Let Your Freak Flag Fly!

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‘Fly Your Flag’ a classic headline from the Daily Terror yesterday (23 January 2007). It was accompanied by a thinly written article, and backed up by an online poll which had seen the Tele ‘bombarded with support for the flag as a symbol of freedom, not shame’. All this after Big Day Out producer Ken West said the Australian flag would not be welcome at this year’s Sydney event.

The phrase ‘not be welcome’ was blurred into the idea that the flag was ‘banned’ something that was never actually said.

But who cares about specifics. The Tele had a sensational story to flog. Everybody had a pony to ride.

Suddenly John Howard, Kevin Rudd, Morris Iemma and every blogger and pundit within vomiting distance were defending the flag and the freedoms it symbolised.

Get a life!

If any one of these people had had to suffer drunken and drugged yobbos at last year’s Sydney Big Day Out, draped in ‘the Aussie flag’ and menacing people, demanding they kiss some shoddy bit of sweated on and beer-stained material to ‘prove’ how Australian they were … well they might look at that red, white and blue cloth a little differently.

These are the facts: in the wake of the Cronulla riots last year the Australian flag at the Big Day Out in Sydney was a provocative and intimidating thing. West was right to be concerned about this warped new streak of nationalism among young people and the ‘gang culture’ and ‘racism’, as he put it, that it signifies.

That’s quite apart from the practicalities of managing a major event where aggressive and out-of-it fools hold flags the size of banners over their heads, obscuring views and daring anyone who might complain to expose their un-Australian natures and be punished for it.

Kiss your flag? Kiss my arse!

This flag worship, this pseudo-patriotism among the young is a weird phenomenon soaked in two-bit Gallipoli sentimentality, spiced with anti-Middle Eastern and anti-Asian prejudices, accelerated by the increasingly intolerant nature of Australian society under John Howard’s prove-you’re-an-Aussie worldview. Face it, this country is in big trouble and lording the virtues of the flag is not going to help it.

I would guarantee that not a single one of the people who carries the flag into the Big Day Out could tell you a thing about the Eureka Stockade, Kokoda or Changi. That not a one would have a clue who Curtin or Chifley or Menzies were let alone Vincent Lingiari. That not a one gives a goddamn about the deep matters of Australian history. But that many are happy to be bullies and idiots under the dribbling thrill of so-called national pride.

If this kind of mob mentality was being anticipated at the ANZAC Day commemorations held at Gallipoli in Turkey, the shame of it would be unbearable. Any ANZACs who were fit and able to would tear the flag from their hands. Truth is, we are already struggling with the same type of drunken and disrespectful yobbos at that precious event overseas.

What’s weird for a 46-year-old like me is trying to imagine why anyone young would turn up to the BDO with a flag hanging from their shoulders in the first place. A flag t-shirt maybe, some art work on the forehead, okay (young people get drunk, so there you go, whack it on your forehead if you must) but something so big it’s more suited to invading Iraq?

It’s been said before but a true patriot should not have to love his or her own country like an obedient dog. A patriot should be able to question it, challenge it, even attack it in the name of what is right. Some of the greatest patriots have done just that.

His life might not depend on it, but for want of a better description Ken West is a genuine patriot in that mould. He’s right to be concerned about the flag and how it’s been put to perverted uses at his event. He’s right to be worried about how the BDO could become a hot spot like Cronulla.

After all, we’re dealing with 60,000 young people in Sydney, many drinking, many taking drugs, in high summer temperatures, with high-energy music pushing the adrenalin along, with most of that crowd constantly on the move between multiple stages. This is not a bunch of people sitting on their eskies eating pies and good naturedly singing ‘Aussie Aussie Aussie! Oi Oi Oi!’ The situation is intense and highly mobile. It is a feat of crowd management.

West can see the writing on the wall. And he actually cares what might happen. A decade ago, I remember running into him at a party. We talked about how the BDO was getting bigger and bigger, the stresses it involved for him, even back then; how he’d started releasing large numbers of tickets on the day to try and prevent all the stupid things young people would do to get in, scaling fences, doing anything to the point where they risked injury and death. West was worried about the craziness. He cared about what might happen.

After Jessica Michalik was crushed to death in the crowd in 2001 — something that clearly devastated West — and after the palpable nastiness in the air at last year’s BDO, of course West is going to try and limit any situation that might provoke something bad. That’s his job.

So this year he has sought to discourage people bringing flags into the event as a matter of common sense, to prevent views being obscured and to give thugs one less pretext for bullying and violence.

Now the Daily Telegraph is waging its ‘support the flag’ campaign and all the politicians and pundits are climbing aboard lest they miss the patriot boat. Well let’s see how this year’s BDO goes in Sydney. Let’s pray there’s no flag-related trouble. Let’s hope the provocations by the Tele and others don’t escalate into something ugly.

My own solution is for people to bring a flag of any kind — other than the obvious one — small, little freak flags that are witty, beautiful, strange, whatever. It’d be a lot more rock ‘n’ roll and alternative, that’s for sure.

And a lot more fun for everyone.

New Matilda

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