Naval association badge

Nepean Naval and Maritime Museum


- Museum Home - Nationhood Index - NAA Sub-Section Home -

Australian Armed Forces Flags



Order of Precedence for Defence Ensigns

The flags of the Australian Defence Force and government services have also become known as ensigns. The order of precedence for Defence Ensigns is:
  • Australian National Flag
  • Australian Defence Force ensign
  • Australian white ensign
  • Royal Australian Air Force ensign
  • Australian Defence Force

    The Australian Defence Force Ensign is a flag of Australia which represents the tri-service Australian Defence Force. The flag was declared a Flag of Australia under Section 5 of the Flags Act 1953 on 14 April 2000.

    Click on the image for a better view.

    The Australian Defence Force ensign represents the three services of the Australian Defence Force. The Defence Ensign is used in the case of joint activities. It is made up of three vertical bands: dark blue, red and light blue, representing the navy, army and air force respectively.

    The defence force emblem, in yellow. in the centre of the flag is a symbol of the three services. This emblem features an anchor, crossed swords and a wedge-tailed eagle with wings outstretched combined above a boomerang and below a crest featuring a seven pointed Commonwealth Star.

    The Australian Army has no separate ensign but has the ceremonial role of protector of the Australian National Flag.

    The rank flags of staff with joint services commands, such as the Chief of Defence Force and the Minister for Defence, are derived from the Defence Force Ensign.

    TheAustralian White Ensign

    Old Naval Ensign
    British White Ensign

    White Ensign
    Australian Whitre Ensign

    Click on the images for a better view.
    The Australian White Ensign (also known as the Australian Naval Ensign, or the Royal Australian Navy Ensign) is a naval ensign used by ships of the Royal Australian Navy from 1967 onwards.

    The Australian White Ensign is identical in design to the Australian National Flag, but with the reversal of the blue background and the white Commonwealth Star and Southern Cross.

    Before Australia's Federation, the Colonial navies flew the British Blue Ensign, defaced with the symbol of the relevant colony. When operating outside colonial waters, these ships had to be commissioned into the Royal Navy, and consequently flew the British White Ensign.

    Australian warships used the national flag as an ensign until the formal creation of the RAN from the Commonwealth Naval Forces on 10 July 1911: when ships were ordered to fly the British ensign, while the Australian flag was used as a jack to identify their nationality.

    During the early 1900s, several British dominions, including Australia, began to campaign for the right to create naval forces independent of the Royal Navy, and capable of deploying outside territorial waters.

    During the 1909 Imperial Conference, Canada and Australia campaigned for this, and suggested that these ships fly the British White Ensign, defaced with an emblem representing the dominion. No binding decision was made on the matter.

    During the lead up to the creation of the RAN, the issue was raised again: Australian politicians and the public wanted Australian ships to fly a unique ensign, while the British Admiralty wanted them to fly the British White Ensign. Suggested Australian ensigns included the British ensign defaced with a blue Commonwealth Star, or a variant of the Australian national flag.

    From the formation of the RAN until 1967, Australian warships used the British White Ensign as their ensign. Australian warships regularly found themselves mistaken for their British counterparts.

    One attempt to alleviate this was made by the executive officer of HMAS Anzac during the Korean War, when he had a kangaroo-shaped 'weathervane' made and mounted to the destroyer's mainmast: this became the basis for the red kangaroo symbol fixed to the funnels or superstructure of major RAN vessels.

    However, this led to situations where Australian vessels were mistaken for British ships, and when Australia became involved in the Vietnam War, the RAN was effectively fighting under the flag of another, nation, not involved in the conflict.

    During a Naval Estimates hearing in 1965, Victorian politician Samuel Benson voiced concern over the use of the British ensign by Australian ships on wartime deployments, and Donald Chipp, Minister for the Navy, announced that an Australian ensign was under consideration. In 1966, Prime Minister Harold Holt added his support to the idea that a unique RAN ensign was required.

    Sir Alan McNicoll proposed two designs: one retaining the St George's Cross from the old ensign but replacing the Union Flag in the canton with the Australian flag, and the other retaining the Union Flag and replacing the Cross with the six stars from the Australian flag. In January 1966, the Naval Board recommended that the second design for the new ensign. The design was approved under section five of the Australian Flags Act 1953. Royal Assent was granted to the new flag by Queen Elizabeth II on 7 November 1966, and its creation was formally announced by Prime Minister Holt on 23 December 1966.

    The official change over occurred on 1 March 1967, with all ships and establishments hoisting the new flag that day. The date was brought forward from 1 May 1967 to correspond with the commissioning of the requisitioned cargo ship HMAS Boonaroo, which became the first ship commissioned under the new ensign.

    However, the frigate HMAS Stuart was the first to use the ensign, when the ship's company unofficially flew the flag on 25 December 1966 as part of shipboard Christmas Day celebrations while deployed to the Far East Strategic Reserve. Only two RAN ships served in conflict under both the old and new ensigns: the aircraft carrier (later troopship) HMAS Sydney and the destroyer HMAS Vendetta.

