WHY THE FLAG SHOULD BE CHANGED
The present national flag of Australia has become an outdated symbol of the nation. It is outdated because it reflects a colonial relationship that no longer exists. The flag is a variation of the British Blue Ensign, the flag flown by colonies of the United Kingdom. Even until recently, the official government description of the flag described it as such. The Union Jack in the canton implies that Australia's ultimate allegiance lies with Great Britain. There was a time when the flag represented our place in the world, but in a post empire world this is no longer the case.
It has been said that the Union Jack on the flag reflects Australia's history. It is not to say that the Union Jack is not a great flag, indeed it is one of the finest flags in the world. But it is such a striking symbol of the United Kingdom that on the Australian flag it is not seen as history by people around the world, rather it is seen to represent Australia as being a British colony, like Gibraltar or the Falkland Islands. Often when an Australian flag is draped behind a speaker, television will capture only the Union Jack on the flag. The distinguishing Federation Star and Southern Cross are not seen. This gives no indication of Australian history, or indeed any indication of Australia at all. As Australia is no longer subordinate to the UK, the Blue Ensign is anachronistic. A new flag is needed that reflects more than just Australia's former status as a colony of the British Empire.
If the Union Jack is on the flag to represent history, then it does not represent the full history of the people of this continent. History according to the flag can only date back to the establishment of British settlement in 1788. Of course the history of Australia stretches back many thousands of years before 1788, throughout the history and culture of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. There is a growing awareness in Australia of the need for acknowledgment of indigenous history and culture. The current flag does not reflect this heritage.
Flags based on the Blue Ensign were always intended to be colonial flags. This is demonstrated by the fact that of the 54 independent nations in the Commonwealth, only four (not including Britain) now have flags based on British Ensigns. Of these, Fiji has become a republic, Tuvalu changed its flag in 1995 only to revert to the old one two years later, while the flag of New Zealand is so similar to that of Australia that the two are often mistaken for one another overseas. When under British rule, all Commonwealth nations flew flags based on the Union Jack or one of the ensigns. Many of these nations remain monarchies under Queen Elizabeth II. The adoption of new flags by these nations was done to replace colonial symbols with symbols of their newly acquired independent status. There is no question of Australia's independence, yet we still fly a colonial symbol.
Some argue that Australia's system of government comes directly from the British Westminster tradition, and that this is reflected by the Union Jack. This is partly true, but Australia's federal system also draws a great deal from the American model, particularly the concept of the Senate. Yet there is no question of featuring the US Stars and Stripes on Australia's flag. Such arguments are used to attach greater symbolism to the colonial blue flag than already exists.
It is often argued that the flag should remain unchanged as it was the flag under which Australians served in wartime. During the conflicts that Australia has been involved in since federation, the current flag was the appropriate flag to fly. In every conflict with the exception of the Vietnam War, Australia has fought alongside the British and in support of the Empire and its objectives. Australia was a part of the British Empire. The Union Jack on our flag was appropriate as it reflected this relationship.
Today, however, we no longer have such a relationship with Britain. If Britain were to go to war, Australia would not be obliged to follow as a member of the Empire. While we may well offer support to Britain as a close ally, such an alliance would be no different to that which we might share with the United States. Our flag no longer needs to show deference to Britain, or indeed to any other nation. To change the flag would not be to show any disrespect to those who have served in the past. The current flag will always be known as the flag Australians served under in the 20th century, reflecting Australia's role as part of the British Empire during this time. Should Australia enter conflict again, the flag should continue to reflect our status, but now as an independent nation responsible for its own policy decisions.
No one argues that the current flag has not served us well. However the Union Jack on the flag has become anachronistic, implying that Australia remains a dominion or colony of the United Kingdom. A post-colonial flag is needed to reflect post-colonial Australia.
Why This Design?Whether by referendum or act of Parliament, the Australian flag will not be changed without the agreement of the Australian people. Although there is significant support for a new flag, (some polls indicate between 40 and 50% support) change will not happen for the sake of it. An ill-considered design will definitely be rejected in favour of the current flag. It will be easier for the general public to support such a change if a new design is in some way familiar. With this in mind, this design maintains links with the present flag. After all it is only the Union Jack on the present flag that is the main point of contention. The Federation Star and Southern Cross are distinctive symbols, and should be retained. On this design they are the same dimensions as the current flag, and in the case of the Southern Cross, feature in exactly the same position. The dark blue field and 1 to 2 proportions also feature in the new design, providing a link with the British Blue Ensign and maintaining the sense of continuity. The Union Jack is replaced with a design bearing the official colours of Australia; green and gold.
