Teach Your Students About Australian History With These Five Essential Flags for the Classroom

4 June 2015
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Flags can be an essential component of a history lesson, and their visual appeal has the power to engage your students in a way that text may not be able to. With so many Australian flags ranging from the Australian Defence Force Ensign to the Queen's Personal Flag for Australia, it can be hard to know which flags to display in your classroom and discuss. However, if you want to give your students a sense of where they come from, the history of the country and their place in the world, consider creating lessons around these five flags.

1. Australian National Flag

Any lesson on flags and history in Australia should start with the national flag. See if your students can figure out what each of the three major symbols in this flag represent.

The Union Jack in the top left corner of the flag represents the country's historic ties to the United Kingdom, the stars on the right side of the flag represent the Southern Cross constellation and Australia's position in the southern hemisphere. Six of the points on the seven-pointed star represent the six states, and the seventh point represents the territories collectively.

2.  State Flags

The points on the national flag are a great way to segue to a discussion about the history of your state and its flag. Each state has its own unique flag, but since the mid-1800s, these six flags have followed a similar format. Against a blue background, the flags feature a small Union Jack and an individual seal or badge representing something about the state.

For example, the badge on the New South Wales flag features a lion to signify the vice-regal authority of the Governor while the Queensland flag's badge features a crown in honour of Queen Victoria, namesake of the state.  

3. Australian Aboriginal Flag

When discussing the history of the country through flags, it's important to note that the country was inhabited before the English arrived, and the best flag to use as a jumping off point for that discussion is the Australian Aboriginal Flag.

Designed in 1971, the Aboriginal flag consists of a red stripe representing the land, a yellow circle representing the life-giving sun and a black stripe representing the Aboriginals themselves.

It first appeared during a rally honouring Aboriginal people, and over the last 40-plus years, it has become a national symbol for Aboriginal pride. Its creator was Harold Thomas, the first Aboriginal person to graduate from art school. Although best known for his connection to the flag, Thomas has a number of unrelated artworks that like the flag also celebrate the beauty of Australia.

4. Australian South Sea Islanders Flag

Of course, any exhaustive look at Australian history through flags shouldn't stop at just acknowledging the English and Aboriginal roots of the country. It is also important to recognise other ethnic groups who have made an important contribution to the country's history and economy.

The Australian South Sea Islanders flag is an ideal way to start a classroom discussion about Pacific Islanders who were brought to the country, often against their own wills, between 1864 and 1904.

Brought to labour in the sugar and timber industries, this group of people did not have a flag to celebrate their history until 1998. At that time, the Australian South Sea Islanders flag was developed.

The flag features black panels which represent Pacific Islanders standing strong against oppressions, the blue represents the sea and sky, gold represents the sun and green represents the ground and more specifically this group's contributions to Australian agriculture.

5. United Nations Flag

Finally, instead of looking back, it is also good to look at the present and Australia's current position in world politics. In a classroom, the United Nations flag can be the perfect prompt for this type of discussion.

Australia has been involved with the United Nations since it began in 1945, and Australia continues to be involved in the international group due to its commitment to human rights and peacekeeping. The UN flag features olive branches representing peace and a world map representing the world.