Australian National Flag

Australian flags publication cover page - link to Part 2 of the booklet

The publication Australian flags is available free of charge from the electorate offices of Federal Members of Parliament and Senators.

Symbolism

The Australian National Flag

The Australian National Flag

The Australian National Flag is Australia’s foremost national symbol. It was first flown in 1901 and has become an expression of Australian identity and pride.

The Australian National Flag flies over the federal and state parliaments. The flag is paraded by our defence forces and displayed around the country at sporting events and by service organisations, schools, community groups and private citizens.

The Australian National Flag has three elements on a blue background: the Union Jack, the Commonwealth Star and the Southern Cross.

The Union Jack in the upper left corner (or canton) acknowledges the history of British settlement.

Below the Union Jack is a white Commonwealth or Federation star. It has seven points representing the unity of the six states and the territories of the Commonwealth of Australia. The star is also featured on the Commonwealth Coat of Arms.

The Southern Cross is shown on the fly of the flag in white. This constellation of five stars can be seen only from the southern hemisphere and is a reminder of Australia’s geography.

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History

The colonies of Australia federated to become a single Commonwealth in 1901. That year, Australia’s first Prime Minister, the Rt Hon Sir Edmund Barton announced an international competition to design a flag for the new nation. It attracted 32,823 entries. Five near-identical entries were awarded equal first and the designers shared the £200 prize.

The Australian National Flag was flown for the first time in September 1901 at the Exhibition Building in Melbourne, which was then the seat of the federal government.

It was announced in Commonwealth of Australia Gazette No 8 of 1903 that King Edward VII approved designs for the flag of Australia, known as the Commonwealth blue ensign, and for the flag of the merchant navy, known as the Commonwealth red ensign. The stars of the Southern Cross were simplified to four seven-pointed stars and one five pointed star. (The 1901 design depicted the stars with a differing number of points to signify their brightness.) In 1908 a seventh point was added to the Commonwealth star to represent the Australian territories.

Confusion developed surrounding the use of the two Australian flags. The blue ensign was intended for official and naval purposes only and the red ensign was to be used by the merchant fleet. However, the general public also began using the red ensign on land. In 1941, Prime Minister the Rt Hon Robert Menzies issued a press statement recommending the flying of the blue ensign as a national emblem. The Flags Act 1953 ended confusion about which ensign to use.

An amendment to the Flags Act 1953 was passed in 1998 to ensure that the Australian National Flag can be changed only with the agreement of the Australian people.

Other official Australian flags include the Australian Aboriginal Flag, the Torres Strait Islander Flag and the ensigns of the Australian Defence Force.

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Proclamation

The Flags Act 1953 proclaimed the Australian blue ensign as the Australian National Flag and the Australian red ensign as the flag for merchant ships registered in Australia.

Flying the flag

The Australian National Flag can be flown every day of the year.

As the nation’s foremost symbol, the flag should be used with respect and dignity. Information on protocols for flying the flag is available on this website and in the booklet Australian flags, which may be obtained from your Federal Member of Parliament or Senator.

There is also a calendar of occasions for flying the Australian National Flag including Australia Day, ANZAC Day and Australian National Flag Day. The Commonwealth Flag Network provides email notifications of when and how to fly the flag. You can register to join the network in the subscription section of this website.

Australian National Flag Day

Australian National Flag Day is an opportunity for individuals, community organisations, local authorities, businesses and schools to celebrate with pride the anniversary of the Australian National Flag.

Australian National Flag Day, proclaimed in 1996 as a national day, celebrates the first time the flag was flown on 3 September 1901.  On that day Prime Minister Edmund Barton announced the winners of a competition to design a flag for Australia. A large flag, 5.5 metres by 11 metres, was flown over the dome of the Exhibition Building in Melbourne.  At that time the flag was known as the Commonwealth blue ensign; later, the flag became known as the Australian National Flag.

All Australians are encouraged to fly or display the Australian National Flag to celebrate Australian National Flag Day on 3 September each year.
Here are some ideas to help you celebrate Australian National Flag Day:

Australian National Flag Day in 2001 marked 100 years since the flag was first raised. A re-enactment ceremony was held at the Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne. The then Prime Minister was presented with the Centenary Flag at this event.

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Protocols

As the nation’s foremost symbol, the Australian National Flag should be used with respect and dignity. These protocols are to assist you when flying or using the flag.

Flying the flag

  • The flag should be raised briskly and lowered ceremoniously.
  • The flag should be raised no earlier than first light and lowered no later than dusk.
  • When the flag is raised or lowered, or when it is carried in a parade or review, everyone present should be silent and face the flag. People in uniform should salute.
  • The flag should always be flown freely and as close as possible to the top of the flagpole with the rope tightly secured.
  • Unless all flags are raised and lowered simultaneously, the Australian National Flag should be raised first and lowered last.
  • When the Australian National Flag is flown with flags of other nations, all flags should be the same size and flown on flagpoles of the same height
  • When flying with only one other national flag, the Australian National Flag should fly on the left of a person facing the flags.
  • Two flags should not be flown from the same flagpole.
  • The flag may be flown at night only when it is illuminated.
  • The flag should never be flown if it is damaged, faded or dilapidated. When the material of a flag deteriorates it should be destroyed privately and in a dignified way. i.e. it may be cut into small unrecognisable pieces then disposed of with the normal rubbish collection.
  • The flag should not be flown upside down, even as a signal of distress.
  • The flag should not fall or lie on the ground or be used as a cover (although it can be used to cover a coffin at a funeral).
  • Information on the protocols for displaying and folding the flag can be found in Part 2 of the booklet Australian flags (PDF 928KB) , which is available from your Federal Member of Parliament or Senator.

