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The Australian flag as a colonial flag

Last modified: 2005-02-26 by
Keywords: britain | colony | australia | oceania |
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Design of Australian flags as colonial flags

The flags of all six Australian states are true colonial flags even though they're no longer colonies. The Australian national flag is a little different in that an extra device (the federal star) was added beneath the jack in addition to the southern cross on the fly. Pictures of the historical Australian state and national flags can be found on the Ausflag web site.
Brendan Jones, 6 February 1996


Civil flag on land and the Flag Act of 1953

Until the Flag Act was passed in 1953, the official national flag was the Union Jack.
Roy Stilling, 6 February 1996

Theoretically, Australia had no civil flag for use on land (i.e. what we normally think of as the 'national flag') until 1953. The blue ensign was the state flag for use on land (i.e for the use of the Government only) and the red ensign was used for the merchant marine service, as it is today. Any use of these flags by private citizens on land was customary only and, strictly speaking, a breach of protocol.

Some research by Ralph Kelly, an Australian flag historian, dug up some pretty conclusive documentation that the 1900 flag competition only ever intended to design flags for government and merchant use. It was assumed that private citizens on land would continue to fly undefaced Union Jacks, i.e. effectively Australia's 'official national flag' remained the Union Jack.

That of course changed in 1953, whereupon the blue ensign first gained legal status as Australia's national flag and indeed seniority over the undefaced Union Jack.
Brendan Jones, 7 February 1996

Until the 1953 act, the Australian red ensign was the official civil flag, but the the act changed it to the blue one, which (I believe) had already seen significant de facto use. Both flags were in official use from about 1909 in their respective uses. Earlier versions were in use from about 1901 and were officially approved by London in 1903. The difference in versions had to do with the number of points on each star - the basic designs did not change. In 1975, Australia got its own white ensign, and stopped using the UK one.
Christopher Vance, 2 October 1996

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