New NSW Flag

Sydney Morning Herald Editorial, 25 November 1995, p.36.

If you were shown two flags depicting the following respective symbols, which would you pick to be the flag of NSW? The first flag contains a waratah (the floral emblem of NSW) set against a sky-blue background (the State′s commonly recognised colours). The second flag is a Blue Ensign with the Union Flag (the Union Jack) in the left-hand corner, the Red Cross of St George, golden stars on the four arms of the cross and a golden lion at its centre. If you chose the latter, you are one of the few residents of this State who is able to recognise the NSW flag.

According to a special Herald-AGB McNair Poll published on Thursday, only 12 percent of NSW people can make a reasonable fist of describing the NSW flag. The number who could accurately recollect all of the flag′s many symbols were even fewer. Recognition of the NSW flag is slightly better but is stiff poor. Only 43 percent were able to identify the NSW Flag when shown six alternatives, each of which contained a blue background and the Union Jack. When the NSW flag was designed it was meant to represent the State′s heritage and its future after Federation. The link with the past came from the Blue Ensign with the Union Flag (the flag of the Colony of NSW) and the Red Cross of St George (the badge of the former colony). The four eight-pointed gold stars on each of the four arms of the cross were meant to depict the Southern Cross, a pointer to the future, while the golden lion is the English Lion which was meant to symbolise the continuing link with Britain.

But it is surely pointless to have a State flag if so few are able to recognise it. The NSW Government could spend money on a publicity campaign to make the flag better known but this would be a questionable use of public money. A more sensible approach would be to adopt a new flag which is more identifiable and relevant. The significance of the British Lion and the Red Cross of St George must be questioned today.

A new flag should obviously have wide public appeal. A competition and perhaps a referendum would make sense. Without prejudging the outcome, it would make sense to incorporate the State′s colours in the design of the new flag since the colours have now been widely adopted by our sporting teams. And since the waratah is the most widely recognised symbol of NSW, it should also be a vital element. (The platypus and the kookaburra, the State′s animal and bird symbols, are not as well known.) The adoption of a new State flag involves none of the emotionalism that is associated with the debate over a new Australian flag. It is a reform that is long overdue.