We are updating our new website in stages. This page will be changed to the new design but is not currently optimised for mobile devices.
WARNING: Visitors should be aware that this website includes images and names of deceased people that may cause sadness or distress to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
A new flag for an independent nation
From 1788 until 1954 Australia's national flag was the Union Jack, a legacy of Australia's enduring relationship with Britain. With Federation in 1901, a competition was held to design the new shipping ensigns Australia required as an independent nation.
The winning design featured a Union Jack in the top left corner, the Southern Cross and a Commonwealth star whose points represented the six federating states. When flown with the blue or the red ensign, the Union Jack always took precedence.
The passing of the Flags Act in 1953 made the blue ensign Australia's official flag, but only from 1964 did it fly alone from Parliament House.
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags were proclaimed official flags in 1995, after Indigenous sprinter Cathy Freeman ran a victory lap with the Aboriginal flag at the 1994 Commonwealth Games.
Torres Strait Islander flag
While the Aboriginal flag is recognised locally and internationally as a symbol of Indigenous pride and the continuing struggle for justice, the Torres Strait Islander flag is less well-known.
The colours of the Torres Strait Islander flag, designed in 1992, symbolise land (green), sea (blue), people (black) and peace (white). The flag features a traditional headdress (dhari), representing the Torres Strait Islander people, and a five pointed star, representing the five major island groups.
In December 2005, a week after the Cronulla riots, an anti-racism rally was held in Sydney. A number of protesters stood in silence with their heads wrapped in Australian flags, symbolising the association of the flag with blind patriotism. Images of this protest were later used by newspapers in articles about far-right nationalist groups hijacking the Australian flag.
This misrepresentation demonstrates how easily images and symbols can be interpreted differently, depending on context and point of view.