Nepean Naval and Maritime Museum

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Australia's Many Flags

Aboriginal Flag

Australian Aboriginal Flag.svg
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For 40,000 years this was a Dreaming Place. Even though the Aboriginal custodianship of this place is ancient, the desert warrior who designed their Colours did so in 1971 and since that time, because of the enlightened way we modern Australians are attempting to deal with the consequences of the English Imperial invasion of 1788, to my knowledge no Indigenous warrior has had to fight and die for these colours.

This is important because there is an ancient (and very technical) difference between a banner and a flag. To earn the higher status of "Flag" someone has to have died defending it, it has to have had blood spilled on it. This is why the colour red is the single most widely used colour in all of the world's flags today.

Today the Aboriginal Colours have the full protection of the Commonwealth Flags Act, and rightly so.

English Flag 1788

Red cross with white border over a white saltire and dark blue background.
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This is the version of the English flag that was raised at Sydney Cove in 1788. The raising of this flag apparently authorised, at least in English eyes

1. The invasion of the Aboriginal Dreaming Lands and slaughter of the black population.

2. The establishment of a Slave Colony; a military prison colony in which the victims of an English population control program that targeted Trade Unionists and the poor were to be eliminated by a sequential process of shaming, exile, slavery, physical torture and abandonment.

3. It apparently also authorised the use of this place as a dumping ground for Political Prisoners and victims of English Imperial policies in Ireland and across the Empire.

Eureka Flag

Eureka Flag
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In 1854 we raised the first truly Australian flag at Ballarat in Victoria. The flag′s five stars represent the Southern Cross, and the white cross joining the stars represents unity.  The blue background represents the sky.  All men and women could look up and see the Southern Cross stars shining down on them, no matter where they are in Australia.  The blue sky was therefore was used as a symbol representing equality.

Today, this flag is named The Southern Cross.  In Ballarat in 1854 we called it the Australian Flag.

On the day that this flag was first raised we also swore the very fist Australian Oath of National Allegiance. It began with the words "We swore by the Southern Cross ..."

By these two acts, the raising of our flag and the swearing of our Oath we gave birth to a new Nation.

Under this flag we raised an army of two Divisions. Under this flag we fought and died for a free Australia; a place where the descendants of the Convicts, the Evictees, and all who have subsequently joined us could live in freedom and human dignity.

Our Slogan at that time was "Who so base to be a slave." It is important to remember that in 1854 Australia was still a collection of slave colonies, all-be-it with the single exception of South Australia.

Since then we Native-born Australians, we Emancipists, we Diggers, we ordinary Australians embraced the Southern Cross as our national symbol and we have carried it forward in our hearts ever since; just as we carried the fight for freedom forward from the gold mines of Ballarat in 1854 to the coal mines of Newcastle in 1861, and on to Barcaldine in Queensland in 1891, where we raised our first Australian Flag again.

Today this flag has no legal recognition what so ever, of course. The torn and tattered remains of this flag is kept at the Ballarat Fine Art Museum.

There is a vitally important reason why this flag must be included in this military (naval) website. The Australian Army carries the honour title of Digger. This title of honour comes directly and exclusively for the Diggers who defended the Eureka Stockade in 1854. The title passed forward to the Australian Army because so many of the Eureka Diggers and their children and grand-children volunteered to fight in the Boer War and then in WW1.

Captain Ross designed the Eureka Flag and commanded the Southern Division at Eureka. His grandson, another Captain Ross, carried that precious sword onto the beaches at Gallipoli. There it lies, in the sacred keeping forever, with our ANZAC Fathers.

(This incidentally, is also why New Zealand soldiers, who share equally in our Anzac Heritage, do not use the term Digger.)

Present Union Jack

Union Jack 2
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This is the version of the English flag that the flew over this place during the subsequent democratic Colonial Period of our history from the 1860's to 1900.

By then two fundamental changes had occurred.

Commonwealth-Flag 1. The Convict Rebellion that was begun by the Women's Rebellion on the First Fleet had sparked in Sydney in 1802 before catching fire at Castle Hill in 1804. It then moved South to Van Daemon's Land where we saw huge convict armies of rebellion being raised before it turned back to the mainland again to ignite the Eureka Goldfields.

We came away from Eureka with a new sense of Australian national Identity and a vision of a land and a Nation united under the Southern Cross. Now, the old Anti-slavery struggle and the new quest for National Unity were taken up by the fledgling Native Australian Nation under the solidarity of a Union Banner.

The Rebellion continued. From 1854 in Ballarat to 1861 in Newcastle and so on until by the 1880's and '90's it had reached Queensland, spread to Western Australia and then gone national to eventually force the reluctant Colonies to federate, very much against their will.

2. England's attitude toward this place had also changed. As a result, this this version of the British flag represents the very best of England's gift to Australia, democratic parliaments, free elections, probably the best legal system in the world, world class hospitals and postal service; all this within an honest and more or less efficient public service structure.

More than that, within the Best of British vision represented by this flag there was a fine sense of grandeur, of splendour and of worth that lifted this country up and sent its spirit souring during those optimistic day in the Democratic Colony.

Federation Flag

Federation Flag
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Like the Colonial Flag, the Federation Flag features a combination of the Union Flag and the Southern Cross, but the cross is blue, not red, and there are five stars, not four. The flag's appearance varied greatly depending on where it was made: different manufacturers produced Federation Flags with darker or lighter shades of blue for the cross background; using five-pointed stars instead of eight; or positioning the stars in different places.
The Eureka Flag, flown by rebels at the Eureka Stockade in 1854, was reportedly influenced by designs such as the Federation flag.

