/ 03 September 2021

The big 120 for the Aussie flag


It was 120 years ago today that the Australian flag was first flown over the dome of Melbourne’s Exhibition Building. At the time, it was known as the Commonwealth blue ensign, and in true local fashion, we’ve trimmed that name down to ‘the Aussie flag’. It has 3 elements on a blue background: the Union Jack, representing the history of British settlement; the Commonwealth Star, which has 7 points representing the 6 states and 1 for the territories; and the Southern Cross, the constellation of stars that can only be seen from the southern hemisphere.

A few people actually. It came out of an international competition announced by our first PM Sir Edmund Barton in 1901 to find a national flag for the newly federated nation. Before that, it was Great Britain’s Union Jack that was used by the colonies. There were 32,823 entries, and 5 nearly-identical entries were awarded a £200 shared prize. Those winners were: Annie Dorrington, an artist from Perth; Ivor Evans, a 14yo Melbourne schoolboy whose father owned a flag-making business; Lesley Hawkins, an 18yo from Sydney who was apprenticed to an optician; Eggbert Nutall, an architect from Melbourne; and William Stevens, a Kiwi (gasp…). Two designs were approved in 1903 by King Edward VII: a blue ensign for official and naval purposes and a red ensign for the Merchant Navy (aka a country’s ships that carry goods and aren’t used for military purposes).

That’s what Aussies thought too. So in 1941, then PM Robert Menzies made the recommendation that the blue ensign would be the national standard. That was legislated in 1953, and an amendment was passed in 1998 that said the flag can only be changed with the agreement of the Aussie people. Changing it to ditch the Union Jack has been a topic of debate for years… Fun facts: Australia also has 3 other official flags: the Australian Aboriginal Flag, the Torres Strait Islander Flag and the ensigns of the Australian Defence Force. And there are strict protocols for how the flag should be handled and used: including that it should be raised “briskly” and lowered “ceremoniously”. It’s a mood…

Image source: Pexels

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