In its most recent flag design competition, Ausflag has listed the following criteria for a new design:
- Australian identity
- Distinctiveness among the world's national flags
- Clarity of colour
- A design which will not date
- The rules of heraldry as they apply to form and colour
- Ease and cost of manufacture
- Respect for the history, institutions, and character of Australians
- A united Australia
(Source: The Australian Flag Professional Design Competition and Exhibition,
Designers' Brief - Ausflag Limited � July 1997)
This design, I believe, meets all these criteria. The flag is undoubtedly Australian and is distinctive among the flags of other nations. The design is unique without being radical. Only a handful of nations fly flags that are blue, green and gold. Many flags have stars but only one other (Jordan) features a seven-pointed star. Several flags feature the Southern Cross, but Australia's representation of it is unique. The wavy lines are also distinctive. The flag of Kiribati is the only other national flag to feature wavy lines, and on that particular flag they are horizontal. The design is simple, obeying the rules of heraldry. In this case the colours, green and blue are separated by a metal, gold, while the Federation Star is given the position of honour in the canton. As it uses many elements of the current flag, it would also be comparatively easy to manufacture.
The use of curves in this flag reflects Australian identity far better than the straight, bold lines of the Union Jack. When you consider great visual Australian icons; our coastlines, Uluru, the Opera House, Harbour Bridge and Parliament House, straight lines do not dominate. These and the images of Aboriginal art are constructed with curves. This new design also lends itself well to ensign form. With this in mind I have designed several ensigns based on the new design along the lines of the ensigns currently in use.
The use of indigenous symbolism has become a common theme among new flag designs. Many seek to incorporate the colours of the Aboriginal flag, often resulting in a hybrid design featuring red, black, gold and blue. Whilst I agree with this sentiment, I believe that these designs fail to produce a flag that is distinctly Australian. The Aboriginal flag is one of the most striking flags in the world. To add blue to it in a new flag is to diminish its impact and to create a colour combination that has never symbolised Australia, indigenous or non-indigenous. I believe it is better to leave the red, black and gold as a distinct symbol, and to create a new flag of universal symbolism.
The green and gold stripes meet this requirement. The image of the Dreamtime Serpent acknowledges Aboriginal heritage. At the same time, the wavy stripes are not an exclusively indigenous symbol, for example they can also be seen as a representation of Australia's warm, sandy coastline. Green and gold are the official colours of Australia and are widely acknowledged as such. They are the colours of Australia's floral emblem, the Golden Wattle that features on the national Coat of Arms. Whenever Australia is represented among other nations at sporting contests, green and gold are invariably used. The baggy green cap worn by Australian test cricketers since 1877 is a hallowed symbol. The use of the wavy lines in the green and gold colours is a merging of ancient and modern Australian symbolism.
When Should the Flag be Changed?September 3rd has been proclaimed National Flag Day by the Governor-General, marking the anniversary of the first raising of the Australian national flag in 1901. In 2000, the Sydney Olympics are scheduled to commence less than a fortnight after National Flag Day, on 15th September. The 3rd of September 2000 would therefore be the ideal time to hoist a new national flag. It would help emphasise the sense of continuity between the old and the new, as well as being a landmark event in the lead up to the games and the centenary of Federation on 1st January 2001. The old flag would be lowered, closing the chapter on Australia in the first hundred years of federation. It would be a time to reflect on Australia's achievements and losses, of emergence from the British Empire and the consolidation of independence. The new flag would then be raised ushering in the 21st century. Then, twelve days later, at the opening of the Olympics in Sydney, the flag would be proudly flown as the world looked on, Australia's new flag for a new millennium.
Return to Front Page
This site and contents - © Dylan Crawfoot 1999
Australia′s flag has changed many times. Our present flag dates from only 1953. It is usual for national flags to change from time to time as a nation evolves. The latest version of the British flag dates from 1801, that of Canada 1965, South Africa 1994, France 1848, Israel 1948, Japan 1854, Spain 1936 and USA 1960.
