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Palmer Makes Flags

Palmer Makes Flags

I stumbled across the industry of making flags back in 1981, as a 17-year-old. At that time, my father was the export manager for a large electrical company. On one of his overseas trips, he received a set of desk flags with a marble base and gold-plated flagpoles from a Saudi Arabian company. Upon his return, he proudly placed the colourful creation on the kitchen table during our family dinner and declared that this could be my future business.

Encouraged by my parents, we sourced materials and came up with a prototype of a twin desk flag presentation set featuring an Australian flag and a custom-made company flag. My mum bought me a suit and tie, and a briefcase for the samples. With my shaggy surfie hair, off I went into Collins Street, Melbourne and began selling the concept. I am sure my first couple of orders were what I call sympathy orders.

My parents moved to the Gold Coast, and soon after, I followed, driving my Kingswood, in 1985. I placed an ad in the yellow pages under Flags and Pennants, bought a second-hand sewing machine from the trading post, and received a five- minute lesson from the old Italian man. I set it up on my back porch of a rented flat at Mermaid Beach and realised that I better teach myself how to make flags. I taught myself silkscreen printing and flagpole installation. I was keen to learn and make my way on the Gold Coast.

More than 38 years later, Palmer Flags has become a unique local enterprise that stays true to its business ethos. Our legacy of quality products and good customer relationships means we still supply many of the early customers, dating back to the early days of the business.


In our shop, we have four industrial sewing machines that each have a role to play in the manufacturing process. The flag shop’s main product line is the Australian national flag, both blue and red of varying sizes, from the smallest 3⁄4 yd (45cm) up to 6yd (550cm). The demand for these hand-sewn flags is constant. Additionally, we manufacture custom boating pennants and code flags, and we also supply the local lifeguards with their red/ yellow beach flags.

The Australian red ensign flag is popular with boaties, as well as the international signal flags, both of which we keep in stock. These are also used commercially by the pontoon and barge companies. Other popular flags are those of foreign ports like the Canary Islands, Jamaica, and Panama. The courtesy flags in small sizes are also very popular. We have a good range of these, and stock the plain yellow quarantine flag required when cruising to other countries.

We are making the burgees for many of the local boat clubs, including just recently for the The Southport School (TSS) Sailing.


There is no clear rule of size for custom made flags, though generally we recommend the Australian ensign red or blue should be a flag size of one-inch per foot of boat. So if the boat is around 54ft, we can use a 1.5yd (138cm) flag.

We make our hand-sewn flags using traditional woven polyester flag bunting. We also use a 200 denier bright nylon from the U.S., which we use for the code flags, and if customers prefer the brighter colour range. Trilobal polyester (polyknit) is an alternative material we use for printed flags. It is lightweight and has a nice sheen to it. We also use this fabric for appliquéd stars on the sewn flags.

Many of the custom flags with boat names are interesting to design and manufacture. The international-flagged vessels crew who visit the store have some great flags that can challenge us a bit with measurements and proportions.

Through talking with some cruising sailors who come into the shop, we know that a Q Flag (quarantine) is required as clearance while underway flown from the starboard spreader. Also, as a show of courtesy, a small flag of the country being entered is flown.

A civil ensign denotes the nationality of the vessel. This should be flown from the stern when entering and leaving a port. Local pleasure craft are usually not required to have these flags, but are able to fly either the red or blue Australian national flag.


We now arrange for the printing of our printed flag range offsite using a local supplier. The days of me screen printing here at the shop are finished, and only recently did I dispose of all my large screens, inks and even all the classic art film (ruby) used from the early days. That day was indeed a sad moment in my life. But keeping up with modern business methods and outsourcing where possible keeps our overheads down, and ensure we will be in business for the long term.

Finding a business that supplies a customer demand is a good start, and having a unique product and/or servicing a niche market will ensure you are on the right path to success. If you provide friendly service at a competitive price, there is a much higher chance of repeat business from existing customers. And do not be afraid to work over weekends and holidays; that is all part of small business lifestyle in this country.

See you in store


By Brad Palmer

Interview by Andy Kancachian


Published in the Jan-Mar 2020 edition.



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