Following federation in 1901, the new Commonwealth Government arranged a competition to choose a flag for the young nation, and entries were submitted from 32, 823 people – nearly 1% of the total Australian population at the time. There were five finalists with identical designs. One of the designers was Ivor Evans, a fourteen year old schoolboy.
Ivor had very clear ideas about what his flag meant and what he intended it to say about Australia and Australians. He believed that the Southern Cross, the brightest constellation in the Southern Hemisphere, was representative of Australia’s bright future as a leading nation. He also chose the Southern Cross for another reason. The poet Dante wrote about four bright stars which symbolised the four moral virtues of justice, prudence, temperance and fortitude – principles that Ivor believed Australians should live up to.
In 1903, King Edward VII approved two designs for the flag of Australia: the Commonwealth blue ensign, and the Commonwealth red ensign, for the merchant Navy.
On both ensigns, the stars of the Southern Cross were simplified to four seven-pointed stars and one five pointed star. In 1908, a seventh point was added to the Commonwealth star to represent the Australian territories.
However, people were confused about the use of two Australian flags. The blue ensign was meant to be for official and naval purposes and the red ensign was meant to be used by the merchant fleet, but the general public began using the red ensign on land.
In 1941, Prime Minister the Rt Hon Robert Menzies issued a press statement recommending the flying of the blue ensign as a national emblem. The Flags Act 1953 subsequently proclaimed the Australian BLUE ENSIGN AS THE AUSTRALIAN NATIONAL FLAG and the Australian red ensign as the flag for merchant ships registered in Australia.
An amendment to the Flags Act 1953 was passed in 1998 to ensure that the Australian National Flag can be changed only with the agreement of the Australian people.
The Australian National Flag identifies a free and democratic people in a nation united in purpose. Our national flag belongs equally to all Australians whatever their origins. Each of the symbols on the flag has a special meaning for Australians. The stars of the Southern Cross represent our geographic position in the Southern Hemisphere; the Commonwealth star stands for our federation of States and Territories; the Crosses represent the principles on which our nation is based – namely, parliamentary democracy, rule of law and freedom of speech.
In 1996 the Governor-General, Sir William Deane, proclaimed 3rd September as Australian National Flag Day. This day commemorates the first occasion that our national flag was flown, in 1901, at the Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne. It is the right and privilege of every Australian to fly the Australian National Flag. For more information see the website of the Australian National Flag Association: http://www.australianflag.org.au/
The Freedom and Heritage Society of Australia salutes and defends our flag as a great symbol of our Constitutional freedoms and of the Westminster system of government which this magnificent country inherited from Great Britain.