This article was published in Smart Soldier 65, August 21. You can access the full edition on the DPN in the Army Lessons Online page. Tip: Search for Army Lessons and select the second search option.

Australian National Flag Basics

Flag procedures are a daily occurrence in Army units, yet some of us can become complacent with procedures or simply forget if not practising regularly. This article is a summary of correct flag protocol for the Australian National Flag (ANF) with information sourced from Chapter 5 of the Army Ceremonial and Protocol Manual. The information in this article will help keep you in check for daily flag routine; however, if you need more information including protocol for other flags and ceremonial procedures you can find it in the Army Ceremonial and Protocol Manual on the DPN:

Do

  • Let the ANF fly aloft and free.
  • Ensure that the ANF is handled, flown and treated in a dignified manner at all times.
  • Ensure that the ANF is not to be subjected to any indignity nor is it displayed in a position inferior to any other flag.
  • Wear uniform whilst raising/lowering the ANF.

Don't

  • Use the ANF as a drape or seat cover.
  • Use the ANF as a table drape.
  • Allow the ANF to fall onto the ground when being raised or lowered.
  • Lay the ANF on the ground.
  • Use the ANF as a cover for a statue, monument or plaque being unveiled.
  • Use the ANF as a masking for unsightly areas or material, barriers or intervening space between floors and ground level of a dais or platform.
  • Fly the ANF upside down.
  • Fly the ANF on a single flagpole with another flag.
  • Fly the ANF during the hours of darkness unless the flagpole is illuminated.
  • Wear it as a cape.

Where is the ANF flown?

The ANF is to be flown at all functional, formation and unit headquarters (HQs). The ANF is not flown by sub-units within a unit area; however, it is flown by independent sub-units and sub-units located outside the unit area.

Flag hierarchy

As the ANF takes precedence over all other flags (including All Corps, Regiment and Unit flags), it is raised or unfurled first and lowered last. When the ANF is flown alongside the flags of other nations, it is courteous to raise or unfurl and lower the flags together at the same time.

Responsibility of the flag orderly

The raising, unfurling and lowering of the ANF is to be conducted by military personnel. These personnel are referred to as flag orderlies. ANF flag procedure must be conducted whilst wearing the Australian Army uniform, not civilian attire or PT/sports dress.

Flag raising procedure by flag orderly

The ANF may either be raised or unfurled with an appropriate bugle call, the playing of the Australian National Anthem or ‘announced’ by whistle blasts. This article focuses on daily routine and will hence discuss procedure with reference to whistle blasts only.

When using a whistle, one distinct and loud whistle blast is sounded; two seconds later, the raising or unfurling of the ANF is commenced.

The halyard is then secured, the flag orderly steps back one pace, salutes and after a pause, about turns, and marches off.

Flag lowering procedure by flag orderly

The flag orderly steps up to the flagpole, salutes and after a regulation pause, releases the halyard.

One distinct and loud whistle blast is sounded; two seconds later, the lowering of the ANF is commenced.

Once the ANF is lowered and gathered, two distinct and loud whistle blasts or bell rings are sounded.

The flag orderly disconnects the ANF from the halyard, secures the halyard, steps back one pace, about turns and marches-off.

ANF raising/lowering procedure for those in the vicinity

In uniform – Upon hearing the whistle blast, all ranks in sight of the ANF are to stand at attention, face the ANF and salute. At the completion of the raising, unfurling or lowing of the ANF, all personnel (outdoors) wearing uniform are to complete the salute and continue about their duties.

In groups  Upon hearing the whistle blast, all ranks in bodies of troops under command are to be brought to attention, the person in command is to salute and armed parties are to present arms. On completion of the raising, unfurling or lowering of the ANF, the commander is to complete the salute and continue about their duties.

Not in sight of ANF – Upon hearing the whistle blast, all ranks not in sight of the ANF are to stand at attention and face towards the direction of the ANF.

In civilian clothing – Personnel wearing civilian clothing are to stand at attention upon hearing the whistle blast; if wearing a hat, they should remove their headdress to display good manners and courtesy. At the completion of the raising, unfurling or lowering of the ANF, personnel may replace their headdress and continue about their duties.