    Royal Australian Air Force Ensign


    RAAF Ensign
    Click on the image for a better view.
    The Royal Australian Air Force ensign was adopted in 1948. It is an Australian National Flag with a light blue background. A leaping red kangaroo was added in 1982.

    The southern cross is tilted so that Gamma Crucis stays in the same position as for the Australian National Flag and that Alpha Crucis is moved along the x-axis towards the hoist by one-sixth of the width of the flag. This results in the axis being rotated 14.036 clockwise around Gamma Crucis and each star is rotated in this way, although the constellation as a whole is not simply rotated.

    The RAAF was established in 1921. On 24 July 1922, the British Royal Air Force Ensign, a sky-blue British ensign with the RAF roundel in the fly, was approved as the ensign of the RAAF.

    This flag was used until 1948, when the RAAF asked to change the flag to avoid confusion. A warrant for the new flag, which had the roundel in the lower fly of sky-blue ensign with Commonwealth Star and tilted southern cross to match the Australian national flag, was given in 1949. The RAAF adopted a distinctive roundel on 2 July 1956; a red kangaroo replacing the red circle of the British version.

    The old roundel remained on the ensign, however, until 1981, when the Queen of Australia approved the change to the current flag. Although the flag is only flown by the RAAF, dispensation was granted to New Lambton Public School, NSW on 18 May 1995 to fly the RAAF ensign. This was in recognition of the school's involvement with the RAAF during World War II, when it was requisitioned by the government and used as No. 2 Fighter Sector Headquarters. New Lambton Public School is currently the only school in Australia with permission to fly the RAAF

    Australian Red Ensign

    Red Ensign
    Click on the image for a better view.
    This was clarified with the passage of the Flags Act 1953 which proclaimed the blue ensign as the Australian National Flag. The Australian Red Ensign became the official flag to be flown at sea by Australian registered merchant ships.

    September 3 each year, as well as being Australia National Flag Day, is also Merchant Navy Day. Organisations and individuals commemorating Merchant Navy Day can choose to fly the Australian Red Ensign. While it is generally only flown at sea, the Australian Red Ensign may be flown on land for ceremonial purposes such as Merchant Navy Day.  When the Australian Red Ensign is flown along with the Australian National Flag, the Australian National Flag should be flown in the position of honour.

    The Australian Federal Police Flag

    AFP Flag
    Click on the image for a better view.
    The Australian Federal Police (AFP) is the federal police agency of the Commonwealth of Australia. Although the AFP was created by the amalgamation in 1979 of three Commonwealth law enforcement agencies, it traces its history from Commonwealth law enforcement agencies dating back to the federation of Australia's six precursor British self-governing colonies in 1901.

    The role of the AFP is to enforce Australian federal criminal law and to protect federal-government and national interests from crime in Australia and overseas.

    The AFP is Australia's international law enforcement and policing representative, and the Government's chief source of advice on policing issues.

    The Australian Border Force Flag

    Boarder Force Flag
    Click on the image for a better view.
    The Australian Border Force Flag is the flag flown by Australian Border Force vessels and sometimes on ABF buildings.

    Any vessel acting in a customs capacity must fly this flag. The current version is an Australian National Flag with the words "AUSTRALIAN BORDER FORCE" added in bold between the Commonwealth Star and the lower part of the Southern Cross.

    This flag was adopted by regulations coming into force on 1 July 2015.

    Colonial Customs Flags - English law has required customs vessels to fly a distinctive flag since at least 1784. The earliest recorded Customs flag in Australia is the New South Wales Customs House Ensign of 1832, which included in the Code of Signals for the Colony of New South Wales in the NSW Calendar and Post Office Directory for that year.  The flag was a British Red Ensign, defaced with a gold crown over the letters CH in the fly.

    A later New South Wales Customs Colonial Flag was described by a regulation published in the Supplement to the NSW Government Gazette, No. 193, Friday, 12 May 1882:  "The proper ensign for Customs shall be the red English ensign with the addition of a white cross, being in the form and proportion the same as the white ensign, but with the colours of the flag reversed, and with the letters CH in the outer lower quarter of the flag; and the pendant shall be the red pendant."

    Commonwealth Customs Flags - The Customs Act 1901 was passed soon after federation, and like previous British and colonial legislation, required the use of a customs flag.  The first flag appointed under this act was specified in Section 14 of the Customs Regulations, which were gazetted on 1 October 1901 in the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette No. 53, page 172:  "The Customs flag shall be the Blue Ensign,  with the addition in the fly of the letters "HMC" in bold character, and the word 'Australia'".

    In 1903, the flag was changed from a defaced British blue ensign, to a defaced Australian blue ensign. An order in Council, dated 16 June 1904, notes that the word "AUSTRALIA" was also removed from the flag.  The flag changed again when the Commonwealth star of the national flag gained an extra point in 1908.

    The text "HMC" was changed to the word "CUSTOMS" by amendment SR297, published 17 December 1987 and commencing 1 January 1988. When customs functions were taken over by the newly created Australian Border Force on 1 July 2015, the Customs Regulations were changed to replace "CUSTOMS" with "AUSTRALIAN BORDER FORCE".