Time you hit the road, Jack

The Australian, 6 October 2000, p.13.

By Harold Scruby
Harold Scruby is the executive director of Ausflag

As a self-respecting nation, we need a flag that represents us all

According to John Howard the Sydney Olympic Games have put back the cause of those who want to change the flag by a generation. Implicit in this remark is an acknowledgment that a new flag is inevitable. Like the republic, he knows it′s not a matter of if but when.

Howard has confused Australians waving the flag with Australians liking and preferring the design of the flag. Many Australians will wave the present flag simply because it is the flag, even if they don′t like it. Those who really dislike it have been moved to wave something else or nothing at all.

Morgan opinion polls reveal that most Australians want a new design for the national flag, increasing from 27 per cent in 1979 to 52 per cent in 1998. The Australian flag should be the paramount symbol of unity, yet it remains unequivocally divisive.

Several significant symbols and events emerged during the Games. The boxing kangaroo, a cartoon flag but one that is undeniably unique and distinctively Australian, frequently equalled the number of Australian flags being waved. Yet no overseas visitors saw the need to fly alternative symbols.

The Australian team wore a uniform featuring the Southern Cross devoid of the Union Jack. In fact the British part of the Australian flag was remarkably absent from all the Australian Olympic Committee uniforms and costumes, and rarely appeared in the opening and closing ceremonies. This is because we know instinctively there′s something wrong with our flag, even if we have difficulty acknowledging it.

Juan Antonio Samaranch specifically congratulated our indigenous people in both his opening and closing speeches, and the main themes of the opening and closing ceremonies were the recognition of our indigenous people and reconciliation.

In 49 seconds, Cathy Freeman united Australia and accelerated the spirit of reconciliation. So why did Freeman, a director of Ausflag, feel compelled to again carry the Aboriginal flag?

In a moving speech in January 1998, Lowitja O′Donoghue summed it up perfectly: "Our national flag should be a symbol of our national ideals and of the people we want to be. We regard ourselves as independent, individual and inclusive - but our existing flag, our national symbol, says none of this.

"Instead, it symbolises a narrow slice of our history including a significant period when the rights of Australia′s indigenous people were overlooked. For this reason, most of Australia′s indigenous people cannot relate to the existing flag. For us, it symbolises dispossession and oppression.

"We are a country that prides itself on diversity and tolerance, yet some of us cling to a flag that represents a monoculture and intolerance. We are a country that has debated important national issues such as justice, rights and identity, yet the current flag symbolises quite the opposite - complacency, dependency and subordination."

Echoing the feelings of most indigenous Australians, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, in 1997, declared true reconciliation could not be achieved while the Union Jack remained on the Australian flag.

The black and indigenous athletes from nations such as Canada, the US and South Africa all competed without boxing beavers, eagles or gazelles. They needed no indigenous flags because they all competed under their own flags.

The Olympic Games have graphically illustrated the absurdity of Australians winning medals under the flag of Britain. How often did we see Australian athletes with nothing but a Union Jack visible over their shoulders?

And how frequently was our flag confused with the colonial flags of other Olympic competitors, such as the Cayman Islands, Cook Islands, Fiji, New Zealand, Bermuda and the British Virgin Islands, let alone the NSW flag, all of which also flaunt nothing but the Union Jack, unless there′s a stiff breeze. We′ve been truly Union Jacked-off.

Even though we have just staged the best Olympic Games in history, how can others not see us as anything but a colony still clinging to the bosom of a long lost empire?

Perhaps there is a subliminal reason for the collapse of the Australian dollar. We have a strong and healthy economy, yet we are seen as an old-economy. Why not, when our primary symbol reflects the image of a subordinate colonial British branch office? If you dress up like a child, you′ll be treated like a child. And you′ll get sixpence for your shilling.

The call for a new flag will continue to increase until our flag can honestly satisfy the following criteria: is it unambiguously Australian; is it the flag of a mature, sovereign, independent nation; does it represent all of us equally; does it truly reflect who we are and what we want to be? The present Australian flag fails all these tests.