10 Jan

The Australian Red Ensign

Myths and Facts

Our opponents in this debate like to rewrite history and pretend that our current national flag – the blue Australian ensign – has been our national flag forever and that people have “fought and died” for it. This is one of their prime arguments against change, and they use it very emotively. They ignore the Red Ensign, despite its overwhelming use in Australia and overseas during the first half of the 20th century.

There are many problems with this argument. The first is that the blue ensign became Australia′s national flag only in 1954. Prior to that date, its use by ordinary citizens was strongly and actively discouraged. The blue flag was not some glorious and romantic flag of the people, but an instrument of Government, much like the Coat of Arms.

This meant that the public didn′t officially have a flag to fly other than the Union Jack, which is what many people did. In this official vacuum, if anyone wanted a more Australian symbol they used the red ensign as a de-facto Civil Flag. It was not strictly correct, but it happened at every level of the community, including the Armed Services.

The second problem with this argument is that members of the Armed Services in Australia never “fought and died” for a flag anyway. They fought and died for our country – a subtle but important difference.

The third problem is that there is a wealth of pictorial evidence which proves that the red ensign was the flag which both the public and members of the Armed Services overwhelmingly related to and “adopted” as Australia′s de-facto national flag prior to 1954. This period of course includes both World War I and World War II.

In fact, in 1967, prime minister Robert Menzies wrote in his book Afternoon Light, Some Memories of Men and Events

“In the year of my birth 1894 – Queen Victoria was on the throne of the United Kingdom and Ireland and the Dominions and Colonies beyond the Seas… For us, the maps of the world were patterned with great areas of red, at a time when red was a respectable colour.”

It seems clear Menzies′ arbitrary changing in 1954 of the then popular Red Ensign to blue, without consulting the Australian people, was for blatant political purposes in his campaign against the “red” communist peril.

Finally, if you don′t believe that the anti-change brigade rewrite history, have a look at the example below.


This image is the original image held by the Australian War Museum of Sergeant T.C. Derrick (DCM, and later VC) of Adelaide raising the Red Ensign at Sattleberg in Papua New Guinea on 3 December 1943.

Sergeant Derrick led a South Australian Unit in a successful attack against the Japanese held village of Sattleberg, and hoisted an Australian Flag.

Derrick′s biographer interviewed men who were there and confirmed that it was a Red Ensign.


This is the same image used on the cover of the book Five Fighting Years. What you wouldn′t realise by looking at this, and what they don′t tell you, is that the original red ensign has been obliterated by a hand-drawn colour image of the Blue Ensign.

For many anti-flag changers, the real history of the Australian flag is terribly inconvenient for their argument. When it doesn′t suit their “patriotic” purposes to be historically accurate, they merely invent something more suitable.

The best indication of what the soldiers themselves thought is in the ensigns that are on display at the Australian War Memorial and the RAAF Museum. In the Australian War Memorial, the red ensigns on display outnumber the blue ensigns in the World War I period by about ten to one.

Look at all the following images and draw your own conclusion.

australian-flag-mythologyMost of this material is courtesy of Ted Harris of the Digger History website, reproduced with permission.

Marching infront of old parliament house

Not a Blue Ensign within cooee

Opening of Federal Parliament at Canberra, 9 May 1927. Note that the Australian flags are Red Ensigns. Septimus Power (1878-1951) Historic Memorials Collection, Canberra. Courtesy of the Parliament House Art Collection, Department of Parliamentary Services, Canberra ACT

Tea TowelThis 1916 “souvenir” tea towel depicting scenes from the Dardanelles clearly shows an Australian Red Ensign.

Recruiting posterRed Ensign being used alongside the Union Jack in AIF recruiting (Maryborough, Victoria).

Red Ensign FlagA WWI Australian Red Ensign overlaid with “The Famous Battlefields of the Australian Forces”. Each of the stars is labelled with a country or campaign name:

  • Gallipoli
  • Egypt
  • France
  • Flanders
  • New Guinea
  • Palestine

Red Ensign FlagCloth embroidered with a King′s crown with the British and Australian (Red Ensign) flags on either side. The crown is surrounded by a green wreath and two scrolls, one at the top and one at the bottom.

