Australia′s first flag was chosen from a national flag competition held in 1901. Initially started by the Melbourne monthly magazine The Review of Reviews for Australasia, the new Federal Government announced a further competition (Gazetted 29 April 1901) and the earlier competition entries were transferred and the prize was increased to 200 pounds. The competition attracted 32,823 entries.

The entry rules for the private competition were highly suggestive and the judging and approval process were such that only a British Ensign with a badge representative of Australia was likely to be a winner.When the winning flag design was chosen, a review of the entries revealed that five people submitted almost identical designs. These people were declared joint winners and shared the prizemoney. They were:

  • Annie Dorrington, Artist, Perth (1866-1926)
  • Ivor Evans, Student, Haymarket, Melbourne (1888-1960)
  • Leslie Hawkins, Student, Leichhardt, Sydney (1883-1966)
  • Egbert Nuttall, Architect, Prahran, Melbourne (1866-1963)
  • William Stevens, Steamship Officer, Auckland, New Zealand (1866-1928)

Australia′s first Prime Minister, Edmund Barton, announced the winning design in Melbourne on 3 September 1901. The design had a mixed reception and caused some controversy at the time, on aesthetic grounds as much as its Anglophile nature. The Australian Natives′ Association in particular felt that it was unsuitable or insufficiently patriotic.

The original 1901 flag design was similar to the current flag, except the Federation Star contained only 6 points and the Southern Cross was represented by stars ranging from 5 to 9 points to indicate their relative apparent brightness in the night sky. Also, the field was red for Civil use, with the blue ensign being reserved for Government use only. The adoption of the winning flag design was never debated in the Australian Parliament – it was sent to the Imperial Authorities in England to be approved. It wasn′t until late 1902 that King Edward VII formally notified the Australian Government of the approval, and this approval was finally Gazetted on 20 February 1903.

Also, the field was red for Civil use, with the blue ensign being reserved for Government use only.

1901 Commonwealth Government Ensign.
1901 Civil and Merchant Ensign.

The original design has been changed three times since 1901. First, in 1903 the design was changed so that all but the smallest star in the Southern Cross had seven points, ostensibly to improve the ease of manufacture. In 1906 Australia acquired the Territory of Papua, and to indicate this the number of points on the Federation Star was increased to seven in 1908. This second design change was Gazetted on 22 May 1909. When the Northern Territory and ACT were created as Federal Territories in 1911, the number of points on the Federation Star was not increased and remained at seven. The red ensign remained the Civil flag and the blue ensign the Government flag.

Pair of flags approved by King Edward VII in 1902 and gazetted on 20 February 1903

The Australian Red Ensign Myths and Facts by Ausflag

Gallery 1 | Gallery 2 | Gallery 3

The Australian National Flag by Flag Society Australia Inc.

Significant Historical Flags of Australia by Flag Society Australia Inc.

Digger History has lots of info on Australia’s forgotten flag, the Red Ensign.

Also check out the Flags of the World website History of the Australian national flag Pt1 and History of the Australian national flag Pt2.

Categories: History


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