Procedure for half-mast

Half-mast does not mean that the flag is positioned exactly halfway down the flagpole.

When a single flagpole is used, the top of the ANF is to be positioned one-third from the mast head/peak and no other flags are to be flown. All other flags in the set are to also be flown at half-mast.

When a flagpole with a yard arm is used, the ANF is to be positioned so that the top of the ANF sits level with the yard arm. At half-mast when a flagpole with a yard arm is used, other flags in the set may be flown, as long as the top of the ANF, at the half-mast position, is still above the other flags, Alternatively, all other flags may be removed so only the ANF is to be flown at the half-mast position.

When to fly the ANF at half-mast

ANZAC Day – Until noon.

Remembrance Day – From 1030 hours to 1101 hours or 1102 hours.

Death of The Sovereign – As soon as news of the death is received, flags are to remain half-mast, whenever flown, until sunset on the day of the funeral.

Death of a Member of the Royal Family – Only on the day of the funeral, subject to any special orders issued by the Governor-General.

Death of the Governor-General of Australia – As soon as news of the death is received, they are to remain at half-mast, whenever flown, until sunset on the day of the funeral.

Death of a Foreign Sovereign or Head of State – Only on the day of the funeral, subject to any special orders issued by the Governor-General.

Death of a distinguished Australian citizen (e.g. the Prime Minister or an ex-minister of the Government of Australia) – Only on the day of the funeral until sunset.

Repatriation of a member’s remains being returned to Australia – This will be coordinated by the Australian Defence Force (ADF) Flag Marshal, Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM) Ceremonial – ADF and/or Ceremonial Cell – Army, and only applies to operational deaths.

Domestic, Corps, regiment or unit occasion – Units may request to fly the ANF at half-mast for purely a domestic, Corps, regiment or unit occasion, e.g. the funeral of a unit member. The ANF is flown at half-mast only on the day of the funeral only and it is to be raised to the mast head/peak after interment has taken place. Approvals must be sought from Director General Army People Capability (DGAPC).

Other occasions – Flags are to be flown at the half-mast position on other occasions as directed by the ADF Flag Marshal, RSM Ceremonial – ADF upon orders from the Governor-General. Examples of other occasions could be in remembrance of a significant National Disaster, Black Friday Fires etc.

Flag history

In 1908, Australian Army Military Order No 58/08 ordered the blue ‘Australian Ensign’ to replace the Union Jack at all military establishments. From 1911, it served as the saluting flag of the Australian Army at all reviews and ceremonial parades with the Union Jack being reserved for all occasions when a representative of His Majesty the King reviewed the Commonwealth forces. By traditional British understanding, the blue ensign was reserved for official government use although the red ensign, formerly the popular favourite with the general public, was nevertheless still to be seen in military circulation until after the 1953 legislation, meaning the 1st and 2nd Australian Imperial Forces served under both the blue and red versions.

Red ensign – General Birdwood, commander of the Australian forces in WWI, was presented with an Australian flag to be flown over his HQ in France to replace the British flag under which we had been fighting. This flag was created by some citizens in Newcastle and is thought to be the first time the flag was used in war. It was returned to Australia and has recently been rediscovered and restored.

Blue Ensign – When Australia federated, a competition partly sponsored by a tobacco company looked for a new ‘Australian’ symbol. The rules made it apparent that the Union Flag should appear in the upper left (upper hoist) quadrant. Of all the entries, five were so similar that the design was chosen and the prize money shared between them. The blue ensign was for government use and the red ensign for civil use. The use of the red ensign was commonplace.

Army flag – The Australian Army’s flag is the ANF and the Army is the ‘custodian of the flag’. That is why we don’t have a different design like the ensigns of the Royal Australian Navy or Royal Australian Air Force.

Our Nation’s flag represents the values and beliefs our diggers cherish, and courageous men and women have fought and died under our National flag. Each time we raise our flag, we honour those men and women.

The ANF features the five stars of the Southern Cross, the Commonwealth Star, and the combined crosses of St George, St Andrew and St Patrick. The union of crosses represents Australia’s early settlers. The Commonwealth Star with its seven points represents the unity of the six Australian states and the seventh point stands for all Australian Territories.