These scrolls contain the words ′FOR ENGLAND HOME AND BEAUTY/AUSTRALIA WILL BE THERE′.Associated with 6311 Private Alfred Samuel Smart. Smart enlisted on 6 April 1916 and served with 19 Battalion. He returned to Australia on 30 January 1918

Red Flag 1

Autographed Australian red ensign carried by NX17521 Corporal W E Watson as a POW in Greece, and later in New Guinea. NX17521 Corporal William Edward Watson served with 6 Division AAOC and 7 Division Provost Company. He was captured on Crete on 1 June 1941, shipped to Athens and then Salonika. He escaped from Salonika on 29 June 1941, joined up with other POW escapees and hid in the Greek mountains until 1942, when he successfully escaped by boat to Turkey on 5 May 1942. Watson was discharged medically unfit on his return to Australia and subsequently joined the American Small Boats Division, serving in New Guinea. He was awarded the Military Medal for ′courage and perseverance in escapes from POW camps′.

In 1914, Watson′s father, who had served with a British Regiment before emigrating to Australia, was farewelled by the Australian Attorney General W M ′Billy′ Hughes (later Prime Minister) as he returned to Britain with other Imperial Reservists for service in the First World War. Hughes presented Watson with an Australian red ensign which he carried with him throughout the war. Watson claimed that it was the first Australian flag to be flown in France during the war, and on his safe return to Australia presented it to the Australian War Museum (later War Memorial) for display. His son, W E Watson, asked that the flag be returned to him to carry during his service in the Second World War, but his request was refused.

Watson then applied to Billy Hughes, who was again Attorney General, for another flag, and this red ensign is the one that Hughes sent to him, together with the words, ′I would like to say that it is my earnest prayer that you will be spared to carry it triumphantly throughout this present conflict. You will bear it through lands where the valorous tradition of the A.I.F. is a by-word. I know that this glorious heritage will be safe in the keeping of Australia′s sons of the 2nd A.I.F.′. Watson junior carried it throughout his service in Egypt, concealed it during his captivity in Crete and Greece, and again carried it during his service in New Guinea.

Red Flag 2

This ensign was presented to the Imperial Reservists who left Australia in 1914, by the Honourable W M ′Billy′ Hughes, then Attorney General and later Prime Minister, and personally handed to Corporal Edward Dawson Watson of the East Lancashire Regiment. The Imperial Reservists were men who had recently served with a British Regiment before emigrating to Australia. On the outbreak of the First World War they were recalled to serve with their old units and sailed in the first troop convoy to leave Australia. Dawson took the flag to England and France, and carried it during the retreat from Mons.

After a spell in England he took it back to France in March 1917. Watson remained in France until the German Advance in March 1918, when he was wounded. He brought the flag back to Australia in 1919. Watson claimed that it was the was the first Australian flag to fly in France during the First World War, however the NSW Volunteer Ambulance Unit may also have carried one in France in 1914.

Watson presented the flag to the Australian War Museum (later War Memorial) in 1925 on the condition that it be returned to him for each year′s Anzac Day march. He died shortly after Anzac Day in 1934 and the flag has been part of the War Memorial′s permanent collection since this date.

Red Flag 3

William Pearson Tewksbury, a successful Melbourne businessman, conceived the idea of raising funds for wounded Australian soldiers by raffling a flag autographed by the world′s most famous men, including national and war leaders, Field Marshal Lord Kitchener, Prime Minister W M Hughes and General Monash.

The flag was sent around the world to obtain the signatures and 20,000 pounds was raised from the raffle. The flag was advertised as the ′Kitchener Flag′. It was won by a retired seaman who sold it to Edward Solomon, a Melbourne philanthropist and collector, who had already purchased other autographed flags at fund raising auctions for the war effort. Solomon later presented his entire autographed flag collection, which he had acquired during the First World War, to the Australian War Memorial.

During the Second World War William Tewkesbury again raised funds for wounded soldiers by raffling an autographed flag known as the ′Churchill Flag′, this time raising 28,000 pounds.

Barr Flag

Printed cotton Australian red ensign signed in black from ′The One Woman / One Recruit League′. Union Jack has recipient′s name, ′25/14′ and ′AU-REVOIR′ applied in ink. Each of the five stars of the Southern Cross are also signed: ′Bon Voyage′, ′A Speedy Return′, ′To Dear Australia′, ′May Victory be Yours′, ′ We are proud of you′. The six pointed star is signed: ′As you carry this flag into / far distant land / Remember kind thoughts / blessings, good wishes / and God speed follow You / From / The One WOMAN / One RECRUIT League′.

