Empire Day

The British Empire League was a bunch of Australians in the early 20thC who wanted imperialism to prevail rather than nationalism in Australia. The prominent politician of the time, Alfred Deakin, was the great compromiser and saw no difference between being Australian and a Briton which was to become the popular sentiment through to Menzies. The British Empire League agitated to have Empire Day be a public holiday and chose Queen Victoria’s birthday of March 24th to have it.

The Australian Catholics didn’t like the idea of imperial promotion much and called it “Australia Day” instead. St Mary’s in Sydney chose to run up its flag poles the Irish Harp Flag and the Blue Ensign (our current national flag).

The Australian National flag at the time was the British Union Flag (Union Jack) and would remain so until the Flag Act of 1953. The Blue Ensign was intended for use on government buildings only and the Red Ensign for Australian merchant ships.

The Sydney Morning Herald was out-raged at this lack of respect and its newspaper led with the headline, “No Union Jack is Flown”.

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Francis X Holden
17 years ago


17 years ago

As a young pup my father drew for me the history of the Australian flag. Long forgotten, unfortunately, other than a lasting impression that it is interesting and somewhat involved (the varying thicknesses of the lines on the Union Jack, for instance, and the layering over time which brought them to be).

I’ve on occasion wondered why as a nation we lack knowledge of its development. Not to agree nor disagree with what eventuated, but simply to know it. There is real power in symbols, maybe this lack of knowledge is symbolic of something as well.

Enjoyable to come across a post on the subject. Cheers, Cam.

17 years ago

FXH, Carmel Tebbutt brought Australia Day into the news by saying it was for federation. Particularly ironic as she was being asked about a report where 3/4 of teenage kids did not know what Australia Day meant. The little empire day piece of history where catholics flew an Irish Flag generally does not make it into any ‘national’ history of Australia Day.

Robert, A few years ago I wrote an article on Australian Vexillology.