While the Federation Flag proved popular and was widely used on the East Coast of Australia for over 70 years, it was never officially adopted. It was especially popular among proponents of Australian Federation and was also used as an unofficial ensign by the merchant marine. In 1884 Lord Derby of the Colonial Office banned the use of the Flag at sea, possibly because of its similarity to the White Ensign.

In the 1880's and early 1980's it was used as a symbol of the political movement towards Federation, with groups like the Australian Natives' Association and the Australian Federation League using it to promote national consciousness of their push for Federation, under the slogan "One People, One Destiny, One Flag".

The flag was a favourite of Australia's first Prime Minister, Sir Edmund Barton, who asked that a variant be considered for approval along with the competition-winning Blue Ensign. The Colonial Office rejected the Federation Flag, issuing Barton a mild rebuke The Australian government received approval to fly the Blue Ensign in 1903, but the Australian Federation Flag was still being flown by Australian citizens as late as the 1920,s.

It is still used in Sydney Central Railway Station main hall.

Commonwealth Flag

Commmonwealth Flag
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In 1901 the Commonwealth was declared and we raised our present flag in 1908. The original flag flown in 1901 was modified twice, in 1903 and again in 1908.

This flag has three parts, two quarters and a half within its the overall design.

1. The design shows the English flag, the Union Jack, in the dominant position. The top left hand corner on any flag is considered to be the dominant or superior position because it has been observed throughout history that the lower and right hand sides of a flag are often destroyed by fire and shot in the heat of battle. Therefore the flag of the Commonwealth of Australia is designed so that the English flag will keep flying even after all of its Australian content has been blown away. (That seemed perfectly reasonable a century ago. )

2. The Federation Star immediately below the Union Jack has a point for each of the Australian States and it is the symbol representing the unity of the six sovereign States plus Papua New Guinea that made up the Commonwealth at that time. This star is displayed below the English Flag to symbolise the subservience of the Australian States to England. Together, these two Imperial symbols occupy exactly half of the total flag surface.

3. Occupying the whole of the other half of our present national flag, and therefore demonstrating our equal status with the English Empire in this place, is our Southern Cross, direct from Eureka. Unlike the Federation Star, our Southern Cross stands proud, and is subservient to nothing save the throne of Almighty God.

This flag has been drenched in the blood of our Fathers and made glorious by the sacrifice and service of Australian Mothers.

As we grow, and inevitably embrace the flag of the Republic it will be important that this present Commonwealth Flag be placed in safe stewardship. Replace it we inevitably will, but the blood, sacrifice, accomplishment and glorious achievements of which we must never loose sight.

Christmas Island

Christmas Island flag
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Flag Adopted: No legal status, in use since 14 April 1986
Flag Proportion: 1:2
Use: State and Civil Flag

Christmas Island is an external Australian Territory in the Indian Ocean, 1700 km northwest of Western Australia. It has an area of 135 square kilometres and a population of approximately 1300.

The Christmas Island Assembly held a design competition for an island flag and coat of arms in early 1986. The flag competition attracted 69 entries from residents and non-residents who had lived or worked on the island, and carried a prize money of $100.

The winning flag was designed by Tony Couch of Sydney, who worked on Christmas Island for four years as a phosphate mining rigging supervisor, and the design was announced by the Assembly on 14 April 1986.

The blue and green triangles represent the sea surrounding the island and the vegetation covering the island respectively. In the blue triangle is the Southern Cross in the same form as it appears on the Australian flag, representing the island′s links with Australia.

In the green triangle is a representation of the Golden Bosun Bird, which is unique to Christmas Island and has long been one of the island′s most popular symbols.

In the centre of the flag is a gold disc, which has come to represent the island′s phosphate mining history although it was originally included only for aesthetic reasons to provide a background for the green map of Christmas Island.

Although there is no legal impediment to the Christmas Island Assembly formally adopting the above flag as the flag of the Territory, no Act has ever been passed on the island to proclaim the flag nor any Ordinance promulgated to regulate its use. To date, the flag is still unofficial and it is not clear why action has never been taken to formalize it.

Norfolk Island

Norfolf Island flag
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Flag Adopted: 17 January 1980
Flag Proportion: 1:2
Use: State and Civil Flag

Norfolk Island, an Australian external territory since 1913, lies 1400 km east of Australia in the Pacific Ocean and has a permanent population of approximately 2000. Norfolk Island gained a measure of self government when it acquired its own Legislative Assembly in 1979. Soon after, Norfolk Island adopted its own distinctive flag.

Central to the flag is a silhouette of one of Norfolk Island′s most famous symbols - the Norfolk Island Pine tree - which was first used on Norfolk Island′s great seal, granted in 1856. The green stripes on each side symbolise Norfolk Island′s abundant vegetation.

The ratio of the widths of the stripes are 7:9:7. The Norfolk Island Flag and Public Seal Act 1979 gives no specifications on the size or exact representation of the tree on the flag, it merely states "the middle panel shall contain a representation in green of a Norfolk Island Pine."

Cocos (Keeling) Islands

Cocos Keeling Island Flag
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The flag of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands was first created in 2003; the flag was adopted on April 6, 2004.

The flag is green, with a palm tree on a gold disc in the canton, a gold crescent in the centre of the flag and a gold southern cross in the fly. The palm tree represents the islands' tropical flora; the colours are Australia's national colours; the crescent represents Islam, the religion of the Cocos Malays who make up a majority of the population; and the Southern Cross is a symbol of Australia and the Southern Hemisphere.