Skip to content

The Museum is temporarily closed. See Plan your visit

Shining light of the southern skies

Trophy with a circular wooden base, topped with by a metal disc with 'Australian Made' written on it and an image of a boomerang and the five stars of the Southern Cross. A gold-coloured plate on the base reads: 'To Tania Verstak, Miss Australia-Miss International, in recognition of outstanding service for Queensland industry'. - click to view larger image
Trophy awarded to Miss Australia 1961 Tania Verstak for service to Queensland industry, about 1963

The Southern Cross has been a part of Australia's Indigenous cosmology for millennia.

Unseen in the Northern Hemisphere since the beginning of the Christian era, the Southern Cross constellation was rediscovered by European voyagers in the late 15th century and taken as a sign of divine blessing for their conquests.

Named Crux Australis and identified with the southern continents, it is considered Australia's oldest symbol.

Since 1823 the Southern Cross has appeared on the flags intended to represent Australia. Combined with the Union Jack on the National Colonial flag and the blue and red ensigns of 1903, it served as an emblem of loyalty and affiliation with the British crown.

Appearing alone on the Eureka flag of 1854, it represented a more 'independent' spirit.

Eureka flag as a symbol of rebellion

In 1854 miners rebelling against their treatment on the Ballarat goldfields invoked the Southern Cross as a symbol of freedom against the tyranny of colonial authorities, and of loyalty to the continent of Australia.

They stood beneath a flag stitched with a Southern Cross that became known as the Eureka flag. Its use as a symbol of rebellion for Australian workers has continued with a number of trade unions using the Southern Cross as a motif in their battles for better working conditions.

An illustration showing a ring of people, many with their arms in the air, circling a smaller central group of people who are standing under a blue 'Southern Cross' flag.
‘Swearing allegiance to the “Southern Cross”’ by Charles Alphonse Doudiet

Long history

Badge featuring a map of Australia and the Southern Cross. The text on the badge reads 'I WILL HELP UNTIL THE WAR IS WON'. - click to view larger image
‘I will help until the war is won’ badge

The stars of the Southern Cross were known to the ancient Greeks, who regarded them as part of the Centaurus constellation.

In 1516 the stars were first described as a cross, and they were recognised as a separate constellation early in the 17th century.

Aboriginal people also formed images with the stars, and some groups saw the Southern Cross as the footprint of a giant wedge-tailed eagle, with the pointer stars as a throwing stick used to hunt it.

Australian aviators Charles Kingsford Smith and Charles Ulm flew a plane named the Southern Cross on a record-breaking Trans-Pacific flight from America to Australia in 1928.

Black and white photo of a large crowd gathering around an air craft.
‘Southern Cross’ arriving in Melbourne, June 13, 1928
Return to Top