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The Governor’s Standard is the name of the flag, banner or pennant which represents the Governor; it is sometimes also referred to as the Governor’s Personal Standard or the Governor’s Personal Flag.  In New South Wales, the Governor’s Standard is identical to the State Flag except for the addition of the St Edward Crown atop the State badge. 

Prior to the adoption of the Governor’s Standard, it was the Union Jack which flew over Government House Sydney or on the Vice Regal car.  However, following a period of parliamentary discussion, research and consultation, the Governor’s Standard was approved by Her Majesty The Queen on 15 January 1981.  The new Standard was first used a few days later on 20 January 1981 when Air Marshal Sir James Rowland was sworn in as the 33rd Governor and has been used continuously ever since.


Since the arrival of the First Fleet, Governors and Government House had, by convention, flown the Union Jack.  The earliest known record formalising that practice is found in the Colonial Office’s 1910 publication entitled Flags, Badges and Arms of the British Dominions Beyond the Seas which stated:

“The Union Flag, without the Badge of the Dominion or Colony, will be flown at Government House …” [1]

As early as 1973, it was argued in the Legislative Council of the New South Wales Parliament that the time to replace the flying of the Union Jack, the sovereign flag of a foreign country, at Government House had come.[2] It took some time, but eventually this proposal for change gained some momentum and traction. 

By 1980, South Australia [3] and Tasmania had already adopted Governor’s Standards which were created by simply placing the St Edward Crown above the State badge on their respective State flags, thereby positively identifying the Governor with the State which he/she governs and with The Sovereign.

At that time, Western Australia, Queensland and Victoria continued to use the Union Jack to represent the Governor as follows:

Western Australia: Union Jack defaced with the State Badge

Queensland: Union Jack undefaced when on land; Union Jack defaced with the State Badge when on a vessel

Victoria: the Union Flag with, in the centre thereof, the five stars of the Southern Cross, surmounted by a Crown, the whole on a circular blue background and surrounded by a green garland.

Since 1936, the Governor-General of Australia had adopted a personal Standard which is still used to this day, with the slight modification in 1953 when the Tudor Crown was replaced with the St Edward Crown.  (It was the St Edward Crown which had been adopted by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II at her own coronation in that year.)

By September 1980, and following enquiry with his counterparts in other Australian jurisdictions, there was sufficient interest in New South Wales to adopt a personal Standard for the Governor that the then Official Secretary to the Governor wrote to the Secretary of Premier’s Department, recommending its prompt adoption.  The urgency was based on a desire to use the new Standard on the day of the swearing-in of the new Governor in January 1981.

Noting the South Australian experience of formal approval being received more than 12 months after the initial approach to Buckingham Palace, on 29 September 1980, the Governor’s Official Secretary proposed to the Secretary of Premier’s Department that, to save time, the Governor might adopt the State Flag (with no modifications) as his personal Standard.  This advice was clearly rejected in favour of the present design.

On 17 October 1980, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London wrote to the NSW Governor’s Official Secretary to confirm the process for approval of a new personal Standard.  That process included, following informal approval of Her Majesty being obtained and, “provided the Garter King of Arms approves the design on heraldic grounds, the next step would be for the College of Arms to lay down a design incorporating the wishes of the Governor.  The design is then re-submitted, through the Secretary of state to The Queen for Her formal approval under the Royal Sign and Manual and registered with the College of Arms.”

Premier Neville Wran wrote to the Governor on 25 November 1980 advising:

“His Excellency’s Ministers of State now consider that there should be a change in the Personal Standard of the Governor of New South Wales, such change to take effect at the conclusion of His Excellency’s term of office.  The Premier therefore recommends for approval a change in the Governor’s distinctive flag from the Union Flag to the New South Wales State Flag with a Crown surmounting the State badge in the fly.”

The Premier recommended that the Governor seek the approval of The Queen.  Official notifications were despatched the following day to London.

There is an indication in a memo from the Official Secretary to the Secretary of Premier’s Department on 24 December 1980 that the then Governor, Sir Roden Cutler, did not entirely agree with the change. 

“In view of the absence of support from the Governor, I communicated personally with the Head of the South Pacific Department of the Foreign Office emphasising the Government’s desire that the new Standard, if approved by The Queen, should come into use at the conclusion of His Excellency’s term of office next month.”

Even so, such was the Official Secretary’s confidence of a positive and speedy response (given the proposed implementation of the new Standard from 20 January 1981) that he offered the further comment: “in anticipation of approval from London, I have had new Standards made for flying at Government House and for use on vehicles conveying His Excellency and by Police motor cyclists escorting that vehicle.”

The newly designed Standard was presented by the Garter King of Arms to the NSW Agent General in London on 8 January 1980.  The Agent General’s immediate task was to seek formal Royal approval of the new design.  The total cost to the NSW Government for this process was ₤300.

Advice received from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on 19 January 1981 confirmed that formal approval of The Queen for the new personal Standard was given on 15 January.  The Premier released a press statement on the same day as receiving the advice from London, coinciding perfectly with the swearing-in of the new Governor the following day.

The Canberra Times reported the following on 20 January 1981:

“The NSW Premier, Mr Wran, said yesterday the Queen had approved a new personal standard for the Governor of NSW, which will be the NSW flag with a crown above the State badge.

The first time the new standard would be flown would be at Parliament House today after the swearing in of Air Marshal Sir James Rowland as the 33rd Governor of NSW.”

On 30 January 1981, The Sydney Morning Herald included a picture from the Government House flag tower with the caption: “Government House, Sydney, has set a new standard.  Sir James Rowland has broken with the tradition of a Union Jack, used by Governors since Phillip, and adopted a new flag.  The caretaker, Mr Ron MacKillop, raised the new flag for the first time yesterday.”

It is unclear from the records why there was a 9 day delay in raising the flag at Government House following the swearing-in of the new Governor.

Standards vs Sovereign Flags

Standards are not subject to the same protocols which apply to sovereign flags.  For example, during any period of State mourning, while flags may be flown at half mast, a Standard remains at full mast.  A half-masted Standard usually means that the person whose Standard it is has died.

SOURCE: NSW State Records, State Archive Number NRS19798/1/12, File: Governors Personal Standard – September 1975–March 1997

[1] Memorandum from RNA Wills, Official Secretary to the Governor of New South Wales, to the Secretary, Premier’s Department, 24 September 1980

[2] The Honourable R.C. Packer, Hansard, Legislative Council, NSW Parliament, 10 April 1973, p. 4582

[3] The Governor of South Australia wrote to the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs in London on 2 October 1975 seeking Her Majesty’s views on a new personal standard.  Having waited for agreement between State Governors on the subject, he noted in the letter that “I have at last run out of patience”.    Confirmation of Her Majesty’s informal approval of the proposal was received in a response dated 17 December 1975, subject to formal approval and instructions on how to receive same.  Formal approval was not received until 11 November 1976 and the new Standard used for the first time on 30 November, just four days prior to the end of the then Governor’s commission.

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