Fluttering in the wind

Newcastle Herald, 27 January 2011.


© Newcastle Herald

Fluttering in the wind Joanne McCarthy IF you go to the Ausflag website you′ll get some idea why we keep having the Australian flag debate, but nothing much is happening. On the Ausflag home page you′ll read that: "A truly Australian flag must represent our nation and its people; our past, present and future; our land; our equality and diversity; our achievements; our hopes and aspirations." And all on a piece of fabric that must also look pretty when it flutters. No wonder the debate has come and gone so many times that it′s become as much of an annual event as Australia Day or Anzac Day. On Australia Day we expect to debate a new flag. On Anzac Day we expect to cling to the old. One of the problems with the current Australian flag is that it′s not ugly. The combination of colours and angles, the stars of the Southern Cross, even the Union Jack in the corner, are not displeasing to the eye. I support a republic but even I have to push myself to get worked up about the flag, despite acknowledging we should cut formal ties with Great Britain. The debate was given a new twist yesterday when 12 former Australians of the year declared their support for a new flag. The present design causes confusion overseas and embarrassment at home, according to 2010 Australian of the Year Patrick McGorry. "It′s time Australia grew up. Right now, it′s a bit like a slowly maturing Generation Y adolescent, a 27-year-old who just won′t leave home," he said. The call from the prominent 12 would have given long-time Ausflag executive Harold Scruby heart. For as long as there have been Australian flag debates, Seruby has led them. He promises a new flag that will "bring a lump to the throat, a tear to the eye", which is setting the bar rather high. Maybe we should be content with sorting out what a flag is supposed to be about, first. If a flag is supposed to say "Australia" to people overseas so that they don′t confuse us with anywhere else, or Austrians, then it has to have a kangaroo on it. Go to the far reaches of Earth - a frozen tundra, an arid desert, the densest rai nforest- produce a picture of a kangaroo and most likely it will be recognised as Australian, although one or two people might say Austrian. The Eureka flag and the red, black and ochre indigenous flag are pleasing to the eye as designs, and mean something here in Australia, but won′t have that same recognition factor overseas. But maybe that′s not what we′re aiming for here. If it′s a flag representing Australia, for Australians, then the Eureka flag, the indigenous flag or any of the green and gold combinations might do it, although personally, the green and gold will never bring a lump to my throat or a tear to my eye simply because I don′t like the colour combo. Witness how many times we′ve let fashion designers have their way with green and gold for national uniforms, and how many times we′ve cringed at the results. Lumping the flag with those colours will ensure many years of embarrassment ahead. A quick flick through national flags of the world shows we share the Union Jack in the corner with a reasonable list of other places. There′s New Zealand and Fiji, of course. But places like Montserrat, the Virgin Islands, Pitcairn Islands, Tokelau, the Falkland Islands, the Cayman Islands and the South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands also have variations of the royal blue and Union Jack that we hold so dear. And they′re all variations on a theme of British overseas territories. American comedian Jerry Seinfeld famously called the Australian flag "Britain by night", and it very neatly sums up the problem we face when we try to have the flag debate. Britain by night doesn′t sound too bad. It even sounds pretty. There′s tradition with the link to Britain, but the starry sky suggests beauty and a different view of the world. Maybe we should follow Canada′s lead. Their red and white maple leaf combination is simple and elegant, and they seem to have worked out how to put a national symbol onto a piece of fabric without turning it into kitsch. Maybe that can be "our hope and aspiration". jmccarthy@theherald.com.au
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