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South Australia (Australia)

Last modified: 2022-11-12 by ian macdonald
Keywords: south australia | blue ensign | red ensign | southern cross | southern cross and pointers | stars: southern cross | stars: southern cross and pointers | man: aboriginal | britannia | bird: magpie | piping shrike | magpie | d |
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[South Australian flag] image by Martin Grieve, 15 Jun 2006

See also:

Description of the flag

The South Australian state flag was created as a colonial flag - a British Blue Ensign with the badge of the colony added to the blue field. Upon Federation a simpler design than before was adopted. The 1904 design shows in heraldic form a local bird - what was called a Piping Shrike, a form of magpie. There has been some speculation that the stylisation of the bird was inspired by the Imperial German (and Austrian) heraldic eagle.
Ralph Kelly, 19 September 1999

Detail of the badge

[South Australian badge, 1904 onwards] image by Martin Grieve, 15 Jun 2006

On 13th January 1904, South Australia abolished the Aborigine-Britannia badge and replaced this with the present-day Shrike badge. Ausflag suggests that the reason for this was that the badge was too difficult to reproduce, although no source is quoted for this assertion.

David Prothero wrote to me:

An interesting point about the 1904 shrike badge. When the design was being circulated in the Colonial Office, the following comment was written on the minute; “This looks to me too much as if “Made in Germany, and I expect HM will think so too.” This was presumably written quite unaware that, according to Carol Foley in The Australian Flag [fol96], the designer of the badge is not known, but may have been an artist who was a friend of the Prussian Consul in Adelaide, whose seal was the Prussian eagle.
I have drawn-up the badge detail from scratch copying the version shown in Flaggenbuch.
Martin Grieve, 15 June 2006

It is interesting that Miss Foley states that in her recent book, as the Government of South Australia mentions in its official protocol web site that the original drawing of the badge was carried out by Robert Craig, a teacher at the Adelaide School of Art in 1904 and that there was a later drawing in 1910 by Harry Pelling Gill, Principal of the School.

The same Government web site gives precise proportions of the flag, describes the yellow disk as symbolic of a rising sun and provides the following blazon of the badge: “the Rising Sun, Or, with thereon an Australian Piping Shrike displayed Proper, and standing on a staff of gumtree raguly, gules and vert” and the proper name of the bird as “The Piping Shrike or White Backed Magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen leuconota)”.

As Martin pointed out, the State Flag was authorised by Proclamation on 13 January, 1904, but the same Government source says the State Badge of South Australia was gazetted the following day, 14 January, 1904, which is an apparent contradiction as their description of the flag is described as comprising a Blue Ensign with the State Badge centrally situated in the fly. Therefore, according to that source, the flag itself can not have been official until the following day!

(1) The Insignia & Emblems of South Australia, web site of the Government of South Australia, Department of Premier and Cabinet Protocol Unit, last updated 02 July 1998, consulted 24 June 2006.
(2) University of South Australia, Teacher records 7511 and 37, consulted 26 June 2006.
(3) The Australian Dictionary of Biography Online, consulted 25 June 2006.
Colin Dobson, 26 June 2006

Size of the badge

It is worth noting that whilst the various badge defacements on the fly of blue or red ensigns of The United Kingdom's Overseas Territories flags were enlarged ca 1999, this was not the case for any of Australia's State flags or flags of Governors, which retained the 4/9 hoist width = diameter convention.
Martin Grieve, 1 March 2006

Not quite in the case of state flags if you don't mind me saying so, Martin. I have the disc on the flag of South Australia at 9/20 (which is close enough to 4/9 and taken from The State Flag of South Australia received in September 1994)
Christopher Southworth, 1 March 2006

My South Australian flags both have 4/9 disks. I'm guessing that the 9/20 measurement came from some bureaucrat actually getting out a yard stick, measuring a flag and then calculating what they perceived the disk to be.
Clay Moss, 1 March 2006

1870-76 flags

Chronology of the South Australia flag 1870-1879

South Australia 1870 -1878, information provided by Jos Poels.

