Government House and its golden-yellow flag

Robin Grow

On the eastern horizon of Southbank and on the outer edge of the Botanic Gardens, Government House (the official residence of the Governor of Victoria) sits proudly and can be seen by residents of Southbank.

Erected in the mid-1870s it was designed in the Italianate-style and constructed in stucco-rendered brick on a bluestone foundation. There had been two previous designs – one in 1853 and another in 1864 (a French Baronial style building). 

However, the estimated building costs of both were regarded as too expensive and the construction was deferred until 1871 when the Public Works Department of Victoria took up the challenge.

Construction took a long time and was finally completed in 1876. It was always controversial, and the finished house was described in The Age as a “huge pile, bald and plain to downright ugliness”. Similar comments appeared in The Argus. A few years later the stench from the polluted Yarra River was so bad that none of the windows at Government House could be opened.

The house consists of three sections: the State Apartments, which contain a dining room table that seats 54 people and is almost the length of a cricket pitch, the private apartments, and the ballroom.

It remains the largest residential building in Australia with about 240 rooms and is topped with a tower (44 metres high with a 13.7-metre flagpole). When the Governor is in residence, the golden-yellow Governor’s Standard flies over the house (with the tower illuminated at night) and at the front gates and is also flown on the vehicle in which the Governor is travelling (reputedly used by one Governor to take his Airedale terriers to the grooming salon!)

Why golden-yellow? The standard used by all Victorian Governors since 1870 had been the Union Flag with the Badge of the State emblazoned in the centre. The new design was introduced by former Victorian Governor, Rear-Admiral Sir Brian Murray, and adopted on April 18, 1984.

It was based on the Victorian State Flag, but with the blue field colour changed to “golden-yellow”, representing Victoria’s “Golden Past and Golden Future”, and the Southern Cross Stars changed from white to red, so that they can be seen against the “golden-yellow” field colour. 

The new design was approved by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in that year and has been used by all Governors of Victoria since that time. •


Caption: Government House from around 1900, courtesy of the State Library of Victoria, and the “golden-yellow flag”, courtesy of Ralph Bartlett – Secretary, Flags Australia. 

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