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, defaced with 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.