A Brief History of Australian Flags

Australia′s flag has already changed many times. Our present flag dates from only 1953. The following is a summary of the changes to Australia′s national flag since 1770. For a more complete history of Australia′s national flag, read our article History of the Australian National Flag.

The Union Flag 1770

union flag

Australia′s first flag was the Union Flag (used by Captain Cook in 1770 and Captain Phillip in 1788).

The Union Jack 1801

Union Jack

Then came the Union Flag (also known as the Union Jack) with the inclusion of the flag of St Patrick when Ireland joined the Union in 1801.

Australian Flag 1901

From the middle of the nineteenth century, a growing Australian nationalism brought forth many unofficial flags – all of them incorporating the constellation of the Southern Cross (Crux Australis), which was universally accepted as the emblem of the Great South Land.

In 1901 the new Federal Government organised a competition for a new flag – one for "official" or Government use, and one for the "merchant" service (i.e. citizens at sea). The judging and approval process were such that only a British Ensign with a badge representative of Australia was likely to be a winner.

The winning design for the merchant flag was based on the British Red Ensign, and the winning design for the official Government flag was based on the British Blue Ensign.

Australian Flag 1903

The King approved slightly altered designs in 1903, and the Union Jack was to remain the senior flag to both designs.

Australian Flag 1909

Then, in 1909 a seventh point was added to the Federation star.

Australian Flag 1953 – Defaced British Blue Ensign

Australian Flag 1953

For many years there was considerable misunderstanding in Australia and in other countries with regard to the use of the Australian flags. During World War II, Prime Minister Menzies issued a directive that there should be no restriction on the flying of the "Commonwealth Blue Ensign", and Prime Minister Chifley gave his support to that view in 1947. In 1953, by means of a Commonwealth Act of Parliament – the Flags Act 1953 – the "British Blue Ensign" was proclaimed the national flag. Only since then has it had seniority over the Union Jack.

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