Quest for the Location of First Federal Flag Continues


The first federal flag of the country of Australia was selected from a competitive event that took place after the turn of the 20th century. The new Federal government at the time further extended a competition that was first announced by the monthly publication The Review of Reviews for Australasia in Melbourne on 29 April 1901.

First Flag Design Competition

Entries from the initial event were transferred to the new competition and the monetary award was elevated to 200 pounds. Given the prize, the event attracted a lot of notice – enough notice that 32,823 new entrants were motivated to submit their design ideas.

Designers, however, did not have to think too much “outside the box,” as the guidelines for the event implied that anyone who submitted a British ensign (a badge that was popularly associated with Australia) would, no doubt, influence the judge’s decision. Therefore, it came as no surprise when designs that featured the ensign were considered winners. In fact, all the entrants who included the ensign were given winning status, and therefore shared in the reward proceeds.

The individuals who won this distinction included the following:

  • Ivor Evans, a student from Melbourne
  • Annie Dorrington, an artist from Perth
  • Egbert Nuttall, an architect from Melbourne
  • Leslie Hawkins, a student from Sydney
  • William Stevens, a steamship officer from Auckland, New Zealand

A Source of Controversy

Edmund Barton, who was the first Prime Minister of Australia, revealed the flag design in Melbourne on the third of September in 1901. At the time, the response was varied as the design was criticised, based on its decidedly Anglophile appearance. In particular, organisations such as the Australian Natives’ Association thought that the artwork was not proper or patriotic.

Even though the unveiling of the design led to some unrest, its adoption was never questioned. Instead, the artwork was delivered for endorsement to England’s Imperial Authorities. Approval was granted in 1902 by King Edward VII.

A Change in Design

Since that first unveiling, Australia’s design has been altered. The first time occurred in 1903. At that time, all the stars but the smallest comet highlighted seven points. After Australia took possession of the Territory of Papua in 1906, the points displayed on the Federation Star increased to seven in 1908. The change for this second alteration was publicly “Gazetted” in 1909.

The Flags Act in 1953 led to the adoption of a national flag – one that was mandated to fly in a superior position to other national flags, including the Union flag. At the time, however, it was often flown in an inferior position to the Union flag, until Australians got used to the idea of their independent status.

The Search Continues

Interestingly, today a search has been launched by Australia’s Flag Association to find that first flag, which disappeared after it debuted on the third of September in 1901. The association’s President, Allan Pidgeon has initiated this quest.

The original design of the flag was very much like the flag flown today, with certain exceptions. The former pattern showcased six points and the representation of the Southern Cross highlighted stars that ranged from five to nine points, all which depicted their illumination in the sky at night. A blue ensign was kept aside for government use whilst the field appeared red – directed for civil use.

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