories.
  • 1911:Naval Order 78/1911 directs all vessels of the Royal Australian Navy to fly the flag of the 'Australian Commonwealth' at the jack staff and the White Ensign of the Royal Navy at the stern as the symbol of the authority of the crown.
  • 23 March 1934: Commonwealth Gazette No.18 gives descriptions and specifications of the Australian Blue Ensign and the red merchant flag of Australia.
  • 14 April 1954: Commonwealth Government 'Flags Act 1953' (Commonwealth of Australia Gazette No 24*) the status of The Flag confirmed by legislation and title to be the Australian National Flag.
  • 3 September 1996: Commonwealth of Australia Gazette No. S321 Proclamation of Australian National Flag Day - (Anniversary of our Flag). Commemorating the day in 1901 on which the Australian National Flag was first flown.
  • 24 March 1998: Flag Amendments Bill amended the Flags Act 1953 to ensure that the Australian National Flag can only be changed if the electorate approves.
  • 20 September 2001: Commonwealth Gazette No. S382 (Special) Proclamation of the Centenary Flag Warrant. The Centenary Flag is the flag presented on 3 September 2001 to the Prime Minister by the Australian National Flag Association, being an Australian National Flag suitably inscribed with flag centenary message.
Nigel Morris, 7 June 2002
* added by editor.

Flying the Union Jack in Australia

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

Australian National Flag in Gazettes and legislation

This is a list of known appearances of the Australian National Flag in Commonwealth of Australia Gazettes as notifications from 1903 to 2001. These may be viewed at then select the year, then select the individual Gazette (as a pdf file) from the list. Then to find the special Gazettes S321 and S382, scroll down towards the foot of the screen.

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).

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, 3:5.
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.