7441 Private Percy Vernon Barr, a labourer of Mirboo North, Victoria, enlisted on 25 June 1917 at age 30 and embarked for overseas service aboard HMAT Nestor on 21 November 1917 as a member of the 25th reinforcements of the 14th Battalion. He was wounded in France on 18 September 1918 and returned to Australia on 2 February 1919. This Red Ensign was presented to him upon his embarkation by an anonymous donor simply signed as ′The One Woman One Recruit League′, for which no information exists. Speculatively, the ′The One Woman One Recruit League′ may have been his wife, Clara. Percy Barr carried this flag with him during his active service in France and his return to Australia. It remained a significant relic for his family. His grandson Ross recalls that it was used during the Royal visit to Australia in 1954, when he and some mates travelled some 60 km from Korumburra to Warragul in the back of a ute to see the Queen, waving this flag, which was wired to a rough pole. The subsequent repairs were made by Ross′s mother on a sewing machine.

1917 Postcard1917 postcard sent from UK to Australia.

Victory Assorted ToffeesMurray′s “V” for Victory Assorted Toffees, circa 1943.

Red Ensign FlagMurray′s “V” for Victory Assorted Toffees, circa 1943.

Red Ensign Dog Flag

Framed moulded-paper bulldog mascot superimposed on an Australian red ensign: Private P J Bradshaw, 6 Battalion, AIF.

Associated with 713 Private Percival James Bradshaw, 6 Battalion AIF. He enlisted on 24 February 1917, served on the Western Front, and returned to Australia on 13 July 1919. He acquired the mascot from the battalion sergeants′ mess when he was an orderly.


NX55941 Coproral Edward Gordon Patrick ′Pat′ Sullivan was born in Deniliquin, NSW, in 1902. He enlisted for service in the Second Word War on 1 July 1940 and was assigned to 2/18 Battalion. The battalion sailed to Malaya with 8 Division and subsequently took part in the fight against the Japanese before the fall of Singapore in February 1942, when all the survivors were taken prisoner. Sullivan quickly realised that he would need a hobby to occupy his mind rather than giving way to depression. A friend from 2/9 Field Ambulance gave him a bag of embroidery cottons he had found during the fighting in Singapore. Another prisoner showed him some basic embroidery stitches and helped him with his first attempts at needlework. All the designs on his embroideries were his own work.

The Commonwealth Bank cash bag came from the paymaster of 2/18 Battalion. Sullivan intended this bag to be an embroiderer′s work bag after he had completed it. Work on the bag took several months to complete. A cushion cover and a tablecloth were the first works to be finished. Sullivan had a single needle which he carried in an improvised bamboo case. His embroidery was carried out in spare time when he was not required to work by the Japanese, both in Changi and on the Burma-Thailand Railway. A British officer intervened when the Japanese attempted to confiscate one of the embroideries Sullivan was working on, and fellow Australians also helped to conceal his work during other Japanese searches.


NX3048 Sergeant Richard Sydney Turner was born in Sydney in 1916. He enlisted on 28 October 1939 and served with 6 Division Supply Column, Australian Army Service Corps. After service in Africa he was captured by the Germans near Megara during the Greek campaign in June 1941, but escaped from the train taking him to Germany. He was initially sheltered by the Greeks but this became too dangerous when Italian troops offered large rewards for the capture of Allied soldiers and threatened to shoot anyone harbouring them.

Turner and a companion hid in the mountains south of Thessaly during the winter of 1941-1942. Weak from malnutrition and malaria he was considering of giving himself up when he met Ioannis Kallinikos from the village of Livanatas, who sheltered him for the next year and a half. Turner joined the Greek resistance in the summer of 1943 and led a band of fifty Greek andartes. He later joined the British Military Mission in Greece (Force 133), which operated behind German lines. He was awarded the Military Medal for his endurance and service in Greece. Turner was killed by Greek communist insurgents, during the civil war which broke out in Greece following the withdrawal of the Axis forces, on 17 December 1944 while in a truck on his way to Athens airport to be repatriated to Australia. Turner carried this small flag throughout his service in North Africa and Greece.

TurnerThis poster, circa 1916, clearly shows that the Red Ensign was used extensively in semi-official advertising.

Story of Anzac book coverThe Red Ensign was chosen as the cover of this 1917 book

Fund raising for the woundedThis Digger is clearly holding an Australian Red Ensign. Badges like this were sold in South Australia (and elsewhere) to raise funds for the support and comfort of wounded ANZACs of WW1.

Anti-German LeagueAnti-German League pin-back badge circa 1915.

Liberty Stamps

These WW1 Liberty Loan stamps clearly show the Red Ensign as does the 1942 RSS&AILA advertising above.

