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Commonwealth of Australia

Last modified: 2023-07-03 by jonathan dixon
Keywords: australia | southern cross | stars: southern cross | stars: 7 points |
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[Australian flag] image by António Martins, 28 Nov 2005

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Design of the flag

The Australian flag is composed of three parts:

The Union Jack shows that the first colonisation by Europeans was by Britain. In case you didn't know, Australia started as a penal colony. The Star of Federation is a seven pointed star. They came to the number seven, by giving each state (six in all) a point on the star, and having one more point for Australia's territories (of which there are several). There are two mainland territories, and several overseas, including two in Antarctica. The Southern Cross is a constellation that can be seen from all of Australia's states and territories.
Giuseppe Bottasini

All the stars have an inner diameter (circle on which the inner corners rest) of 4/9 the outer diameter (circle of outer corners), even the 5-point star. The positions of the stars are as follows:

The positions of alpha-epsilon are given with respect to the centre of the square fly, and distances in terms of hoist width of the flag.
Christopher Vance, 26 February 1998

For more details, including a picture and a comparison with the New Zealand flag, see our page on the construction of the Australian flag.

History of the flag

Below is a summary of the history of the Australian flag. We have a separate page with a more detailed

history. The links in the summary below point to the approrpiate sections of the detailed history.


Nigel Morris, 7 June 2002
* added by editor.

Red Ensign (Merchant Ensign)

[Australian civil ensign] image by António Martins, 28 Nov 2005

The Admiralty Warrant of 4 June 1903 authorised the Australian Red Ensign for vessels registered in Australia. In 1932 it was realised that this did not include the majority of private non-commercial vessels, which were rarely registered. Technically they were liable to a substantial fine if they did not fly the British Red Ensign. An Admiralty Warrant of 5 December 1938 replaced that of 1903 and authorised all ships and boats owned by British residents in Australia and New Guinea Mandated Territory to fly the Australian Red Ensign. [Public Record Office ADM 1/8760/224 and ADM 1/9477]

Initially, the Red Ensign was the only flag private citizens could fly on land. In 1941 Robert Menzies, the Prime Minister, announced that there should be no restriction on flying the Australian Blue Ensign, and in 1947 the Prime Minister, who was then Joseph Chifley, issued a press statement that actively encouraged its use by private citizens. [The Australian Flag [fol96] by Carol Foley]
David Prothero, 12 September 2001

After the 1953 Flags Act, the 'blue ensign' became the national flag for private citizens on land. This is still true today.
Miles Li, 15 September 2001

Under Section 30 of the 1981 Shipping Registration Act, an Australian merchant ship can fly only the Australian Red Ensign, but other Australian vessels can fly either the Australian Red Ensign or the Australian National Flag, but not both at the same time.
David Prothero, 16 September 2001

At [was] an online brochure published by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which confirms and expands on what David said:

Flying the Flag

Registered commercial ships over 24 metres in tonnage length must fly the Australian Red Ensign. All other registered ships have the choice of flying either the Australian National Flag or the Red Ensign.

An unregistered Australian owned ship can be issued with a certificate entitling it to fly either flag. Some ships are allowed to fly other flags in Australian waters only. These include: a State or Territory flag, a flag or ensign authorised by warrant under the Flags Act 1953, and the British Blue Ensign if the owner intending to fly it has a warrant to do so valid under British law.

The full text of the statute is at
Joe Macmillan, 17 September 2001

A brochure can now be found at: The Australian Attorney-General's Department web site, which is linked from the above referenced Australian Maritime Safety Authority web site, confirms Regulation 22 (Section 30) applies.
Colin Dobson, 3 April 2005

The history of Australian Red Ensign (ARE) use on land continues due to the Merchant Navy Association flying the ARE at their headquarters and at memorial services. A number of TV history dramas have ARE flying, The Dunera Boys was one such example. Old sailors may do so also. Re-enactments of historical events also use the ARE.

I have been flying the ARE over my residence since 4 August 1984. This is to ensure that there is a common law precedent so the ARE cannot be erased from either use or history.

It makes a great deal of sense to have a red coloured nautical flag as Red can be seen better at sea than Blue. The ARE is also part of our Heritage.

The ARE is not a dead flag. I use a second ARE on my main mast on days dedicated to the memory of the War Dead (ANZAC Day,Remembrance Day,Long Tan Day etc.) Red for blood, you see.

Finally,there is a history,however limited, of it still being used at rural agricultural fairs.I can recall seeing it used at te ANZAC Day March in the late 1960s. The ARE is still in declining evidence on land.
Steve Duke, 5 September 2007

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