Excuse me Mr Howard, but that flag is best hanging in a museum

The Sydney Morning Herald, 10 October 2000.

By Peter Fitzsimons

The Australian flag was hauled up on numerous occasions at Olympic medal ceremonies, but who could tell it was ours?

Let′s let the Prime Minister speak, and then we′ll go him, OK? (Respectfully, of course, but let′s go him all the same!)

Mr Howard was quoted in the Sun-Herald on the subject of the popularity of the Australian flag during the Games, and I would ask the Honourable Member for Bennelong to repeat those remarks now ...

"Nobody was the least bit ashamed to wear it, they could tell it was ours and nobody else′s," the Prime Minister said. "The irony of this whole thing is that those who wanted to change the flag have argued that it was embarrassing to have a flag at the Games that contained the Union Jack. Yet the Olympic Games have given our flag the greatest international display it′s ever had and therefore made it more recognisable than ever before - and in the process removed the argument to change it...

"Somebody said to me at the Games that the Union Jack was part of our history - people accept that now." Order! Order! Or-bloody-da! Thank you, Prime Minister.

Now, I′ll go first, and then the rest of you can either silently nod your head in agreement, or otherwise send a letter to the editor saying I am a complete and utter disgrace and you can′t for the life of you work out why the Herald would print such drivel, signing it "Jack from Wombat Flats". Either way, let′s at least talk about it!

The first point is the easiest to knock out. Of course those displaying the flag weren′t ashamed about it, otherwise they wouldn′t have been doing so in the first place! And maybe they could tell the flag they were waving was ours and nobody else′s, but I certainly bloody well couldn′t.

How many of us scanning the flags as they lined up together during the opening ceremony got ours mixed up with the Kiwis′ for starters! (Fortunately our trans-Tasman cousins didn′t trouble the scorer too often when it came to hauling up flags for the medal ceremonies, but otherwise it could have been a big problem there too.)

And did you ever see anything more wretched than those caps with the Australian flag upon them, entirely dominated as they were by the unmistakably British Union Jack?

Yes, the Australian flag got a fantastic international airing during the Games, but as a published letter I read somewhere pointed out, such was the patriotic atmosphere we would have waved it had it been bearing the motif of an outdoor dunny! (Come on, stop screaming for a moment and admit it, you know it′s true.)

And actually, Prime Minister, the prominence of the flag during the Games changes not one jot the argument.

"I love your flag," US comedian Jerry Seinfeld said when he visited here a while ago. "Britain at night." And thank you, too, Jerry. For of course, what the flag projects to the world is the clear message that we see ourselves as a part of Britain beneath the Southern Cross. And I, for one, bloody well don′t.

That might have been who we were when Sir Robert Menzies did but see her passing by, but surely since then we have moved beyond such an embarrassingly deferential stance.

And when you write your letters, please state, HONESTLY, what you would think if the Union Jack had a map of Australia in its bottom right hand corner. If you write anything other than "simply bloody ridiculous", then I must warn you that massive points will be deducted for putting your name to big fibs.

"But it′s our history!" I hear you cry, harking to the Prime Minister′s last point. Nonsense. That is merely your history. Some 40,000 years of human occupation on this continent, of which the last .05 per cent have included Anglo stock, and suddenly it′s all of our history. Where is the history of the indigenous and the wave after wave of immigrants from places other than Britain represented on your flag?

Ain′t it obvious that if we are strong as a nation it is because we are a rich mosaic of many colourful cultures bound as one? Why then stay with a flag that asserts the primacy of just one cultural group above all others?

Enough already. Yes, the Australian flag such as it is should be revered, but only in a museum where it belongs.