Lost Country: Aboriginal Flags Have Begun Flying At Half Mast Around Australia



An Aboriginal woman from Victoria is hoping that First Nations people and organisations around the nation will join her university in flying Indigenous flags at half mast, to acknowledge the grief Aboriginal people are feeling at the destruction of Country from Australia’s ongoing bushfire crisis.

Associate Professor Gabrielle Fletcher is a Gundungurra woman from the Blue Mountains of New South Wales. She’s also a Professor in Indigenous Studies and the Director of the Institute for Koorie Education at Deakin University in Melbourne.

“To lose Country, in this way, is a particular grief for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It’s a messy grief,” Associate Professor Fletcher told New Matilda.

“It’s more in sorrow than anger, it’s mourning. You could say it’s ‘Sorry business’ in a way.

Associate Professor Gabrielle Fletcher.

“As a collective, this symbolic gesture may provide somewhere for all Australians to leave parts of this despair.

“It’s also a reflection of the immense grief of guilt where we feel a kind of irresponsible helplessness – our sense of the abandonment of our cultural obligations to Care for Country.”

Deakin University is already flying the Aboriginal flag at half mast today, after a request from Associate Professor Fletcher this week to the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Iain Martin, with the gesture receiving “overwhelming” support from Deakin faculty and students.

Professor Fletcher is hoping it might spread across the nation, and that “these lowered symbolic fabrics become the message sticks for urgent change”.

Aboriginal flags at Deakin University in Victoria are flying at half mast, to acknowledge the grief Aboriginal people are feeling at the loss of country in the ongoing Australian bushfire crisis.

“Aboriginal and non-Indigenous Australians all understand that by lowering a flag we acknowledge that something has died or that something is dying. It is a symbol of mourning. There are so many people who are feeling anguish.”

Assoc Prof Fletcher said the scale of the loss felt by First Nations people was enormous, and it wasn’t just restricted to the land and its animals.

“Country moves beyond landscape, allotment, vista or wildlife as stand-alone components. It is also place, Ancestors, shadows, mist, warble, maps and vapour,” she said.

The aftermath of the fires on Kangaroo Island, South Australia, in January 2020. (IMAGE: Chris Graham, New Matilda)

“When Aboriginal People lose Country to this scale we lose Knowledge, Ways, Forms, Spirit and Healing – these are a complex interconnection, where everything has its place to teach, feel, show and speak.

“With each loss we slip further away from understanding who we are, and how we fit – this is the ultimate death in many respects.”

Assoc Prof Fletcher acknowledged there were some positives to come out of the fire crisis, beyond waking people up to the realities our nation faces.

“People are starting to recognise and acknowledge the validity and value of Indigenous Knowledges, and ways of knowing, being and doing. It’s been an uncomfortable discovery for some.”

The fires on Kangaroo Island, South Australia in January 2020. (IMAGE: Chris Graham, New Matilda)

Assoc Prof Fletcher hopes that other organisations follow suit and lower their Aboriginal flags in the aftermath of the bushfire emergency.

“I think this action symbolically describes the collective realisation that we’ve lost so much more than what can be seen and is a true wake-up call.” Professor Fletcher said.

“On behalf of the Institute of Koorie Education, I thank Deakin Vice-Chancellor Professor Iain Martin for his support in this unprecedented gesture.”

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Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the publisher and editor of New Matilda. He is the former founding managing editor of the National Indigenous Times and Tracker magazine. Chris has won a Walkley Award, a Walkley High Commendation and two Human Rights Awards for his reporting. He lives in Brisbane and splits his time between Stradbroke Island, where New Matilda is based, and the mainland.