Designed by the people, the Blue Ensign Australian National Flag has been the topic of debate since 1901. Symbolically, the flag acknowledges our British Heritage, the importance of the Southern Cross emblem and the unity of states and territories; however, many feel Australia’s sovereignty and multiculturalism should take precedence.

In 1900, prior to the Federation of Australia, a public design competition was held by the Melbourne Herald to find a flag that incorporated both the Union Flag and Southern Cross. A second competition was announced later that year by Review of Reviews for Australasia, and an official competition was held by the Commonwealth Government following the Federation on the 1st of January 1901. In all, 32,823 entries were received, including those from the Review of Reviews. Each entry required two coloured sketches: a red ensign for civil use and a blue ensign for official use and were judged based on ‘loyalty to the Empire, Federation, history, heraldry, distinctiveness, utility and cost of manufacture.’

The winning flag design was announced on the 3rd of September 1901 by Australia′s first Prime Minister Edmund Barton who hoisted the blue flag above the Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne where Parliament sat at the time. Due to the competition’s aesthetic restrictions it was found that five people submitted virtually identical designs and the prize money was split between them. The winners were: Annie Dorrington an artist from Perth, Ivor Evans a student from Melbourne, Leslie Hawkins a student from Sydney, Egbert Nuttall an architect from Melbourne and William Stevens a steamship officer from New Zealand.

Civil Ensign of Australia | © WikimediaCommons

From its introduction, the flag’s design received mixed reactions. The republican publication The Bulletin described it as ‘a staled réchauffé of the British flag, with no artistic virtue, no national significance.’ Meanwhile, both the Federal Government and the New South Wales Government were unhappy about its resemblance to the Victorian flag.

Since 1901, the flag’s original design has been altered three times. Originally, the Federation Star had only six points and the stars in the Southern Cross ranged from five to nine points. In 1902, King Edward VII approved the change to make all the stars seven-pointed except for the smallest and in 1908 a seventh point was added to Federation Star.

There was also confusion concerning the roles of the Red and Blue Ensign. The Red Ensign was used by private citizens and originations as well as State and local governments, while the Blue Flag was reserved for the Commonwealth Government. It wasn’t until the Flags Act 1953 that the Blue Ensign was declared the Australian National Flag under the Menzies Government and given Royal Assent by Queen Elizabeth II on the 14th of February 1954 during her first Royal Tour of Australia.

Flag of Australia | © Ian Fieggen/WikiCommons

The Australian National Flag is primarily blue and features The Crosses representative of St George, St Andrew and St Patrick as well as Australia’s British heritage. The Stars are representative of the Southern Cross constellation, symbolising the nation, its geographical location, and the significance of Indigenous stories. Six of the points of the Commonwealth Star acknowledge the states in the Australian Federation, while its seventh point is in recognition of the federal territories.

Since the 1901 Federal Flag Design Competition there has been debate over the British ensign and today the debate continues as to whether the Union Flag should occupy the vexillological honour point, considering Australia’s ever-growing multicultural identity. Only time will tell whether the Australian National Flag will undergo further design alterations.

Pixabay | Pixabay 

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16 Interesting Facts About Australian Flag

Very few people know the unique and proud story of the Australian Flag. The Flag engulfs the pragmatic Australian culture and its remarkable history. Besides being the only National Flag to fly over the entire continent, there is a lot to know about the Australian Flag and its unique chronology. Here are some interesting facts about the Australian Flag worth knowing:

1. From British to Australian Flag!

Australia hoisted the British flag Union Jack until its independence in 1901. The first national flag of independent Australia was hoisted on 3 September 1901 at the Royal Exhibition Buildings, Melbourne.

2. A Flag of the People, For the People & By the People!

The Australian Flag is considered the first and the only flag to be chosen in an open public competition.

3. A tedious job!

The competition was conducted by Melbourne Herald and the Review of Reviews with prize money of £200, which was a yearly salary of an average worker at that time. It received an enthralling response with nearly 33,000 entries. Arranging all the entries actually took 8 weeks and the competition was judged in 6 days!

4. And…the credit goes to…

Out of all entries, 5 unique and prominent ones were selected as winners. One of them was a Victorian schoolboy.

5. Flying Guidelines!

Guidelines for flying the Australian Flag are laid down in the 1953 Flags Act. The guidelines say that it should be treated with dignity and respect and as the nation’s most important National Symbol. According to the guidelines, while in the Australian territory, it should be flown in a superior position to other flags. The flag must be flown on all government buildings in Australia and should always be flown aloft and free.

6. Decode the Australian Flag!

The design of Australian flag is a compilation of three different things:

Union Jack which illustrates the link of Australia with the British.

Southern Cross Constellation (5 stars) which is commonly seen over southern hemisphere and clearly seen visible at night sky.

Seven pointed Commonwealth Star: it is also known as Star of Federation which symbolizes the original states of Australia.

7. Status of the National Flag

The proclamation of the Australian Flag as a National Flag was made under The Flags Act of 1953.

8. Similar Flags!

The national flag of New Zealand has an uncanny resemblance to the Australian National Flag. Similarities might reflect common British colonial history or previous relationships with Australia.

9. Other “Australian” Flags!

Besides the Australian National Flag, there are other official flags like the Australian Aboriginal Flag, the Torres Strait Islander Flag, the Australian Red Ensign, the Royal Australian Air Force Ensign (RAAF) and the Australian White Ensign for the Royal Australian Navy.

10. State and Territory Flags!

Each State of the Australian continent has its own official State Flag. Also, what sets the Australian territories’ flags apart from its National flag is their free design and deviation from the Blue Ensign.

11. Decoding the Stars!

Australian National Flag has six stars, which represent six States of the country. It also corresponds to the constellation. All the stars are seven-pointed apart from one little star that has five points. The largest star represents the Commonwealth star.

12. The Starry Addition!

Originally all the stars on the flag had six points. The seventh point was added later for the new territories added in 1908.

13. Blue Vs Red!

Initially, the Blue Ensign was entitled only for government purposes and the Red Ensign for commercial use. It was only during the Menzies Government in 1953 that the Red Ensign disappeared from the picture.

14. The only Continental Flag!

Not to forget that the Australian national flag is not only the one chosen through an open public competition but also the only national flag to fly over an entire continent.

15. Devoid of National Color!

Australian National Flag stands peculiarly in the feature that the national color, that is vibrant green and gold, is nowhere to be spotted in the flag.

16. A Tribute to World War I Soldiers!

To pay tribute to Australian casualties incurred in liberating their villages in 1917, the Australian National Flag is raised every morning at the school in Villers-Bretonneux in France.

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