Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Flag of Australia
The flag of Australia is blue with the flag of the United Kingdom (or Union Flag) in the canton (the upper hoist quarter), and a large seven-pointed star known as the Commonwealth Star (six points representing the six original states and one point for the territories and any future states of Australia) in the lower hoist quarter; the remaining half is a representation of the Southern Cross constellation in white with one small five-pointed star and four, larger, seven-pointed stars. It is a defaced British Blue Ensign (defacement is a term in vexillology referring to the practice of adding badges or symbols to an existing flag and does not imply debasement).
From colonial times Australia has had a rich tradition of flag making. But when the six colonies federated in 1901, the newest nation of the British Empire did not have its own flag. In April, 1901, the first Commonwealth government held a national flag design competition - the first time in history that a country had chosen its flag in this way. The competition attracted over 32,000 entries, equivalent to about 1% of the Australian population at that time. The majority of designs contained the Union Jack and the Southern Cross, but native animals were also popular. Among the more quirky designs were a kangaroo leaping through the constellation of the Southern Cross, a scene depicting native animals playing cricket with a winged cricket ball, a six-tailed kangaroo representing the six Australian states, and a fat kangaroo aiming a gun at the Southern Cross.
Five almost identical entries were chosen as the winning design and they shared the prize money. They were: Ivor Evans, a fourteen-year-old schoolboy from Melbourne; Leslie John Hawkins, a teenager apprenticed to a Sydney optician; Egbert John Nuttall, a Melbourne architect; Annie Dorrington, an artist from Perth; and William Stevens, a ship’s officer from Auckland, New Zealand. The Commonwealth Government and the Review of Reviews for Australasia provided seventy-five pounds each and the Havelock Tobacco Company added fifty pounds to this, making a total of two hundred pounds prize money, a considerable amount at the time. The five winners received 40 pounds each.
On 3 September, 1901, the new Australian flag flew for the first time from the top of the Exhibition Building in Melbourne. A simplified version of the competition-winning design was officially approved as the Flag of Australia by King Edward VII in 1902 (Commonwealth of Australia Gazette No. 8, 20 February, 1903). On 2 June 1904 the Australian Parliament passed a resolution to fly the flag 'upon all forts, vessels, saluting places and public buildings of the Commonwealth upon all occasions when flags are used'.
There were two versions of the flag: red for merchant ships (known as the Commonwealth red ensign) and blue for other uses (known as the Commonwealth blue ensign), which caused some confusion. The new flag came slowly into use: in 1908 it was used to represent Australian athletes at the London Olympics, and by 1911 it was also used as the saluting flag for the Army. The flag was carried into New Guinea at the outbreak of World War I, and in tribute to the valour of Australian soldiers in Europe during that war it is still raised every day at the French village of Villers-Bretonneux . During the Second World War, when Singapore was retaken in 1945, the first flag to fly was an Australian ensign made secretly in a prison camp.
On 14 February 1954 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II gave Royal Assent to the Flags Act (Cwth, 1953). This was an historic occasion of some importance in that it was the first Australian legislation to which a reigning monarch had ever assented in Australia. Section 3 of the Act officially confirmed the Commonwealth blue ensign (first flown on 3 September, 1901) as the Australian national flag. Then Prime Minister Robert Menzies explained that the Act was "very largely a formal measure which puts into legislative form what has become almost the established practice in Australia". The Australian national flag is the only one to fly over an entire continent.
In 1996, the Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia , Sir William Deane, issued a proclamation from Government House, Canberra establishing 3 September in every year as Australian National Flag Day, to commemorate the day in 1901 on which the Australian National Flag was first flown (Commonwealth of Australia Gazette No. S321, 28 August, 1996).
In 2002, the leader of the National Party of Australia, John Anderson proposed to introduce laws banning desecration of the Australian flag, a call which attracted support from some parliamentarians both in his own party and the senior coalition partner, the Liberal Party of Australia. However, the Prime Minister, John Howard, rejected the calls, stating that "...in the end I guess it's part of the sort of free speech code that we have in this country." , and no legislation banning flag desecration was put to Parliament.
- The History of the Australian National Flag - A Compilation from Official Sources
- 'The Australian National Flag' (Department of Special Minister of State, AGPS, Canberra 1985)
- 'The Australian National Flag' (R G Rubie, Commonwealth Government Printer, AGPS, Canberra, undated
- 'Year Book Australia 1989' (No 72, ABS, Canberra)
- 'Hansard' (Commonwealth Parliament) 1953; Commonwealth of Australia Copyright reproduced by permission.
The flag debate
In connection with the issue of republicanism in Australia, there has been a low-key but persistent debate over whether or not the Australian flag should be changed in order to remove the Union Flag from the canton. This debate has come to a head at a number of occasions, such as the period immediately preceding the Australian Bicentennary in 1988, and also during the Prime Ministership of Paul Keating, who had publicly supported a change in the flag.
Arguments in favour of keeping the flag
In response to the increasing publicity surrounding proposed new flag designs, supporters of the current Australian flag have formed the Australian National Flag Association to resist any attempts at changing the flag.
Supporters of the current version of the national flag argue that:
- The flag uniquely and distinctively represents Australia and her status as an independent Commonwealth Realm. The Union Flag stands for Australia's historical origins, its membership of the Commonwealth of Nations, as well as the Westminster system of parliamentary democracy and the Common Law system practised in Australia. The Federation Star symbolises the six original states and Australia's territories. The Southern Cross represents Australia's position in the Southern Hemisphere and was known to ancient Aboriginal people, featuring as it does in a number of their traditional legends.