Red Ensign HughesCardboard Australian flag improvised for the visit of Prime Minister W M Hughes to France : 7 Infantry Brigade, AIF. Made by the staff of 7 Infantry Brigade Headquarters on the occasion of Prime Minister W M Hughes′ visit Australian troops in France in 1918.

WW2 Birthday cards
WW2 Birthday card

A WW2 birthday card showing a sailor, a nurse, an airman and (on the inside) a Digger and another nurse all showing the Red Ensign. The twin quotations are “There will always be an England” & “Advance Australia”.

Tasmania Red EnsignThis is believed to be the Tasmanian Red Ensign of 1875, which corresponds to the very short-lived original Tasmanian Blue Ensign.

Certificate to WhitehartJ.J. Whitehart served with the 2nd Ninth Battalion 2nd AIF at the Siege of Tobruk. Even a quick look will show that the Australian Red Ensign has a place of pride on this document.

Booklet produced in WW2The Red Ensign makes another showing on this booklet produced in WW2 to explain the various insignia used in Australia by various bodies including the USN, US Army & USAAF


Patriotic Cloth

Printed cotton patriotic cloth. The cloth is surrounded by a pale blue border and headed by the words ′A SOUVENIR OF THE GREAT WAR′. To the left of this heading is an airship, to the right is a biplane. In the centre of the heading is a portrait of Lord Kitchener. On either side and slightly lower are portraits of General French and General Joffre. Below Lord Kitchener is a portrait of Grand Duke Nicholas. A calvary charge is depicted to to the left of these portraits while to the right an artillery attack is printed. In each corner are larger portraits of King George V, the Czar of Russia, the King of Belguim, with a burning town behind him, and President Poincare.

Printed clockwise around the cloth are portraits of the King of Servia with a flag behind it, General Botha with a mounted soldier and red ensign on either side, General Smith Dorrien, General D Henderson with an aeroplane behind it, General Allenby, Colonel Sam Hughes with two infantry soldiers and a red ensign on either side, General Leman, Lord Landsdown, Rear Admiral Beatty, Hon. W Churchill and Lord Fisher with an anchor between them, Admiral Jellicoe, General Douglas Haig, Sir Edward Grey and Hon. A Bonar Law with a ship and the flags of Australia and New Zealand behind them, (note the Australian flag is depicted as an Australian Red Ensign) Hon. H H Asquith, Lord Roberts with two soldiers on either side, Maharajah of Behar, Viceroy of India with a red ensign and an elephant on either side and Mikado in front of a Japanese flag.

In the centre of the cloth is a piece of paper with signatures and red seals printed in front of the flags of the United Kingdom, Belgium, France and possibly Imperial Russia. Behind the flags is a sun with the words ′LIBERTY & PEACE′ written near the top. At the base of the paper is a lion and a scroll with the words ′OUR WORD IS OUR BOND′. To the left of the flags are French soldiers manning a field gun. To the right is a mounted Indian soldier. Below the centre image is depicted a fleet of warships with aeroplanes flying above them.

NZ organised Anzac ShowA NZ organised Anzac Show uses the Australian Red Ensign on the programme.

Memorial Thank you cardThis shows the use of the Red Ensign on a Memorial Thankyou card for a fallen soldier.

match box protector
match box protector

This AIF “match-safe” or match box protector from WW1 clearly shows the use of the Red Ensign was common, far more common than the use of the Blue Ensign.

Arthur Skyring flagAcquired in Glasgow on 11 November 1918, the day the Armistice was signed, by 1378 Corporal Arthur William Skyring, of 4 Australian Broad Gauge Railway Operating Company, AIF.

Victory paradeAcquired in London on 12 November 1918, the day after the Armistice was signed, by 1378 Corporal Arthur William Skyring, of 4 Australian Broad Gauge Railway Operating Company, AIF.

It was hard to obtain Australian flags in Britain during the First World War and this very small example was all that Skyring could find in London.

Patriotic CarnivalQueensland Public Service Patriotic Carnival at the Exhibition Grounds, 12 October 1918. “To assist our Soldier Boys, their Wives & Dependants”.

421324 Flying Officer RAAFAssociated with 421324 Flying Officer Morris Dolf Freudenstein RAAF, who served with 640 Squadron RAF (Wellington Bombers) during World War Two. It is claimed he carried the ensign whilst on operations.

Dont Run Poster“These Colours Don′t Run”
Poster by Department of Munitions, Melbourne 1942. Screen-printed in black, blue and red on white.It was hard to obtain Australian flags in Britain during the First World War and this very small example was all that Skyring could find in London.

