Origins of the Australian Flag

Media release: Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Following Federation in 1901, the new Commonwealth government held a competition to design an Australian flag. It attracted 32,000 entries from around the world, including five similar designs which were declared the joint winners.

However, 50 years later there was some controversy about the origins of the design. The National Archives of Australia has selected some of the documents highlighting the history behind the flag as its January Find of the Month.

'The 1901 competition specified that the new flag should include three elements: the Union Jack to represent Great Britain, the Southern Cross for the great south land and a symbol to depict the unity of the states,' said National Archives researcher Jane Ellis. 'The winners included Ivor Evans, a 14-year-old boy from Melbourne, as well as Annie Dorrington of Perth, William Stevens of Auckland, Leslie Hawkins of Sydney and EJ Nuttall of Melbourne.'

By 1952 Ivor Evans was managing director of his family company Evan Evans Pty Ltd, which manufactured flags and canvas goods in Melbourne. His early win led to a lifelong interest in the Australian flag. He promoted the Australian flag in a company booklet Celebrating 75 Years of Service and Progress 1877–1952, on his company stationery and through publications for community and youth groups.

But the company's active promotion of Ivor Evans as the designer of the flag caused some controversy, which even reached as far as Parliament.

'On 19 August 1952 a question to Prime Minister Robert Menzies in the House of Representatives cited a booklet The History of the Australian Flag published by Ivor Evans, which portrayed him as the designer of the flag, without mention of his joint prize-winners,' said Ms Ellis.

This prompted Ivor Evans to send a letter and a synopsis of the facts to the prime minister, suggesting he read it 'before any ministerial statement is made'.

Several days later Mr Menzies responded to the Parliament: 'I have received the personal assurance of Mr Evans that he has never claimed to be the sole designer of the Australian Flag'.

'Throughout his life Ivor Evans was an advocate of the significance and etiquette of the Australia flag,' said Ms Ellis. 'He suggested that, for Australia's Jubilee in 1951, 10,000 flags be distibuted to schools across the nation. He also published many booklets on flag lore and etiquette.'

In a letter to acting prime minister Sir Arthur Fadden in 1953 he wrote, 'I have, over my lifetime, been endeavouring to make our Australian public and our government flag conscious… I keep all Scouts, Girl Guides, youth movements, schools and colleges fully up to date on this matter'.

The National Archives' Find of the Month can be seen at www.naa.gov.au.

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2017