Australia and New Zealand are the only two major independent Commonwealth countries which retain British Ensigns as their national flags.
On 1 October 1995, the Pacific nation of Tuvalu removed the Union Jack from its national flag, partly in protest at the way Britain ignored Tuvalu′s plight in being at risk of disappearing under rising sea levels.
Ausflag believes Australia should adopt a new national flag because:
- It is not uniquely Australian. The Australian flag is virtually indistinguishable from the New Zealand flag. At a short distance the two flags are almost identical. At international events, the New Zealand flag has been raised mistakenly for the Australian flag. When Australia′s then Prime Minister, Mr Hawke, visited Ottawa in Canada in 1985 the New Zealand flag was mistakenly raised in his honour.
- As a defaced British Ensign it is an Imperial flag which signifies our subordination to Britain.
- There are over fifty sovereign nations in the Commonwealth, some have remained monarchies, some have become republics. Only two (Australia and New Zealand) still retain British Ensigns as their national flags. Fiji left the Commonwealth in 1987 and Tuvalu dropped the Union Jack from its flag on 1 October 1995. All the other Commonwealth countries have chosen flags which clearly identify their sovereignty, independence and nationhood.
- The 1900 Australian Constitution and Statute of Westminster Act (adopted by Australia in 1942) and the proclamation of the Australia Act in 1986 make it quite plain that the British Parliament has no control over the independent Commonwealth of Australia. The two systems of Government are completely separate. However, the current Australian flag implies that Australia is a colony, homeland, protectorate or dominion of Great Britain, like Hong Kong or the Falkland Islands.
- In Heraldry, the upper left hand corner of the flag (called the canton) is the position of honour. The implication is that Britain still commands our loyalty more than does Australia. The British Empire no longer exists, Australia now participates as an equal member of the Commonwealth of Nations, not as a colony, but as a sovereign independent nation.
- Some of the world′s flags are unrecognisable by many people. However, it is not so much that the lack of recognition, but the aspect of confusion which makes it so important that Australia has a flag of its own. When Australians travel abroad displaying the flag, what registers is not that others do not recognise our flag, but that they ask which part of Britain we come from. It is vital for our future development that we are perceived by our neighbours and the rest of the world as a mature nation, not as a child still clutching at its mother′s skirts.
- In 1965, Canada changed its flag from a British Red Ensign to the red and white Maple Leaf. Prime Minister Lester Pearson declared at the time "the crying need in Canada is for a patriotism that puts Canada ahead of its parts, with national symbols that encourage national unity and reflect Canada′s status as an independent sovereign nation". The Canadian Maple Leaf flag has been an unqualified success in giving Canada its own national and international identity and national pride. Some argue that the removal of the Union Jack from our flag necessarily means that we will become a republic; yet thirty years after the hoisting of the maple leaf flag, Canada remains a Constitutional Monarchy.
- Australians have not always "fought under" the present flag. The only war (undeclared) where servicemen "fought under" Australia′s current flags was the Vietnam War. The Union Jack was the only flag used on our side during the Boer War, the Union Jack was again predominant in the First World War (it being the senior flag until 1953). And there was confusion among the Union Jack, the defaced Red Ensign, and the defaced Blue Ensign. The famous Changi Flag, which flew at the liberation of Singapore in 1945 was a Red Ensign. The United Nations flag was the flag we "fought under" in the Korean War. In any event, Australians did not literally "fight under" any flag. Flags were not used in battles lest they be beacons for opposing forces.
- Also, the Australian Naval Ensign and Australian Air Force Ensign have been changed since these major wars – the Australian Naval Ensign was changed in 1967 and the Australian Air Force Ensign has been changed twice, the last change was in 1982. These changes were not considered to be disrespectful to our Naval and Air Force officers who served in wars under different flags.
- Australia changed its National Anthem from God Save The Queen to Advance Australia Fair in 1984. Our National Anthem is one of Australia′s symbols as is our National Flag. We adopted our own National Anthem without it being thought of as disrespectful to our ex-servicemen who fought wars for Australia under a different national anthem. Adopting a new national flag would be no different.