To my aunty postcardUnusual WWI Postcard with the embossed words on front “To My Aunt From Camp”, followed by the written words “with love from Bob and Bill”.

The back reads: “Dear Auntie & Uncle Just a few lines to let you know that I am still alive. Cousin Jack is looking after us very well. We stayed out at his place last Saturday night and enjoyed ourselves. Well this is all I have to say. So Goodnight. I remain your loving nephew. Bill & Bob”.

Join The Colours Poster
Auld Lang Syne

Australian Red Ensign. USA National Flag, Union Flag of UK. AIF Recruiting poster, circa 1917. Australia will be there (with a Red Ensign).

Australian Comforts Fund pinAustralian Comforts Fund pin back button with the Red Ensign in the background, 1918.

Hindley St Decoration CommitteeHindley St Decoration Committee for the visit by the Prince of Wales (with Red Ensign).

Corop Peace Day
1917 Australia Day pin

Australian Comforts Fund pin back button with the Red Ensign in the background, 1918.

America Day badgeAmerica Day badge (with Red Ensign).

Aust. Comforts Fund Appeal badgeAust. Comforts Fund Appeal badge with Red Ensign.

Great White FleetThis 1908 souvenir of the visit of the American “Great White Fleet” to Australia shows the Red Ensign (with the original 6 point Federation Star).

The fleet and its hosts had nothing to do with the Merchant Navy so it is just another example of the Red Ensign being used as a Civil Flag.

certificate to Private Albert Sherlock14th Battalion AIF certificate to Private Albert Sherlock for Great War service clearly showing the Red Ensign along with an (authorised) photo of King George V.

catalogue for a piano solo marchThis 1916 catalogue for a piano solo march honouring the Anzacs clearly shows an Australian Red Ensign, stylized in the same or similar manner to that applied to the other national flags.

Tribute To The Australian Forces

The Allied Commander Pays The Highest Tribute To The Australian Forces

On November 7th 1920 the remains of an Australian soldier and a French soldier were buried in the Amiens Cathedral. The Bishop of Amiens and Marshal Foch expressed themselves thus:

The Bishop of Amiens: “We bow to you, Messieurs les Australiens, for the magnificent deeds that you did in those days, now happily at an end, for your country and for France, and for the victory of hope and sanity. The soil of France is transfigured to a new divinity by your sacrifices. In the whole of history we cannot find an army more marvellous in it′s bravery, and in the war there was none that contributed more nobly to the final triumph”.

Marshal Foch: “We intend today in Amiens to express to you and the Commonwealth of Australia our gratitude……Our aspirations and our will had to be agreed, they could not be too closely allied. Although our task was never easy, it was made less difficult by the patriotism and the passionate valour of the Australians which served as an example to the whole world. That wonderful attack of yours at Villers Bretonneux was the final proof, if any were needed, that the real task of the High Command was to show itself equal to it′s soldiers. You saved Amiens. You saved France. Our gratitude will remain ever and always to Australia.

Note the Australian Red Ensign.

America Day badge
1917 Australia Day pin
America Day badge
Aust. Comforts Fund Appeal badge

Four pin-back badges from 1918 or 1919 showing the use of the Red Ensign and the Union Jack.

Also See

History of the Australian Red Ensign(Ausflag page)
Flag of Inconvenience?(Magazine article 1993)
Australian Flag Myths Exposed (Ausflag media release 1994)
New flag advocates see red over historical blue ensign(Newspaper article 1997)
The debate on a new flag(Newspaper editorial 1998)
A flag for the New Millennium(Magazine article 2001)
Flag group sees red on giveaways(Newspaper article 2001)
Australia′s national symbol by default(Newspaper article 2001)

© Ausflag 2019

Australian National Flag 1901-1903

Australia National Flag

Flag Adopted: 3 September 1901
Flag Proportion: 1:2
Use: Unofficial Civil Ensign and unofficial National Flag on Land

The Australian colonies of New South Wales, Tasmania, Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria, Queensland (and later Western Australia) federated to form a nominally independent country on 1 January 1901. However, at the celebrations to recognise the formation of the Australian nation, Australia had no national flag to fly.

Australia′s first `Federal′ flag was chosen from a public national flag competition held in 1901. Two designs were required: one for the “merchant” service (i.e merchant use at sea) and one for “official” (i.e Government) use. The competition attracted 32 823 entries. Australia′s first Prime Minister, Edmund Barton, announced the winning designs in Melbourne on 3 September 1901.