Order of precedence

The Australian National Flag takes precedence over all national flags when it is flown in Australia or Australian territory.

After the Australian National Flag, the order of precedence of flags is: national flag of other nations, state and territory flags, other Australian flags prescribed by the Flags Act 1953, ensigns and pennants.

The Australian National Flag should not normally be flown in a position inferior to any other flag or ensign and should not be smaller than any other flag or ensign.

Flying flags at half-mast

Flags are flown at half-mast as a sign of mourning.

The half-mast position will depend on the size of the flag and the length of the flagpole.  The flag must be lowered to a position recognisably half-mast to avoid the appearance of a flag which has accidentally fallen away from the top of the flagpole.  An acceptable position would be when the top of the flag is a third of the distance down from the top of the flagpole. 

There are times when direction will be given by the Australian Government for all flags to be flown at half-mast. The Commonwealth Flag Network can notify you of these occasions by email.

Flags in any locality can be flown at half-mast on the death of a local citizen or on the day, or part of the day, of their funeral.

When lowering the flag from a half-mast position it should be briefly raised to the peak and then lowered ceremoniously.

The flag should never be flown at half-mast at night even if it is illuminated.

When flying the Australian National Flag with other flags, all flags in the set should be flown at half-mast. The Australian National Flag should be raised first and lowered last.

Funerals

The flag can be used to cover the coffin of any Australian citizen at their funeral.

The upper left quarter or canton should be draped over the ‘left shoulder’ of the coffin to represent the heart.

The flag should be removed before the coffin is lowered into the ground or after the service at a crematorium.

Flag Raising Ceremonies

Schools or organisations wishing to hold a flag raising ceremony should follow the protocols outlined under the flying the flag section.

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Commonwealth Flag Network

For up to date advice on how to fly the Australian National Flag on special occasions, register for the Commonwealth Flag Network.

You will receive an email, at the same time as flag marshals around the country, with flag protocol for special occasions such as ANZAC Day and NAIDOC Week or occasions when flags should be half-mast.

Commercial use

The Australian National Flag may be used for commercial purposes, including advertising, without formal permission. Consideration should be given to the following guidelines:

  • The flag should be used in a dignified manner and reproduced completely and accurately.
  • It should not be defaced by overprinting with words or illustrations.
  • Other objects in displays should not cover the flag.
  • All symbolic parts of the flag should be identifiable.

In regard to the importation of items bearing an image of the Australian National Flag, such items are a restricted import under the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations 1956. Prior to any importation, importers require approval from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet for the design of the representation of the Australian National Flag on the relevant items. Please note that importers no longer require a separate import permit from the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service.

In order to consider requests, the Department requires the name, company and postal address of the importer, a description of the item and a colour image of the item which clearly shows the depiction of the Australian National Flag. At a minimum, the design of the flag should meet the guidelines for the commercial use of the flag set out above. Further information is on Australian Customs and Border Protection Service website.

Importers/designers are welcome to consult the Department when items are in the initial design phase prior to committing to manufacture/import items.

If you have any questions about the appropriate use or representation of the Australian National Flag, please contact the Commonwealth Flag Officer by post or email.

Commonwealth Flag Officer
Honours, Symbols and Territories Branch
Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
PO Box 6500
CANBERRA ACT 2600
Australia

Email: nationalsymbols@pmc.gov.au

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Colour references

Colour references for the Australian National Flag are:

  • Blue PANTONE® 280
  • Red PANTONE® 185

Flag images and template files for download

Australian Flag image for download/copy Australian Flag (flying) image for download/copy

Simply right click on one of the images above to save a copy. Below are a range of flag images and templates for use. They are presented in a range of image formats to allow you to select the most appropriate image for your use.

If you intend to use this image for commercial use please read the guidelines for commercial use on this page.

Vector Images

Images in this format are stored in Encapsulated PostScript which is a versatile vector file format that allows quality in resizing and on-use. Ideal for professional printers or where the Australian National Flag needs to be reproduced at very large scales.

Bitmap Images

Images in this format are stored in either GIF or JPEG format and is ideal for lower resolution applications such as web based applications or for inserting into Microsoft Word documents.

PDF Files

These files are stored in Adobe Reader format. For more information on PDF files and their use see the PDF Help page on this site. The Flag Outline is great for colouring in and the Flag Template contains detailed instructions on how to recreate the Australian National Flag.

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For more information

Australian flags publication cover page

The publication Australian flags

A copy of the booklet Australian flags is available from your Federal Member of Parliament or Senator. It contains information about the Australian National Flag and other Australian flags.

Fact sheets

This information is also available as print fact sheets.

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Last Updated: 27 February, 2014