When the Australian colonies federated to form the Commonwealth of Australia on 1 January 1901, the British flag had been the official flag for more than 100 years. The birth of a new nation created the opportunity to develop an emblem that represented Australia alone. An official competition for a design attracted 32 823 entries. Five of these, which contained almost identical designs, were placed equal first. Apart from later changes in the sizes of the stars and the number of points, these joint winners had produced the present Australian flag.
The Australian national flag symbolises Australia’s historical links with Britain (represented on the flag by the British flag, known most commonly by the nickname Union Jack) and Australia’s location in the southern hemisphere (represented on the flag by stars of the Southern Cross). The larger seven-pointed star represents the six original states and the territories of the Commonwealth.
Other official flags of Australia include the Australian Aboriginal flag, the Torres Strait Islander flag and the respective flags of the states and territories.
Green and gold were proclaimed Australia’s national colours by the Governor-General on 19 April 1984. Before the proclamation Australia had no official colours, although three colour combinations traditionally had a claim to be Australia’s national colours: red, white and blue; blue and gold; and green and gold.
The colours red, white and blue were featured in the first coat of arms of the Commonwealth in 1908 and are the colours of the Australian national flag.
The colours blue and gold have heraldic significance as they are the colours of the crest of the present Commonwealth coat of arms.
The colours green and gold were popularly used as the national colours even before the official proclamation. They have been used in Australian and international sporting events since the nineteenth century and have been associated with many great sporting achievements since.
The golden wattle was proclaimed the official national floral emblem in August 1988. It is a spreading shrub or small tree, which grows in the understorey of open forest, woodland and open scrub in South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory.
Since 1912, on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, Andrew Fisher, wattle has been included as the decoration surrounding the Commonwealth coat of arms and it has also been used in the design of Australian stamps and many awards in the Australian honours system.
Coat of arms
The present Australian coat of arms was granted by King George V in 1912. It consists of a shield containing the badges of the six Australian states, enclosed by an ermine border. The shield is a symbol for the federation of the states, which took place in 1901.
The crest, which is the device above the shield and helmet, is a seven-pointed gold star on a blue and gold wreath. Six of the points represent each of the states of the Commonwealth; the seventh point represents the Australia’s territories.
The supporters of the shield are native Australian animals: the red kangaroo (Macropus rufus) and the emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae). Usually the coat of arms is depicted on a background of sprays of golden wattle (Acacia pycnantha) with a scroll beneath it containing the word ‘Australia’. The wattle and scroll, however, are not part of the armorial design and are not mentioned in the Royal Warrant of 1912.
The first official coat of arms of Australia was granted by a Royal Warrant of King Edward VII in 1908. This coat of arms was used on some Australian coins even after it was superseded in 1912, and last appeared on the sixpenny piece in 1966.
The Australian Government uses the coat of arms to authenticate documents and for other official purposes. Its uses range from embellishing the Australian passport to forming part of all Australian government departmental insignias. (See also the fact sheet on Australia’s coat of arms.)
Australia has never adopted any official faunal or bird emblem, but, by popular tradition, the kangaroo and emu are widely accepted as such.
Australia has no official motto. For many years, the motto ‘Advance Australia’ appeared on unofficial coats of arms, even before the federation of the states in 1901. It was included in the 1908 arms, and was popularly accepted in association with the 19th century song ‘Advance Australia Fair’. A revised version of this song became Australia’s official national anthem in 1984.
It’s an honour—Australia celebrating Australians