The winning design for “merchant” use is shown above. In accordance with British ensign convention, this “merchant” flag was a British red ensign, defacedwith a 5-star Southern Cross and a large single star called the Federation Star.

The Southern Cross was represented by stars ranging from 5 to 9 points to indicate their relative apparent brightness in the night sky. Directly below the Union Flag was the large six pointed white federation star, representing the federation of the six colonies of Australia in 1901.

Note that this flag was officially intended only to be used by merchant ships registered in Australia and citizens at sea. It was expected that citizens on land would continue to fly the Union Flag (indeed this is corroborated by the Flags Act 1953 – citizens are “entitled” to fly the Union Jack).

Australian National Flag 1901

Flag Adopted: 3 September 1901
Flag Proportion: 1:2
Use: Government Flag and Ensign

The winning design for the “official” or Government flag was a defaced British Blue ensign, again in accordance with British convention that blue ensigns were reserved solely for Government use.

This flag had the same design as the merchant flag save for the background colour. It was used on Government buildings and ships and for other official purposes

The adoption of the winning flag designs was never debated in the Australian Parliament – they were sent to the Imperial Authorities in England to be approved. It wasn′t until late 1902 that King Edward VII formally notified the Australian Government of the approval, and this approval was finally Gazetted on 20 February 1903 using a modified design.


Australian Flags
Department of Administrative Services, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra, 1995.

Crux Australis
Anthony Burton (Editor), Flag Society of Australia, Melbourne, Australia. – “The 1901 Australian Flag Competition: Facts Behind the Myths”, Ralph Kelly, Volume X No 1 January 1994.

Flag of Stars
Frank Cayley, Rigby Ltd, Adelaide, 1966.

Flags of Australia (chart)
John C Vaughan, Standard Publishing House, Sydney, 1983.

Flags of the Nations (chart)
Flag Society of Australia, Flag Research Center, and National Australia Bank, Australia, 1992.

© Ausflag 2019
The history of the Red Ensign is intertwined with the history of the Australian National flag. From 1901 to 1954 the Red Ensign was in practice, used as Australia′s Civil Flag, i.e. the flag to be flown by private citizens on land. The Blue Ensign was for Government use only, reflecting British practice with its ensigns.


Why is it important?  >>History
How did it happen?  >>Description
What does it look like?  >>
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Flags Act 1953 (Cth)
Flags Act 1953 (Cth), cover Flags Act 1953 (Cth), p1 Flags Act 1953 (Cth), p2
Flags Act 1953 (Cth), p3 Flags Act 1953 (Cth), p4 Flags Act 1953 (Cth), p5

This law was the first to designate which of two Australian flags is the national flag. Schedules to the Act give the specifications for the blue national flag and the red merchant shipping flag.


In August and September 1901 judges appointed by the Commonwealth government worked through over 30 000 competition entries to select a design for two Australian flags – one with a blue ground for official use, the other with a red ground for merchant ships. The judges, representing naval and shipping expertise, chose a design for these flags as submitted in five of the entries. The blue flag was first flown from the Exhibition Building Melbourne on 3 September 1901 when the winning design was announced – this was a huge flag (36 by 18 feet), made to order for the occasion.

King Edward VII’s approval of the chosen design, slightly simplified, in 1902 was gazetted in February 1903. In June the same year the Admiralty authorised the flying of the red merchant flag on ships registered in Australia. (From February 1922, when the Navigation Act 1912–20 took effect, this was compulsory.) The design was further modified in 1908 to give the Commonwealth six-pointed star (each of its points representing a State) another point to represent Papua and any future territories, making it consistent with the star in the Commonwealth Coat of Arms authorised that year.

The Commonwealth Government, at the time the design was approved in 1901, regarded the two Australian flags as colonial flags, with the Union Flag, usually called the Union Jack, continuing to serve as the national flag. Within the British Empire, blue and red flags (called ensigns) served primarily to identify ships at sea – the blue indicated a government ship and the red a privately owned vessel. That is why the British Admiralty controlled their design.

Only after pressure from Australian nationalists, especially Richard Crouch, Member of the House of Representatives, did the Commonwealth government begin to use the blue Australian flag for Australia’s naval forces in 1903. After the House of Representatives passed a special resolution in June 1904, the blue flag was also flown from post offices and Commonwealth buildings in Melbourne and Sydney on national occasions. However, that flag did not replace the Union Flag on forts until 1908, and on the jackstaff on the bow of warships until 1911. Despite these changes in the regulations, the Australian flag was sometimes overlooked. Its absence at the ceremony at Fremantle to welcome the arrival of the first Australian cruiser from Britain in 1913 caused an outcry by nationalists.