7 October 1870. The Marine Board received a forwarded letter from Lord Kimberley, "suggesting for consideration that the flag of the Government of South Australia should consist of the union jack with the stars of the southern cross on a black escutcheon, and in order to make a distinction between the flags of the colonies, that the badge of South Australia should be borne on the escutcheon on the fly of the blue ensign for Government vessels, and on the red ensign for merchant vessels registered in the colony."
The South Australian Advertiser, Monday 10 October 1870, p. 3

22 May 1872 Proclamation approving "of the following device, to be emblazoned in the centre of the flag 'Union Jack', that is to say: Four white stars (representing the constellation of the Southern Cross) on a black ground, encircled by a wreath, and also ordering that the said flag so emblazoned shall be the distinctive flag of the Governor and Commander-in-Chief of the Province of South Australia: and, further, that the said flag bearing the said distinctive badge may be flown by any vessel in which the Governor of the said province may have embarked."
South Australia Government Gazette, 23 May 1872.

24 September 1872 Proclamation directing "that all vessels belonging to, or permanently in the service of the Government shall fly the flag known as the 'Blue Ensign,' having in the fly thereof below the Jack the distinctive badge of the province, viz.: Seven white stars, representing the full constellation of the Southern Cross (including those commonly called the pointers); also directing that the flag known as the 'Red Ensign,' having the said badge similarly emblazoned in the fly, may be flown by merchant vessels registered in the province."
South Australia Government Gazette, 26 September 1872
['below the Jack' presumably refers to the position of the two 'pointers'?]

28 November 1875. "An Admiralty despatch recently received by His Excellency draws attention to the improper use of the distinguishing badge in the colonial flag by vessels of the mercantile marine, the only ships authorized to fly the colonial flag being those used by the Governor or the Government. In the former case the badge is represented in the centre of the red jack, and in the latter on the blue groundwork of the flag."
South Australian Register (Adelaide), Monday 22 November 1875, p. 5
[Placing the badge of the Governor's flag "in the centre of the red jack" is perhaps meant to be "in the centre of the red of the Union Jack"?]

12 August 1878. Marine Board. The Admiralty signified their approval of the badge for the flag of South Australia submitted to them. Steps to be taken for promulgation of the same.
South Australian Register (Adelaide), Tuesday 13 August 1878, p. 1S.

28 November 1878 Proclamation. "Whereas, by a Proclamation dated 22 May 1872 published in the Government Gazette, a design for a distinctive flag for the Governor was approved and authorised to be flown: and whereas by another Proclamation, bearing the date 24 September 1872, distinctive flags were authorised to be flown by vessels in the employ of the Government, and also by merchant vessels registered in the said province: and whereas it has been deemed expedient to revoke the said Proclamations: Now, therefore, I, the Governor aforesaid, with the advice and consent of the Executive Council of the said province, do hereby revoke, annul, and make void the said recited Proclamations of 22 May and 24 September 1872."

28 November 1878 Proclamation directing "that the flag known as the Union Jack, having the badge of the province emblazoned in the centre thereof on a white shield surrounded with a green garland, shall be the distinctive flag of the Governor and Commander-in-Chief of the province of South Australia; and I further order and direct that the said flag may be flown by any vessel in which the Governor of the said province may have embarked; and I further order that all armed vessels belonging to or permanently in the service of the Government of the said province shall wear under the Pendant the flag known as the Blue Ensign, having the said badge of the province in the fly thereof; and I further order that all other vessels belonging to or permanently in the service of the said Government shall wear the said Blue Ensign with the said badge in the fly thereof; and I lastly direct that the flag known as the Red Ensign without the said badge, may be worn by all merchant vessels registered in the said province."
 South Australia Government Gazette 28 November 1878

3 April 1879. Marine Board, President's Annual Report. Included a reference to the cancellations of 28 November 1878 adding, "and in accordance with a suggestion made by the Admiralty and the recommendation of the Marine Board the Government followed the practice of the other British possessions in adopting the seal of the province as a badge" for the Governor's flag and Blue Ensign.
South Australian Register (Adelaide), Saturday 5 April 1879, p. 1S.

