The Commonwealth of Australia is a nation consisting of six states on the main continent and a number of smaller territories. Australia’s flag was designed to represent its people, its historical ties to Britain, and its unique place in the world.
The first flag flown in Australia was the Union Flag, or Union Jack, of the British Empire. As early as the 1700s British explorers and settlers were planting their native flag and dedicating the land to their monarch.
As Australia became settled and organized into states, there began to be a push among the people to collect themselves into a nation. In 1901, the six states acted to form the Commonwealth of Australia. A contest was held to solicit ideas for a flag for the new country, and five very similar designs were declared the winners. That first flag has endured to modern times with only minor changes.
The Australian flag is known as the Blue Ensign. It has a deep blue field in which are placed the Union Jack and six white stars. The Union Jack is found in the upper left corner and represents the nation’s historically close association with the British Commonwealth Realm.
The largest white star on the flag is called the Commonwealth Star and appears below the Union Jack. The original 1901 design had six points to represent the six states that had joined into a federation. A seventh point was added in 1908 to symbolize the territories. The five smaller white stars stand for the Southern Cross constellation which is prominent in the skies of the Southern Hemisphere and has become culturally associated with Australia. These five stars are arranged across the right half of the flag, with four of them having seven points and one having five.
After the adoption of the Blue Ensign in 1901, there was a long period of adjustment. There was confusion about who could fly the flag, where it could be flown, and if it could only be used within Australian borders. Many people continued to use the Union Jack due to its familiarity and nostalgic appeal.
In 1950 the Australian prime minister officially proclaimed the Blue Ensign as the nation’s flag, and this was formalized with the Flag Act in 1954. Today, the people of the Commonwealth of Australia are quite sure of the flag that represents them and are proud to call it their own.