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Australian Customs Service

Last modified: 2013-04-04 by peter hans van den muijzenberg
Keywords: australia | customs | australian national flag | stars: southern cross | southern cross | stars: 7 points | ch | crown: yellow | crown: red |
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[Australian Customs flag] image by Clay Moss, 6 Dec 2005
[two-sided] Ratio 1:2


See also:


Australian Customs Flag

The flag is the Australian national flag with the word "CUSTOMS" written between the Commonwealth star and the Southern Cross.


This flag is used mostly on Customs aircraft but also on all Customs boats. When the Customs Service works with the Navy, the Navy hoist this flag and under the legislation, as long as there in one Customs Officer on board, then the vessel is a Customs vessel.
Arjeh, 19 February 2001

Reverse of flag

[Australian Customs flag reverse] image by Clay Moss, 6 Dec 2005
[two-sided] [reverse] [sinister]

[The images above] are a faithful reproduction of a customs ensign that the Aussie customs folk sent us last year when my Vexillology class was collecting flags. I have no clue if there's a definitive set of specs for the lettering on this flag, so I thought it wise to send that they're actually using.
Clay Moss, 6 December 2005

Alternative depiction of the Customs flag

[Australian Customs flag] image by Zach Harden

It is my opinion that the lettering is correctly positioned [in the image above], but that the font weight used should be bold, rather than a standard, light or demi, such as it presently appears:

This is also borne out by other official sources:

  1. The book Australian Flags [ozf98], page 19, where there is a depiction this time in a different font weight and in italic, but the same position as Zach's image.
  2. The latest edition of 'Manifest', Winter 2005, which is the Newsletter of the Australian Customs Service, shows the lettering in the same position as in Zach's image, but in bold lettering.

The only specification is in respect of the weight of the font and its colour, viz:

"For the purposes of section 14 of the Act the following flag is prescribed, namely, the Australian National Flag with the addition in the fly of the word 'CUSTOMS' in white in bold character."
Source: Regulation 2, Customs Regulations 1926, Statutory Rules 1926 No. 203 as amended, made under the Customs Act 1901 [the primary legislation] Prepared on 25 November 2005, taking into account amendments up to SLI 2005 No. 265 by the Office of Legislative Drafting and Publishing (OLDP), Attorney-General's Department, Canberra
Colin Dobson, 9 December 2005

As with the New Zealand Customs flag, which is defined similarly, the word "CUSTOMS" definitely does not appear in the "fly" according to the usual vexillological understanding, but in the centre of the lower half of the flag, between the Commonwealth Star and the Southern Cross. This was the position of the badge proposed for the flag of Papua (and future Australian territories) in 1908, which was also described as "on the fly" of the "Commonwealth Flag (blue ensign)". It seems that "fly" has often been used in regulations to mean any part of a British ensign outside the UJ.
Jonathan Dixon, 1 October 2008


History of Australian Customs flags

The following is the text of an article [h2c05] published in the current, Winter 2005, edition of Manifest, which is the newsletter of the Australian Customs Service, under the original headline Flying the Customs flag:
[The images included are based on the photos of replica flags in the original article.]

Customs has its own flag that flies on Customs vessels and, on certain occasions, on buildings. It is the most recent in a series that goes back to before Federation - two from colonial NSW and three since Federation.

The use of flags by "revenue cutters" and other Customs and Excise vessels is mentioned in an English proclamation of 1694. An act of 1784 instructed Customs vessels to fly the flag (and a pennant) when giving chase. The design of the flag changed over time and these changes are described in "Flags at sea" by Timothy Wilson (London HMSO, 1986, pp 40/1) [wil86].

The Australian colonies followed the practice of using Customs/Custom House flags. The five flags so far identified are:

  1. Customs House Flag of 1832 - the source is a facsimile of an engraving by W. Wilson for the NSW Calendar and General Post Office Directory. It is titled "Australia - Code of Signals for the Colony of New South Wales" dated January 1, 1832 and signed by a Mr Nicholson, Harbour Master. No description is given, but using a combination of the 1817 English Customs flag and the engraving, a replica has been made.
    [Colonial Customs House Flag of 1832] image by Clay Moss, 28 Feb 2006
  2. Customs Colonial Flag of 1882 - taken from "Supplement to the NSW Government Gazette, No. 193, Friday, 12 May 1882". A replica has been made using a description given as a regulation under the "Customs Regulation Act of 1879": "The proper ensign for Customs shall be the red English ensign with the addition of a white cross, being in the form and proportion the same as the white ensign, but with the colours of the flag reversed, and with the letters CH in the outer lower quarter of the flag; and the pendant shall be the red pendant."
    [NSW Colonial Customs flag 1882] image by Clay Moss, 11 Dec 2005
  3. Australian Customs Flag of 1901 - Section 14 of the original Customs Act of 1901 states that "The vessels and boats employed in the service of Customs shall be distinguished from other vessels and boats by such flag as shall be prescribed". In the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette No. 53 of 10 October 1901, page 172, under the heading "Customs Regulations", Section 14 "The Customs Flag" states, "The Customs flag shall be the Blue Ensign, with the addition in the fly of the letters "HMC" in bold character, and the word 'Australia'". A replica has been made.
    [Reconstruction of Australian Customs Flag 1901, according to Manifest] image by Clay Moss, 17 Dec 2005
  4. Australian Customs Flag circa 1904 to 1988 - the removal of the word "Australia" from the flag is first noted in an "order in council" dated 16 June 1904, with the appropriate change to Section 14.
    [Reconstruction of Australian Customs Flag 1904, according to Manifest] image by Clay Moss, 17 Dec 2005
  5. Australian Customs Flag - current. This flag has the word "Customs" in bold on the fly, replacing "HMC". The legislative backing for this change was an amendment SR297, published 17/12/1987 to commence on 1/01/1988.

Source: Manifest, the newsletter of the Australian Customs Service, published Winter 2005, by Corporate Communication, Australian Customs Service, Canberra. International Standard Serial Number (ISSN) 1329-7961, available as a 2.9MB PDF file
Authors: Customs History Unit staff, Kerry Hannan and Peter Chinn.
Colin Dobson, 9 December 2005

The precise details [of the 1832 flag] are a matter of guess-work and interpretation. The replica was based on Nicholson's Flag-Sheet of 1832.
David Prothero, 16 December 2005

Both of these 1901 and 1904 flags show the 7 pointed Commonwealth Star, which dates from 1908. The "replica" of #3 apparently was made by someone who didn't know this. Since the text says the "Blue Ensign", and not the "Australian Blue Ensign", I wonder if the stars were on the flag at all. Anyway, there should be a #4a with the 6 pointed star for 1904-1908.
Dean McGee, 10 December 2005

I agree with Dean. What would be the point of having the word "Australia" in addition to the stars? Thus it is more likely that:

1901 flag. No stars, just HMC AUSTRALIA on a Blue Ensign.
[Reconstruction of Australian Customs flag 1901 with no stars] image by Clay Moss, 18 Dec 2005

1904 flag. HMC on Australian Blue Ensign having a six point Commonwealth star.
[Reconstruction of Australian Customs flag 1904 with 6 pointed star] image by Clay Moss, 19 Dec 2005

1908 flag. As in the replica 1904 flag.
David Prothero, 17 December 2006

I just came across these two customs flags currently being sold on eBay (Item number: 290302470533). One approx 18ins x 30ins and the other 44ins x 24ins, made from a coarse lightweight cotton/hessian material with the Union flag and stars having been applied by machine in a white zigzag stitch. There is also a Union flag stitched on the back. This flag has its metal fixings still attached and also has the remnants of an old label in the seam of the edge which may once have had writing on, but it is very worn.
Keir, 22 March 2009

The photos on eBay show a flag similar to that shown for 1904-1988 in the Customs newsletter article, but with the "HMC" in between the Commonwealth star and the bottom of the southern cross.

The positioning of the text in the centre of the lower half of the flag is more consistent with the replica flag with the text "HMC AUSTRALIA". It is also consistent with other early Australian flags with devices described as “in the fly”.

However, the Customs article did not describe their “1904-1988” flag as a replica/reconstruction (unlike the earlier ones), and 1988 is not all that long agao – I wonder whether a change was actually made between 1908 and 1988, possibly based on similar understanding of "in the fly" to what we would have. Has anyone seen any Australian customs flags from the early 80s?
Jonathan Dixon, 22 March 2009

1889 South Australian Customs House flag

[1889 South Australian Customs House flag] image by Clay Moss, 27 Feb 2006

On page 36 of the Summer 2006 Manifest magazine, there's a short piece on a new customs flag that the Australian Customs Service's history department has discovered, that being a "distinctive" South Australian Customs flag. Their source is an official South Australian Customs hand book dated 1889.

The definition in the handbook of the flag reads as such: "The proper Customs House flag or ensign is blue, with the Union Jack in the upper canton and the letters C.H. and a crown in red above in the fly; and the proper pendant is blue with a crown in red."

The image above has virtually the same defacement as the New South Waloes Customs flag of 1832 mentioned above. The alternative depiction below is drawn up from a photo of a modern reproduction flag which can also be found on page 36 in Manifest. I would tend to believe that the defacement probably looked more like the first image. Can anyone provide further information?
Clay Moss, 27 February 2006

Alternative depiction of the South Australian Customs flag
[Alternative depiction of the South Australian Customs flag] image by Clay Moss, 27 Feb 2006