PDFs of the relevant pages of the Government Gazettes of 23/5/1872, 26/9/1872 and 28/11/1878 available to anyone interested.
David Prothero, 27 December 2010

1870 proposals

Blue Ensign
[Proposed South Australian blue ensign, 1870] image by Martin Grieve, 9 Jun 2006

Red Ensign
[Proposed South Australian red ensign, 1870] image by Martin Grieve, 9 Jun 2006

David Prothero sent me a scanned document which shows proposed Red and Blue Ensigns for South Australia. The document is entitled “Enclosure in South Australia Despatch No.32. 14th April 1872”

The page shows 2 flags – a Blue Ensign at the top, and a Red Ensign beneath. Both flags are illustrated at the overall ratio of approx. 2:3, with a squarish Union flag in the canton and a 4 star version of the Southern Cross in the fly.

Directly beneath the Union, and most noticeably shifted towards the fly are the 2 “pointer” stars in the neighbouring constellation of Centaurus. We do not know if these flags were ever actually hoisted, but we do know that they were most certainly proposed and feel that they are worth reproduction.

Both flags have a large cross-out through them on the document.
Martin Grieve, 9 June 2006

July 1870. Colonial Office proposed that the badge (as proposed for governor’s flag) "should be borne on an escutcheon in the fly of the Blue Ensign".
Colonial Office also suggested that the badge proposed for the Blue Ensign should similarly be used in the Red Ensign carried by Merchant Vessels registered in South Australia.
David Prothero, 9 June 2006

1870 flags as used

Blue Ensign
[South Australian blue ensign 1870-1876] image by Martin Grieve, 11 Jun 2006

Detail of the badge
[South Australian badge 1870-76] image by Martin Grieve, 11 Jun 2006

The Ausflag web site shows a South Australia Blue Ensign from 1870-1876 defaced in the fly with a black disk charged with a 5 star Southern Cross and the 2 pointer stars to the left, the disk being 4/9 of the overall flag width. This is more than likely to be erroneous however as David Prothero informs me that he has seen an Admiralty flag sheet in the National Archives CO 323/318 dated 1874-1875 which has a white Southern Cross and 2 pointers on a blue disk, in other words, the disk is “imaginary”
Martin Grieve, 11 June 2006

Red Ensign
[South Australian red ensign 1870-1876] image by Martin Grieve, 11 Jun 2006

Although it was a mistake on the British Admiralty's part, South Australia most probably also flew a Red Ensign, but we are unsure as to what the defacement on this flag would have been. It could have featured the Southern Cross and 2 pointers on a black disk as we illustrate here or the stars placed directly on to the fly with no disk.
Martin Grieve, 11 June 2006

1876-1904 flag

[South Australian blue ensign, 1876-1904] image by Martin Grieve, 14 Jun 2006

Detail of the badge
[South Australian badge, 1876-1904]
image by Martin Grieve, based on 1881 sheet provided by David Prothero, 13 Jun 2006

From 1876 to 1904 South Australia used a different badge from the one now on its flag. It represented Britannia talking to an aborigine. South Australia also used the red ensign with the same badge from 1876 to 1901 as civil ensign. Source: R.D. Kelly, Australian State Flags (1865-1904): A British Admiralty Legacy, report of the XIII ICV, Melbourne, 1989. [kLy93]
Mario Fabretto, 6 July 1997

The Flag of South Australia was changed in 1876, although David Prothero observes that: “Although the decision to change the badge was proposed in March 1876 the Britannia badge was not introduced until 28 November 1878.”

The badge defacement was an allegorical scene depicting Brittania (representing the white settlers) arriving on the shore and greeted by an Aborigine seated before a hill and holding a spear. The Ausflag website mentions that “On the rocks behind the Aborigine appears a rock carving of a kangaroo.”

There was no defaced red ensign.
Martin Grieve, 13 June 2006

Possible South Australia Company flag (1836)

I have recently seen a reference to a South Australian Company flag which appears to date from the early 19th century. It is supposed to have been the company flag of the South Australian Company which brought the first ships and the first settlers to South Australia in 1836. If it was flown from the first ships the flag/s would have been manufactured in England in late 1835 or early 1836 as George Fife Angas set up the South Australian Company in late 1835. The flag supposedly had a Union Jack in the top left hand corner and three red kangaroos on a blue background. Any information would be most welcome.
Chris Ward, 15 March 2008