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Learn about the flag

The Australian Flag

When you're visiting Parliament House, don't miss out on seeing Canberra's most recognisable landmark up close: the stainless steel flag mast with the Australian flag flying above Capital Hill.

The flag mast is the main focal point of the Parliamentary Triangle and you can walk directly under it when you explore Parliament House's grass roof. You can also see it from vantage points all around Canberra.

The design of the flag mast pays homage to Walter Burley Griffin's plan for a pyramidal Capitol building—a ceremonial public space that would celebrate the achievements of the Australian people—which he envisioned as the centrepiece to his design for Canberra.

Its apex, above the exact centre of Parliament House, marks the intersection between the building's 'law-making axis', on which the House of Representatives and Senate chambers are located, and its 'land axis', which runs from the forecourt and contains key public areas of the building as well as many of the major architectural commissions.

This intersection symbolises how the elements of Australian democracy—the people, the parliament and the government—are all brought together under one flag.

Changing the flag

There are between ten and fourteen flags that are rotated regularly so they wear evenly. It takes a team of three specially trained people from the Department of Parliamentary Services to raise and lower the flag. It is usually changed on the first Wednesday of the month.

Watch the video to learn more about the flag and how the team takes care of it.

  • Transcript

    Voice over:
    The Australian flag is flown over Parliament House 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and is Australia's foremost national symbol.

    The flag flies at a height of 81 metres and the mast is one of the world's largest stainless steel structures.

    Jason Carew:
    The flag itself is 12.6 metres wide by 6.4 metres high. 

    Voice over: 
    Jason Carew and his team in the Department of Parliamentary Services have the unique and certainly adventurous task of managing and maintaining the flag.

    Jason:
    We change the flag on the first Wednesday of every month. We have ten flags in rotation and, weather permitting, early in the morning, that's when we change the flag.

    We have three fitters that change the flag. We work very closely together. It is a high risk job and we know each other. We are trained as high risk operators.

    The platform that we work from is 81 metres above the roof and we can also go the extra 20 metres to the top of the flag pole which is 101 metres to the top. And that's done by a single-man lifter, and it's an Alimak as well, and that takes us all the way to the top of the flag pole which is a spectacular view when you're up there.

    Voice over: 
    There are strict protocols relating to the treatment of the flag. For example, the flag must be illuminated at night. It cannot be flown if it is damaged, faded or dilapidated. Damaged flags are sent away to be repaired and then reused. Or, if they are beyond repair, they're destroyed. 

    Jason:
    We take great pride in our flag and we adhere to all flag protocols. We ensure, like I said before, we have the best flag flying. Every morning I come to work, that's my job. I look up at that flag and make sure it's still on the flag pole after a windy night. I do worry. And my team and I we, during the day, we do assess the condition of the flag to make sure that there's no tears, rips and that it's still flying.

    Voice over: Each year on the third of September Australian National Flag day is celebrated marking the first time the flag was flown in 1901. 

    Jason: 
    The views over the Canberra city are absolutely spectacular. We do take time out after a flag change. Looking across The Brindabellas in winter, looking at the snow capped mountains to the leaves on the trees in autumn changing and the Parliamentary Triangle is absolutely spectacular. 

    Voice over: 
    Few people get to see Parliament House and the city of Canberra from this perspective and clearly the team appreciates the privilege.

    Jason:
    What is special about this job is I love seeing the school kids after we do a flag change. When the groups come onto the roof during the visiting hours in the morning, if we've just done a flag change and they've seen us do it, when we come down they ask us a lot of questions. 

    So those kids are lucky enough we actually get them to handle the flag and tell them all about flag protocol. And the school kids actually get the flag out, get to feel, touch, look and see how big the actual flag is on the roof. 

    We never let the flag touch the ground due to flag protocol and the best thing about the whole day is the kids say that touching the flag and seeing the flag in its entire that's their highlight. And it's our highlight as well.

    Voice over: 
    While we can't get as high as Jason and his team, the roof of Parliament House provides spectacular views of the nation's capital. Visitors are welcome to walk on the grass ramps covering the building. The lift to the roof is marked on the floor plan in the visitor guide which can be obtained from the information desk on your arrival at Parliament House.

Frequently asked questions

How big is the flag?

The flag is 12.8 metres long and 6.4 metres high, which is about the same size as the side of a double-decker bus. It weighs 22 kilograms.

How often is it flown?

The flag is flown seven days a week and 24 hours a day—under the Australian national flag protocols, it can be flown at night because it is floodlit.

When is it flown at half mast?

The flag is flown at half-mast as a sign of mourning. The Commonwealth Flag Network provides half-masting messages and other nationally significant event announcements.

How big is the flag mast?

The flag mast is one of the largest stainless steel structures in the world. Constructed from polished Newcastle steel, it is 81 metres tall and weighs 220 tonnes.

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