Flying a southern symbol that will unite us all

The Sydney Morning Herald, 29 April 1998, p.17.

By David McBride

Whether Olympic athletes wear the flag or not, we should ditch the Union Jack for a design which unites, writes David McBride, a Sydney barrister.

Why do we need a new flag? It was, after all, the banner we fought under at Gallipoli and what we waved at our numerous sporting victories over the last century. What′s wrong with it? Plenty.

As a soldier for whom a flag is more than just a clever design, but a rallying point where we might be expected to fight and die, I think we desperately need a new flag. And it must be more than a sentimental symbol of who we once were. It must be a powerful emblem of what we aspire to be.

The Union Jack is not right. I am not anti-British. I spent six years serving as an officer in the Blues and Royals, the Queen′s bodyguard, and I pledged to fight for the Union Jack and to protect the Queen. So that emblem has as much sentimental value for me as any soldier in our Army. But it doesn′t belong over Sydney Harbour, outside Australian schools or on our products. We are different.

Britain will always have a historical and ideological tie to this country. There will always be strong sporting and cultural -links between our two nations. But Britain is only our past, and only part of our past at that. We must look to the future, and it is not red, white and blue.

The Union Jack was not the flag of the hardy convicts. Settlers didn′t come to Australia to live under the Union Jack. They came here to escape it. It was the hated emblem of their jailers. The Union Jack was the flag above the miners fighting for their rights at the Eureka Stockade. It was the banner of those who came to crush them. It didn′t fly above Ned Kelly′s house, but certainly flew above his gallows.

Worst, and most important not to forget, it was the flag of the men who raped and killed Truganini′s family before they chained and photographed her.

So what do we replace it with? We need a combination of history, reconciliation and future aspirations.

Every nation already has flags of gaudy stripes and unnatural colours. Gaudy stripes often hide chequered histories.

One of the simplest and most powerful flags of modern times was that of the now defunct USSR. Almost entirely one colour, with a single, simple motif in the corner. Whatever the evils and failings of that regime it was a flag that had tremendous power - by proclaiming "we are all united as one" by an idea, a single mind-set.

The Southern Cross has been with us since the beginning and will be here long after we are one. It looks down on the "Europeans" and "Asians" in the same way it looked down on the Aborigines 40,000 years ago.

It is available for all, both rich and poor to see, and sparkles back at both the same way. It was there, on the old flag, at Gallipoli the Somme and the Kokoda track. It flew for Bradman and for Phar Lap. By keeping the Southern Cross, we keep the link with history while respectfully discarding what is no longer relevant

It is true we are not the only nation who can see it, but is there any other for whom it is such a powerful symbol? The Southern Cross is not a symbol of invasion for the Aboriginal people, as is the Union Jack.

If we use accurate Aboriginal motifs to depict the traditional Southern Cross, we represent both cultures without dividing the flag, and hence the nation, into sections. The flag pictured below, which won the most votes in the Herald competition in January has done this.

Flag Design

What′s more, we express some important ideals about the way we see ourselves. It says that the spirit of this land is something which affects us all, not just the Aborigines. This flag says "rather than fighting the forces that have lived here, longer than even the Aborigines, we acknowledge them and they are part of us all".

It says we are leaving our old cultural and religious prejudices where they belong - in the old world, and embracing our new world with both hands.

We have a chance in Australia to forge a country which is not a poor copy of Europe, but a haven which is the envy of the world. The one missing piece that would make this already great country complete is all of us trying to understand and harness the magic that′s here rather than fight against it. When we can do that we will be a great nation indeed.

This flag represents unity and simplicity. It is not the Southern Cross through Aboriginal eyes; it is the Southern Cross through Australian eyes. We all live here now and this land governs all our lives, not the other way round.

This flag doesn′t say we are one race in one corner and one race in the other. It says we are all Australians. It says we are all one and equal under the stars. It is a flag I would gladly fight for. It says we are unlike any other nation. It says we are at one with the land and our spirit is indomitable.