UK image guru finds flag ideas a bit limp

The Sydney Morning Herald, 9 February 1998, p.5.

By Anne Susskind

Designs for a new Australian flag are mostly the same old symbols differently juxtaposed in the hope a national identity will emerge, a British communications consultant says.

Mr John Warwicker, who is a member of Tomato, one of the world's most sought after image-making teams (whose client list includes Coca-Cola, IBM, Levis, Nike, Toyota, Volvo, Shiseido and London's Victoria & Albert Museum) is in Australia as a consultant to Melbourne's $128 million Federation Square project.

He said of the 109 designs as they appeared in the Herald last week: "They are the same tired elements being randomly shunted around a rectangle in the vague hope that a flag will emerge by design or default... Most are inert."

What was missing from all the flags, he said, was the defining fact that Australia was a dynamic, multicultural society. "For the flag to have true meaning, it is imperative that a way be found to say that. They are not looking at the make-up of society. What is unique to Australia is the mix of Australians, the human settlement and the culture... recognising its history, both British and the living Aboriginal culture, but also the other narratives, the stories that make contemporary Australia what it is.

"They are about hedging bets - the only thing we could say is we are all under the Southern Cross - but what is under the Southern Cross, and who is 'we'?" Of the flag voted first in Herald polling last week, Mr Warwicker said that while it was "way short", it was undoubtedly one of the better ones.

"I have no problem in the sense of loveliness and aesthetic. But what does it say about Australia? Is it a flag of aspiration?... What it is about is a geographical fact and a quite beautiful articulation of a geographical fact... but it's not dynamic. There's nothing at all about Australia in terms of the make up of the society."

Another strength was it used a language indigenous to Australia, in the sense of Aboriginal dots. But, "the placing of some dots around a star... are they Aboriginal dots or graphic symbols of Aboriginal dots? Is it fake? You'd have to ask Aboriginal people if they are valid or not."

The second choice, he said, had "poor graphics," the set of signs being shunted about a rectangle; the third was "Qantas", and although care and attention had been paid to the graphic shape of the kangaroo, it was not dynamic because the kangaroo was held in position by a red block on the left; the fourth was "BOAC" (a former British airline), which had had a similar '50s shape, and the fifth was "Anzac decoration".

"Five, six and seven... you could lump them together, I don't know what they're saying... [they have] the borrowed language of what people think a preconceived notion of a flag should look like."

The new South African flag, its colours representing the rainbow nation, was, he said, successful because it was about the country's people and aspirations.