The Commonwealth government’s reluctance to use the Australian flag also reflected disapproval of its design. At the time of its selection in 1901, some critics, especially in New South Wales, thought the design too similar to Victoria’s flag, as the designers had simply removed the crown above the Southern Cross constellation on the Victorian flag and added the Commonwealth star. Many of those critics preferred a flag widely used in eastern Australia during the 19th century, which had become an important symbol in the Federation campaign. This British white ensign featured a blue cross bearing white stars. Edmund Barton had in 1898 persuaded the Federal Association of New South Wales to recommend this flag as the flag of the new Commonwealth. As the first Prime Minister, Barton forwarded this design, as well as the winning design from the competition, to the British government. Later Prime Ministers, John C Watson from New South Wales and Andrew Fisher from Queensland, also thought the selected design unsuitable.

The First World War popularised the use of flags, especially Australian flags, on land. More people also wanted to put Australian flags in state schools, where the Union Flag had largely flown unchallenged since Federation. There was widespread confusion about which was Australia’s national flag – the Union Flag or an Australian flag. In the volatile politics of post-war Australia, an Australian flag, unless accompanied by a Union Flag, became a symbol of disloyalty, since the Union Flag was widely regarded as the national flag. That was the flag used to cover the coffins of Australia’s most popular war heroes, Sir John Monash and Albert Jacka VC, in 1931 and 1932. There was also confusion about which Australian flag – the red or the blue – could be used by various levels of government and by the people.

In 1924 the Commonwealth government, after much indecision, advised State governments that the Australian blue flag was for Commonwealth use only. Protest forced reconsideration of the issue, and the concession that State governments could use the Australian flag if State flags were not available. However, private organisations and individuals, and even state schools wishing to use an Australian flag were expected to use the red one. Strangely, the official painting of the opening of Parliament House in 1927 features the red Australian flag.

The Victorian Government challenged this direction in relation to State schools in 1938, and, unable to get a response from the Commonwealth, legislated in 1940 to allow schools to fly the Australian blue flag. This increased pressure on the Commonwealth government led it to announce in 1941 and again in 1947 that there was no longer a restriction on the use of that flag.

Finally, when arrangements were being completed for the presentation of an Australian flag to every school as part of the Commonwealth Jubilee celebrations in 1951, a decision had to be made as to whether that flag would be blue or red. The Menzies Government in December 1950 proclaimed the blue flag as the Australian national flag, and subsequently prepared the legislation which became the Flags Act 1953. The Prime Minister expected that the practice of flying the Australian flag and the Union Flag together on national occasions would continue. He also ensured that Section 8 of the Act maintained a person’s ‘right or privilege’, defined in Britain in 1908, to fly the Union Flag.


Kwan, Elizabeth, ‘Blue over red: Australia’s Victorian flag legacy and Menzies’ decision’, Crux Australis, vol. 13/4, no. 56, February 2000, pp. 158–75.

Kwan, Elizabeth, ‘Flags’, The Oxford Companion to Australian History, Graeme Davidson, John Hirst, Stuart Macintyre (eds), Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1998.

Kwan, Elizabeth, ‘The Australian flag: ambiguous symbol of nationality in Melbourne and Sydney, 1920–21’, Australian Historical Studies, vol. 26, no. 103, October 1994.


This document, passed by Parliament in December 1953, was one of the few Commonwealth Bills to be signed by the Monarch rather than the Governor-General. Unlike most of those Bills, this one did not legally require the Queen’s assent: Australian flags no longer needed British authorisation. However, the Menzies Government decided to invite Queen Elizabeth herself to sign the document during the 1954 Royal Tour of Australia. Her signature would validate the transition in national flags which was taking place, from Union Flag to Australian national flag.

Though the Act is numbered 1 of 1954, it is cited as the Flags Act 1953 – rather confusing, but this document reveals the simple explanation. The Bill was renumbered – the first page shows the correction – and the Governor-General, Sir William Slim, instead of giving his assent as usual in place of the Queen, signed his statement, ‘I reserve this Act for Her Majesty’s pleasure’. Strictly speaking the document was not yet an Act: in our constitutional monarchy a Bill does not become an Act until it receives the Assent of the Monarch or her appointed representative.

Queen Elizabeth signed this document, and the duplicate assent original for the House of Representatives, on Sunday 14 February 1954, the day before she opened the next session of the Commonwealth Parliament.

