Salute The Flag, Don't Change It


It always makes me happy when I hear someone say, “We should change the Australian flag”, because then I know to report that person to ASIO.

There is something magical about the Australian flag. Beautiful yet unpretentious, proud yet humble, blue and white and red yet not green or yellow or pink. It flies above our great nation like the mighty dragon’s-head prow of a Viking longship. But just as the good Vikings, who pulled their weight on the oars and ate only their fair share of herring, were let down by their shiftless Norse brethren, who lounged around in the stern and kept claiming their backs hurt too much to pillage, so are we who believe in this country let down by those who wish to tear the dragon’s head off our flagpole and replace it with something even more questionable than this metaphor.

It’s amazing that in this day and age, when we are confronted as a nation with actual, real problems, like sexy toddler underpants and Kyle Sandilands, there are still people who want to urinate on our national identity by demanding we change the flag. People like serial patriotism-defuser Peter Fitzsimons, a man who is known to have spent a large portion of his life pressing his face against other men’s thighs, yet who presumes to lecture actual citizens on what they should choose to have flapping about in the sky.

People who would rather write a thinkpiece about public transport than do an honest day’s work fighting Afghan insurgents. People who hate everything about this country, and therefore want to tear down all that makes it great, in particular, its bits of fabric.

Luckily we have Julie Bishop, who has, not for the first time, proven herself to be technically conscious, in a recent interview with the BBC in which she made it quite clear that there were no plans to change the flag, and that most REAL Australians like it that way.

Bishop, like most Liberals, just feels the essence of Australianness deep in her numerous bones. She knows we are a proud, upstanding people, who bend the knee to nobody, and who wouldn’t let any outsider tell us what we should have on our flag. Especially not outsiders who live here.

Let me explain why the flag is so special to us. First, let’s have a look at it. It has a blue background, which is obviously important – ever since Federation, blue has been the colour of Australia’s sky, among other things, like water and dolphins. No other country on earth has combined water, sky and dolphins in so impressive a way throughout history, and no other country on earth represents that so perfectly on its flag. I mean yes, other countries have blue on their flags, but it probably represents something pretty stupid for them.

Next, we have the stars: the Southern Cross, a configuration of five stars symbolising Melbourne's most modern railway station; and the Federation Star with its seven points – one for each of the six states, and an extra one for Rupert Murdoch. These stars are a perfect way for the flag to express the average Australian’s love of astronomy.

But of course the background and the stars are really just a side dish, the potato rosti of the dish that is the flag, when compared to the delicious rabbit terrine of the Union Jack. This is the beating heart of our flag, and in many ways the beating heart of our country.

The Union Jack tells us five main things about our country:

-We were formed through the unification of England, Ireland and Scotland -As a nation, we revere the top left-hand corner -We are a knockabout informal people, preferring not to go with the more technically correct “Union John”. -Australians are mad for crosses of various kinds -We love a mash-up

The fact is, though there are some who carp and whine about the Union Jack being an archaic symbol of a colonial past that we are surely mature enough to put behind us, it isn’t and we’re not, and we don’t want to be. Fact is, the colonial past was pretty cool. There were gold-diggers, and rebellions in stockades, and dudes drinking rum all the time and yanking other dudes from under their beds just for a laugh. The colonial past was a lot more fun than the post-colonial present, which is absolutely full of red carpet slideshows.

What’s more, we owe a LOT to our British forebears. Without the Brits, Australia wouldn’t have all those wonderful things that today we take for granted, like parliamentary democracy, hot chips, and white people. The men who brought that Union Jack across the seas built our cities, forged our laws, shot our wildlife.

Shouldn’t the flag at least pay lip-service to that? After all, America and India didn’t keep the Union Jack on their flags, and frankly they seem pretty unhappy most of the time. Is it really so wonderful to sever ties with your mother country? Like the old saying goes, cutting apron strings just leaves you with sauce on your pants.

But it’s not just the fact that Britain is objectively a better country than any other that makes our flag so important. It’s also the fact that our diggers fought for that flag. And that is on the record: look it up on any microfiche you like. Apart from the ones when they didn’t, the Australian Defence Force fought every war in our history under the exact flag we have today.

And don’t think it’s just a coincidence: ask any veteran and they’ll tell you how important the flag was to their decision to fight. If it’d been a different flag, they’d most likely have stayed at home and joined a union. Take this entry from the diary of Pvt Cyril Flakers, September 1915, as he sat in a Dardanelles trench:

"Conditions worsening, rations running low, enemy bombardment taking a heavy toll. All my mates are dead or maimed beyond recognition, and maggots are even now devouring my feet. It is difficult to maintain hope in such a hell on earth. If it weren’t for the fact the flag was so stylish, I’d probably chuck the whole thing in, but those crosses are so neat and well-drawn I can’t help but feel this whole bally thing is worth the fight."

Now I don’t know what the traitorous flag-haters’ movement wants to replace our current design with – presumably a hammer and sickle, or a picture of Sarah Hanson-Young slitting Don Bradman’s throat or something – but I can guarantee you this: it will never reach the giddy heights of graphic design that inspired so many thousands of fit young men to fight and die for fairly vague reasons. To encourage that kind of suicidal patriotism you need a REAL flag, a flag that stands for honour and integrity and the establishment of a remote and inhospitable facility where the marginalised detritus of a brutal empire can be safely discarded in order to safeguard the standard of living of the upper classes.

That’s the flag we’ve got – it tells the story of Australia, and it leaves out the boring bits. And you can pry that flag from my cold, dead, white hands.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.