- The flag does not reflect Australia's subordination to Britain. Fiji is now a republic, yet it retains the Union Flag on its national flag. The flag of Hawaii has retained the Union Flag in the canton even though it is now a state within the United States of America and was never a British colony.
- The flag is a popular symbol, widely and enthusiastically used by Australians of all races and creeds. No alternative national flag has attained the same degree of affection accorded to the current flag. Sporting flag designs, such as the Boxing Kangaroo, have failed to supplant it.
- The flag is of historical importance, having been the symbol that Australia has grown up under and the symbol that has been associated with all of her acheivements on the international scene. It contains elements of earlier flags, such as that of the Anti-Transportation League ; it is also similar to the Blue Ensign designs of all the states' flags. Efforts to change it are essentially revisionist and divisive.
- The flag has been used by the Royal Australian Navy since its inception and by other branches of the Australian Defence Force one way or another since Federation. Abandoning the flag would insult the memory of the nation's 102,000 war dead.
- The flag was designed by Australians, and was chosen through a public competition.
Arguments in favour of changing the flag
The case for changing the flag has been led by the organisation known as Ausflag . The organisation has not consistently supported one design, but has sponsored a number of design competitions to develop alternative flag candidates.
Supporters of changing the flag typically argue that:
- The flag currently is not distinctive, containing as it does the national flag of another country in a position of prominence. In particular, the flag is difficult to distinguish from a variety of flags based on the British Blue Ensign, most notably the national flag of New Zealand and the state flag of Victoria.
- The flag does not accurately connote Australia's status as an independent nation. The Union flag at the canton suggests Australia is a British colony or dependency. New Zealand, Fiji and Tuvalu are the only other independent nations in the world to feature the Union Flag on their national flags. Other Commonwealth countries whose flags originally depicted the Union Flag, such as Canada, have since changed them. The flag's colours of red, white and blue are neither Australia's official national colours (green and gold) nor its traditional heraldic colours (blue and gold).
- In representing only Australia's British heritage, the flag is anachronistic, and does not reflect the change to a multicultural, pluralist society. In particular, the flag makes no mention of indigenous Australians, many of whom regard the Union Flag as a reminder of colonial oppression and dispossesion.
- The flag is historically not the prime national symbol. For most of the time since Federation, it has been flown alongside the British Union Flag. The number of points of the stars have varied since 1901, and the current blue version was not officially adopted as the National Flag until 1954. Before then, confusion reigned between whether the red or blue version was to be preferred, the red often winning out.
- Claims that Australians have "fought and died under the flag" are spurious, given that during most of the wars Australians have been involved in, they have usually "fought under" various British flags or the Australian Red Ensign, as well as the current Blue Ensign design. In any case, flags are not literally carried into battle in modern warfare.
- Although the flag was designed by Australians, it still had to be approved by the British Admiralty and King Edward VI.
Progress of the debate
On 24 March 1998 the Flags Amendment Bill became law after all party support in the Australian parliament. It amended the Flags Act 1953 to ensure that the Australian national flag can only be changed with the agreement of the Australian electorate.
Other Australian flags
Australia currently has 26 official flags, including flags proclaimed as a "Flag of Australia" under Section 5 of the Flags Act 1953. Other than the national, state and territory flags, the officially recognised flags are:
- Australian ensigns (Australian Defence Force Ensign, Australian white ensign, Royal Australian Airforce ensign)
- Other Commonwealth Government flags (Civil Air Ensign, Australian Customs)
- Flags of Indigenous peoples (Australian Aboriginal flag, Torres Strait Islander flag)
- Royal and vice-regal flags (Her Majesty the Queen's personal flag for Australia, Governor-General's flag, State Governor's flags)
On 13 September 2001 the Governor-General, Peter Hollingworth, proclaimed the Centenary Flag Warrant under Section 6 of the Flags Act (Commonwealth Gazette No. S382, 20 September 2001). The Centenary Flag is the flag presented on 3 September 2001 to the Prime Minister by the Australian National Flag Association at the flag centenary celebration - Royal Exhibition Buildings, Melbourne. It is a fully sewn, satin, Australian flag, inscribed with a special flag centenary message. This flag has an embellishment - a cardinal red stripe to represent the 'crimson thread of kinship' that stands at the heart of the Australian federation. It is used as Australia's official flag of state at important national events.
- The number of points on the stars of the Southern Cross on today's Australian flag differs from the original competition-winning design in that the stars varied between five and nine, reflecting the relative brightness of each in the night sky. The British Admiralty standardised the Southern Cross by giving the four biggest stars seven points and five for the faintest Epsilon Crucis . This change was made ostensibilty to improve the ease of manufacture.
- Australia's national flag is one of only two in the world to feature a seven-pointed star. The other is that of Jordan.
- The first time Australia's flag of state, the 'Centenary Flag', represented the country overseas was on 11 November, 2003, at the opening of the Australian War Memorial in Hyde Park, London by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
- Aboriginal Flag
- Australian Air Force Ensign
- Australian White Ensign
- Australian Red Ensign
- Eureka Flag
- Flags of the Australian states and territories
- Torres Strait Islander flag
- Australian Government, Flying the Flag - It's an Honour!
- Ausflag - Australian National Flag for flag description and history
- Australian National Flag Association
- FLAGS FANTASTIC - For history of the Australian flag, flag care & protocol
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