Unfurl the Southern Cross

Originally published as a Letter to the Editor in The Australian 27 January 1992.

The Australian flag should be changed. The Union Jack, the flag of another nation, should be removed.

Australia and the United Kingdom are independent sovereign nations and in that status are both members of the United Nations and the Commonwealth of Nations. There should be no symbol that proclaims that Australia is still - as she was once - a dominion of Great Britain.

I am a second generation Australian of British descent. My parents were born in the UK and migrated to Australia with their respective families a century ago. I was born in North Queensland in 1904. My parents instilled in me a pride in being Australian, but also fostered in me an affectionate regard for the country of their birth and the "good old Union Jack". They referred to England as "the Old Country," and I was fortunate enough to visit it in adult life when I brought back, for each parent, village records of their respective births and other memorabilia of their childhood.

I mention these things because if one takes a stand in favour of the removal of the Union Jack from our flag, one is more often than not accused of having an anti British bias. The contrary is true, subject to my Australianism: I have, and have always had, a strong pro British bias.

At my primary school in Cairns, North Queensland, it was the Union Jack we saluted each day as it was raised and lowered. If the school knew there was an Australian flag, it didn't have one, or at least didn't fly one.

When my parents sent me to boarding school in Sydney two years into World War I, we were confronted in the dining room with a poster of Lord Kitchener, the British War Minister, pointing to the Union Jack saying: "It's your flag. Fight for it. Work for it." This did not seem strange to us since in a funny sort of way we regarded Australia as a British possession.

In my view, the Union Jack was correctly incorporated in the first flag of the new Australian nation. This occurred soon after Australia became a nation in 1901 by virtue of an Act of the British Parliament which gave us our Constitution. But this new nation was by no means an independent, sovereign nation. Although legally and constitutionally it may have had some of the trappings of independence the reality was far different. There can be no hostile criticism of this position. Great Britain was the head of the mighty British Empire and this new fledgling nation was very much dependent upon it.

In all the areas where we have become an independent nation, this has happened not only with the approval but with the painstaking assistance of the governments of the United Kingdom. This is in relation to the establishment of our navy, our defence forces, our declarations of war, appeals to the Privy Council (requiring numerous Acts within the respective Parliaments) governors-general and governors changing from British to Australian, the establishment of separate ambassadors, and the Australia Act. Under the Menzies government the Australian flag was given precedence over the Union Jack and under the Whitlam government Queen Elizabeth II became Queen of Australia.

There can be no argument advanced now, even by those who wish to retain the Union Jack in our flag – against the fact that Australia has ceased to be a colony, homeland, protectorate or dominion of Great Britain. Australia has become an independent, sovereign nation in her own right.

How can the current flag truthfully and accurately proclaim Australia's identity as a sovereign, mature, independent nation when it contains the flag of another nation in the position of dominance, both by the rules of heraldry and in appearance? The present flag has served its purpose but is now inadequate, divisive and demonstrably colonial. A new flag should be based on the Southern Cross which already forms the Australian half of the existing flag. The Southern Cross is an elegant, simple and unifying symbol which – as our own flag – would be an effective means of proclaiming Australia's identity as a nation.