The Australian National Flag

Australian national flag

Flying the Australian Flag is a way of exhibiting pride in our nation and respect for our heritage. The Australian Flag was born with the creation of Federation at the dawn of the 20th Century. An international contest resulted in 32,822 entries - seven judges representing Army, Navy, Mercantile Marine, Pilot Services and Parliament unanimously choosing five identical winning designs. Thus was produced ‘the flag of stars’.

The Exhibition Building, Melbourne, was used to display the numerous flag entries, the exhibition being opened on 3 September 1901, by Lady Hopetoun, the wife of Australia’s first Governor-General, together with Edmund Barton, Australia’s first Prime Minister. On the building’s dome, a huge flag of the winning design flew gloriously in a strong south-westerly breeze.

The Union Jack reflected the new Federation’s historical background, the Southern Cross its place in space, and the large star the six States making up the Federation. Here was a flag containing history, heraldry, distinctiveness and beauty. (In 1908 the Government decided that a seven-pointed star, symbolic of the six States and the Territories, should replace the large six-pointed star shown in the original design of the Flag - to represent the Territories and to conform with the Star in the Crest of the Coat of Arms granted that year.)

For many years the Commonwealth Blue Ensign was regarded as an official flag, and its use on land was restricted to government establishments.

In February 1947, the Prime Minister, Mr J.B.Chifley, issued a press statement encouraging the application of a directive given in 1941 by the then Prime Minister, Mr Menzies, that there should be no restriction on the flying of the Commonwealth Blue Ensign. Its greater use on public buildings, by schools and private citizens was encouraged provided it was flown in a manner appropriate to the use of a national emblem.

In 1951 King George VI approved a recommendation by the Government that the Commonwealth Blue Ensign be adopted as the Australian Flag.

The Australian National Flag should be displayed only in a manner befitting the national emblem: it should not be subjected to indignity, nor displayed in a position inferior to any other flag or ensign. It should always be flown aloft and free.

To fly a flag upside down is a signal of distress. The Australian National Flag should not, therefore, be displayed with the Union Jack down on any occasion except as a signal of distress. When the flag becomes dilapidated and is no longer in a suitable condition for use, it should be destroyed in a dignified way by burning privately.


Flags are flown at half mast as a sign of mourning.

  • The flag is brought to the half-mast position by first hoisting it to the peak for an instant and then lowering it slowly to the half-mast position. The flag should again be hoisted to the peak before being hauled down for the day.
  • The position of the flag when flying at half-mast will depend on the size of the flag and the length of the flagstaff. It is essential that it be lowered to a position recognisably ‘half-mast’, so as to avoid any appearance of a flag which has accidentally fallen away from the truck owing to a loose halyard. A satisfactory position for half-mast would normally be when the top of the flag is one-third of the way down from the peak.
  • Flags are required to be flown at half-mast till noon on ANZAC Day, then raised to the masthead until sunset. It is appropriate to fly the flags of New Zealand, the United Kingdom and other allied nations alongside the national flag. It is also considered appropriate to wave small Australian flags as marchers in Combined Service Parades pass.

Flying the Flag with other Flags

When flown with the flags of other sovereign nations, all flags should be flown on separate staffs and in equal position, no flag being flown higher than any other and all being the same size if possible. International usage forbids the display of the flag of one nation above that of another in time of peace. The Australian National Flag should, however, be hoisted first and lowered last unless the number of flags permits their being hoisted and lowered simultaneously.

More Information
Australian National Flag website