The document has four pages, measuring 27.2 x 21.1 cm: the Act, and two Schedules on glossy paper, illustrating the flags in colour. Signed and dated by Queen Elizabeth II, it was kept in the Office of the Governor-General until transferred to the National Archives.

Queen Elizabeth II's signature can be seen on the cover of the Flags Act 1953 (Cth).

Queen Elizabeth II’s signature can be seen on the cover of the Flags Act 1953 (Cth).

Long Title: An Act to declare a certain Flag to be the Australian National Flag and to make other provision with respect to Flags. (No. 1 of 1954)
No. of pages: 6 + cover; page 6 blank
Medium: Paper
Measurements: 27.2 x 21.1 cm
Provenance: House of Representatives and Office of the Governor-General
Features: Queen’s signature on cover
Location & Copyright: National Archives of Australia
Reference: NAA: A1559/1, 1954/1


More info here

I dont disagree with whats written generally, but the full story is never stated entirely… as far as the flag goes, the 6 pointed star, as proclaimed and posted below in black and white has the ‘indented points and is NOT composed of 2 super-imposed equilateral triangles so as to NOT DUPLICATE the star of david…. as a CHRISTIAN I have an issue, morally, philosophically with placing the adopted Jewish symbol on our flag INCORRECTLY as well as in association with the christian smybol of the UNION JACK….. which most have no idea is a composition of three crosses, one even representing the first christian martyr St George!!…..
The Star of David style fed star is used erroneously as it is EASIER to draw than the correct star… the example on the referenced page confirms both stars at the same time, 1918.
-The adopted Australian flag had THIS 6 pointed star and importantly the southern cross had 5-7-7-7-7 point and NOT the 5-6-7-8-9 point – that was the competition flag.

it had ‘indented’ points and is only symmetrical about the vertical axis, the actual gazetted Federation star;


1900 vote 32,000 FEDERAL FLAG
1900 federal flag adopted as our NATIONAL FLAG.
1903 ROYAL Warrent Edward VIl flag change southern cross 5 7777.
1907 LAND WARFARE MARTIAL LAW 1908 MILITARY ORDER flag change 7 to pointer star.


Source Steven Siers It’s our duty to share so that we all know our facts in history, especially when we have been infiltrated by a foreign administrator acting as our government silently without disclosure and plunged into international debt dividing our assets, lands and resources to off shore investors against the interests of the Australian people.


Dont buy an Admiralty Maritime Civil Merchant National Flag (The blue one).

GET THE 2:3 FEDERAL FLAG in use before the Competition for the flag. We have absolute proof by letters found in the National Archives that this flag existed before both Competitions.

We have proof of two competitions, one from the Government, and one by the magazine called the Review of Reviews.

Letters prove that the Federal Flag already existed at the time of both competitions and is a Land Flag not an Admiralty Maritime Flag.

This is the first time the flag is formally specified in dimension etc…. and refers to the ensign and merchant flag….by 1934 we’ve upgrades to the 7 point fed star…

http://This is the first time the flag is formally specified in dimension etc…. and refers to the ensign and merchant flag….by 1934 we’ve upgrades to the 7 point fed star…

This is the above mentioned 1903 Gazettal

http://This is the above mentioned 1903 Gazettal

The 1901 Official call for designs for the Federal flag AND Federal SEAL…



We chose to find an Australian Business, a small business to have the flags made for you. You can buy direct from the business, which means no middle man is making a profit off you, and your funds go directly to an honest Australian small business.

Dont spend your money on a web site with no credibility. Dont use your credit cards online with unknown sources where they wont even give you contact details should something go wrong.

Brian at Custom Flags Australia is a small business man that would be proud to take your orders. We at the Australian Royal Counsel will use Brian as our Official Flag Maker unless we require serious stitched and expensive flags at which we will use Darwin Flags.

Make sure you protect yourself. By ensuring your credit cards are used with reliable retailers. Custom Flags Australia is an ABN registered business covered under Australian Consumer Laws. We at the Australian Royal Counsel have chosen to ensure we use Australian Small Business for your protection, as well as provide income to an economy which is important to us. Family Business in the Commonwealth of Australia.

Click here to buy a Federal Red Ensign that was in use by ANZAC and in existence before Flags of Admiralty in use by Government demonstrated by the Cover of the Review of Reviews September 1901 where it describes the Commonwealth Government having “adopted” the Federal Flag “as” the National Flag.


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MEDIUM $9.95