December 3rd 2020 is the 45th anniversary of the Tasmanian flag. Indeed Tasmania was the first state to proclaim its own state flag.
The history of flags in Tasmania goes back to November 1642 when the explorer Abel Tasman raised the Dutch flag at Blackman Bay near Dunalley. In September 1803 Lt John Bowen RN raised the Union Jack at Risdon Cove, the site of the first British settlement of Tasmania.
Tasmanian received a bi-cameral system and Responsible Government in 1856 together with a name change from Van Diemen’s Land to Tasmania. On August 7 of 1869, Queen Victoria ordered colonial governors to fly the Union Jack with the arms or badge of the colony emblazoned in the centre, following the suggestion of Tasmanian Colonial Secretary, Thomas Reiby.
He stated, “The distinguishing flag or ensign of the colony for vessels belonging to or permanently employed by the Government of Tasmania shall be a Blue Ensign with a Lion Passant red on a white shield in the fly”.
It was not, however, until September 25th, 1876 by proclamation from the governor, Frederick Aloysius Weld, did the colony receive a flag. Then there were three official flags, they being the Governor’s flag, the Tasmanian vessel flag and a Tasmanian merchant flag. Up until 1856 the Union flag and the British Ensign was primarily used on state occasions.
Between the years 1876 and 1975 the blue ensign flag containing the Union Flag (better known as the Union Jack) in the left top corner with a Lion Passant (sideways walking past) red on white shield on the fly, was used when representing the state. This was, as we have learnt, the original Tasmanian Government vessel flag.
On December 3rd, 1975, the Governor Stanley Burbury issued another proclamation officially recognising the Blue Ensign with a Lion Passant red on a white shield on the fly as the State Flag. The Labor Premier, Mr William (Bill) Neilson endorsed it. As said, Tasmania was the first state to officially recognise its flag. It was also the first state to authorise the flag for general use.
The proclamation read: “Governor in and over the State of Tasmania and its Dependencies in the Commonwealth of Australia acting with the advice of the Executive Council of the said State do by this my Proclamation declare that the Blue Ensign with a lion Passant red on a white shield in the fly thereof being the flag or ensign more particularly described in the Schedule hereto shall be the distinguishing flag or ensign of the State of Tasmania and shall be known as the Tasmanian Flag.” It was dated 3rd December 1975.
Consequently it only has been of recent times that Tasmania has had its own official state flag which can be flown by all, including individual burgesses.
The Union Flag of course, tells of the origin of our state as a British colony. The Lion Passant represents the connection and loyalty to the Crown, Tasmania being a Constitutional Monarchy as recognised in the Tasmanian Constitutional Act of 1934, an Act which had its origins back in 1854. Indeed Tasmania was the first colony to adopt its own Constitution.
The Lion Passant has strong heraldic meaning, at least going back more than a thousand years to William the Conqueror, possibly a great deal more. For instance the Lion Passant was a symbol of the ancient House of Judah.
Our state flag can be flown on state government buildings, municipality flag poles and by businesses, clubs, societies and by private individuals. If the Australian National Flag is flown as well as the state flag, then the national flag takes precedence over all other flags, including other national flags. The national flag must be flown on the left of the observer facing the flag or if three flags are flown, the national flag should be flown in the centre. All flags, however, are to be flown at the same height.
Tasmania has led the nation in many instances end being the first state to proclaim its own flag is just one example. It may be that some Tasmanians do not even know we have our own flag, so perhaps it should be flown more than what it is.