Australian White Ensign

Australian White Ensign

On the morning of the 1 March 1967 the Australian National Line cargo ship Boonaroo was commissioned into the Royal Australian Navy for war service. This event in itself is not unusual as merchant ships have been requisitioned by navies for centuries. What made this particular commissioning noteworthy is that Boonaroo was the first vessel to be commissioned under a distinctly Australian White Ensign.

HMAS Boonaroo, the first ship to commission under the new Australian White Ensign
HMAS Boonaroo, the first ship to commission under the new Australian White Ensign

Prior to the establishment of the Royal Australian Navy the Australian colonial navies had flow uniquely Australian ensigns. This was a Blue ensign defaced by the badge of the individual colony.

During the 1909 Imperial Conference the question of what ensign the dominion navies would fly was first raised. The representatives from Australia and Canada proposed that the ensign should be a white ensign defaced by the emblem of the particular dominion. No decision was reached on this matter.

In August 1910 the Admiralty raised the issue concerning the status of dominion warships and proposed that they should fly the white ensign. Shortly after this the Parramatta City Council sought advice as to the flag to be worn by Parramatta (I) as they wished to present her with one. They were informed that Parramatta (I) would fly the Australian Blue Ensign on her arrival in Australia and until the matter of an ensign had been resolved with the Admiralty.

Australian opinion favoured a uniquely Australian ensign but the Admiralty continued to resist and insisted that the Dominion Navies use the white ensign. The Admiralty eventually won out and the ships of the newly formed Royal Australian Navy flew the white ensign. Here the matter rested until 1965.

On 28 October 1965 the Member for Batman, Mr SJ Benson MP, whilst speaking on the Naval Estimates argued that Australia should have its own, distinctive white ensign. His point was that Australian ships were engaged in a war flying the ensign of another country. The Minister for the Navy informed the House, on the same day, that the Navy was already looking at possible variants of the white ensign which would carry a distinctly Australian appearance.

HMAS Vampire lowers the Royal Navy White Ensign for the last time and raises the new Australian White Ensign for the first time whilst alongside in Singapore, 1 March 1967.
HMAS Vampire lowers the Royal Navy White Ensign for the last time and raises the new Australian White Ensign for the first time whilst alongside in Singapore, 1 March 1967.

The Chief of Naval Staff subsequently sought the views of other members of the Naval Board and his senior officers. Following this consultation the matter was considered by the Naval Board on 21 January 1966. The Board decided to recommend to the Government "that the Royal Australian Navy should have its own unique white ensign". The ensign was described as being a "white flag with the Union Flag in the upper canton at the hoist with six blue stars positioned as in the Australian flag".

The Minister for the Navy, Mr F Chaney MP, informed the Prime Minister of the Naval Board's decision and the formal approval of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was requested. Royal assent to the new ensign was granted on 7 November 1966.

The formal announcement of the new ensign was made by the Prime Minister on 23 December 1966. Originally it was intended to introduce the new ensign on the 1 May 1967 but this was subsequently amended to 1 March 1967.

The Royal Navy White Ensign is lowered for the last time in a ceremony at HMAS Watson, 1 March 1967
The Royal Navy White Ensign is lowered for the last time in a ceremony at HMAS Watson, 1 March 1967