Flying at full mast

Words by Emily Burkhardt
Art by Kristen Wynne

It’s safe to say that Aussies are a pretty patriotic group of people.

If the recent show of support at the 2018 Commonwealth Games is anything to go by, we know how to represent! But, something that has always flown under the radar when it comes to Aussie pride is the Great Flag Debate. For those of you who aren’t up to date in the world of flags, this referred to a national conversation that questioned whether we needed to make a change to our national flag.

It essentially boils down to this; on one hand, you have the ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,’ group who believe the current flag is doing a good job of reflecting the nation. On the other hand, you have the ‘It’s about damn time for a change’ group who believe a new and improved design would represent Australia in 2018 a whole lot better.

If you’re still confused, let’s examine the current champion and see where the potential problems pop up.

Our current flag is a dark blue background with three major elements: The Union Jack, Southern Cross and Commonwealth Star. In the top left-hand corner sits the good old Union Jack. As the official flag of the United Kingdom, this reflects our British colonial settlement roots. Sitting underneath Mr Jack in the bottom left-hand section is the white Commonwealth Star. Also called the Federation Star, the 7 points are meant to represent the 6 states and 1 territory that were unified into the Commonwealth of Australia at the time of Federation. They didn’t forget the ACT, it just wasn’t a thing yet. Lastly, the right side of the flag is home to the Southern Cross. A 5-star constellation that can only be seen in the southern hemisphere, this was meant to symbolise Australia’s geographic position.

As lovely as all this symbolism is, there are many people who believe this representation of our country has become old-fashioned and problematic. Let’s be real, our flag isn’t really that unique. If you aren’t paying too much attention, you could accidentally mistake the flag for our trans-Tasman neighbours New Zealand. The Canadians did in 1985, when Prime Minister Bob Hawke visited Ottawa. So, it’s possible.

Other reasons for change are that it still highlights our connection to Britain, even though we aren’t technically governed by them anymore. The current flag also doesn’t acknowledge our Indigenous people at all. Basically, in terms of representing our sovereignty, nationhood and modern identity, this flag kind of sucks.

But, why all the fuss? It’s ridiculously easy to dismiss a flag as just a weird jumble of colours. What is it about these pieces of cloth that makes them so bloody important? For one, flags are a way for a country to represent itself in a symbolic form. They reinforce a national identity and define the character of a nation. At their core, flags represent us and the way we want to be represented to the rest of the world.

Flag change advocates want something that has encompassed what Australia truly is; and a popular front-runner is the Aboriginal flag. It was designed in 1971 by Indigenous artist Harold Thomas and declared an official Flag of Australia in June 1995. The flag is made up of a black top, red bottom and yellow circle in the middle. The black half represents the Aboriginal people, while the red half represented the earth of Australia. The large yellow circle in the centre represented the sun; giver of life and protector.

So, is the Aboriginal flag a better alternative to our current boring British centric one? I don’t know.

They represent different parts of our heritage, so they should both be a part of any potential alterations. Harold Thomas stated in a 1994 interview with the Sydney Morning Herald that the Aboriginal flag “stands on its own”. He didn’t want his creation to be a replacement for anything else.

If this one bows out of the race, what are our other options?

It’s not unheard of for national flags to change over time, but whether it’s a train Australia wants to 100% get on, is another story entirely. It’s quite difficult to represent an entire nation on a piece of cloth; and whatever decision we do or don’t make, someone’s going to be pissed. It’s a big call, and one that all Australians need to get behind if our flag situation is ever going to change.

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