Is It Time For A New Australian Flag?

Some say yes and some say no to a new Australian flag. There are countless arguments for and against this discussion, especially when Australia Day comes around each year and Australians reflect on what our country and flag mean to us.

Our current flag was chosen through a national competition in 1901. 32,823 entries were submitted and a panel of judges declared five entrants who presented similar designs as the winners. That was a while ago. As someone who is lucky to live in an Australia in a time where there are world class facilities and a multicultural population, sometimes I wonder: does our current flag truly represent Australia today?

Sometimes a flag unites us, and sometimes a flag divides us.

Sometimes a flag unites us, and sometimes a flag divides us | Weekly Photo Challenge: Circle.

There is a blue ensign and red ensign; under the Flags Act 1953 the former was officially chosen as our national emblem. The symbolic elements making up the Australian flag are the:

  • Union Jack (top left): acknowledges British settlement from 1788-1850
  • Commonwealth / Federation Star (bottom left): its seven points represent the unity of our states and territories
  • Southern Cross (right): a constellation that can only be seen in the southern hemisphere, a reminder of Australia’s geography

Some say Australia needs a new flag because the current one does not wholly represent the values and progressive identities of our country in recent times. Australia has evolved as a nation since the end of British colonial era, and those who defended Australia during times of conflict did so not for a flag, but for a country. Today, we are an independent country governed by a democratically elected government and migrants are a significant makeup of the population – so the relevance of the Union Jack today is questionable.

This is exactly the sentiments of my blonde haired Australian colleague, Simone. The other day at work, someone propped a mini Australian flag in my stuffed monkey Mr Wobbles’ hands. Simone saw this scene and exclaimed, “I don’t understand why he has to be so patriotic! I hate it!” According to her, not all cultures of which want to be paraded under the Union Jack.

A flag we raise should be a flag we believe in. Aboriginal flag flying high in the city of Melbourne.

A flag we raise should be a flag we believe in. Aboriginal flag flying high in the city of Melbourne.

The symbolism of the Australian flag is arguably lost on us today. A flag is a marker of who we are, who and what we stand for. Consequently, Australia needs a flag with distinctive symbols that we identify with as a nation. The kangaroo, boomerang, koala, golden wattle, emu and opal are just a few proudly recognised icons by many as uniquely Aussie and featured during numerous national and international political, entertainment and sporting events. In addition, Canada did away with the Union Jack on their flag in 1965 and New Zealand are in the process of holding referendums to decide if it will replace their flag.

A flag that we proudly raise and wave is a flag that we believe in. Perhaps it’s time Australia had a flag which is symbolic of where we are going, recognising its First Peoples, Indigenous Australians and multicultural communities moving forwards as a nation. A recent poll shows more than half of Australians support a republic. A change of flag colours is seemingly apt in order to encourage equality and national unity as we move away from being a constitutional monarchy: the current colours and elements of the flag are reminiscent of a bygone era, disregarding the stolen generation and rightful owners of Australian land.

However, there are reasons to stick with the current flag. The Union Jack signifies a significant moment in Australia’s history; we would not be where we are today if not for the past. Everyday Australians designed the current flag; fair say, fair go, as can be said. But apart from the fact that that was decades ago, national identity is constantly changing.

A flag can bring us closer together, and encourage cultural tolerance.

A flag can bring us closer together, and encourage cultural tolerance.

It is worth wondering about the degree of respect that we have for national flags. While in high school in Singapore, my class attended compulsory assemblies every morning and watched the Singapore flag being raised as the national anthem played. In the month leading up to the city’s national day, locals are encouraged to display the country’s flag outside their homes and businesses. In Singapore, the national flag is treated with utmost pride, not something to be paraded about casually.

In contrast growing up in Australia, I didn’t see the Australian flag much at school except during weekly or monthly assemblies. Come Australia Day, many of us drape the flag over our shoulders as we celebrate the day with BBQs and wear flip-flops, shorts and bikinis decorated with the flag design on them – a more colloquial fashion of expressing reverence towards a flag.

In a sense, Australia’s current flag is associated with racism. Aside from disregarding the First Peoples, our flag is often used as a barrier or shield against another race: for instance, protestors at the Reclaim Australia rallies wore homemade flag masks, clashing with fellow Australians. Also, while the Aboriginal flag and Torres Strait Islander flag are official flags of Australia, they are raised seconded to the national flag. Then there is also the Boxing Kangaroo flag, often waved around at sporting events we participate in. Different flags for different occasions in Australia.

There are other ways to show patriotism, love and respect for a country instead of through a flag. Voting, don’t do crime and volunteering in the community are a few examples. But expressing patriotism through a flag and standing united (waving the flag together, watching it being raised) for our country is something special: that’s when we put our differences aside. As Barack Obama said:

“In the face of impossible odds, people who love (a) country can change it.”

Each of us should know better the flag we are waving.

Each of us should know better the flag we are waving.

A few days after Simone’s outburst, I put Mr Wobbles on her desk with the mini Aussie flag in his hands. Went back to my work. Some hours later I walked by and saw the flag gone, no where to be seen. Simone must have had a fit and ripped it away from the monkey. Mr Wobbles looked crestfallen but I don’t blame my colleague.

Each of us Australians, no matter where we are from, need to know better the flags we wave. Designing a new Australian flag is a whole other discussion. It’s time we get started on that.

Are you proud of your country’s flag?

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205 thoughts on “Is It Time For A New Australian Flag?

  1. Great post and an important topic! I see both sides of the discussion, and there will always be one when something might be changed. There are much feelings involved in this.
    I am very proud of the flag of my country, and all the countries I have lived in. We use the norwegian flag a lot! For birthdays, deaths, national celebrations, and some use it on their clothes everyday (as it is a brand), and some have up a flag everyday. However, as in Australia it is mostly used for speical events.

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    • Talking about flags of your country is indeed a sensitive topic. Politics can either bring out the best or worst in us sometimes. It is interesting to hear the Norwegian flag used for so many occasions. Sounds like the country is proud of their flag, and many can identify with the meaning behind it.

      In the case of Australia, maybe some of us are too laid-back to pay attention to our flag.

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  2. An interesting proposition Mabel – didn’t realize NZ was considering a change. I must say aesthetically I really like the Aboriginal flag, and the current flag is a bit British for me. But hey, I live in the US so I’m good with whatever you Aussies decide!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Very thought-provoking post, Mabel. We were fortunate to experience Australia Day when living there and see the outpouring of differing sentiments which are understandable.Very well-written and I like the way your wove Mr. Wobbles into the story.

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    • Thanks, Jane. I hope you enjoyed Australia Day when you were here. It is a public holiday on this day in the summer too – and certainly a lot of us like to take advantage of the warm weather and go out and about.

      Mr Wobbles is delighted you took notice of him!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. New Zealand is also a multi cultural country like Australia. NZ spent NZ$26 million on the flag change that many Kiwis see as unnecessary. Many believe that the $26 million is better spent else where.

    Should Australia follow this road?

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  5. I do believe the flag of one nation should represent all cultures, ethnics and beliefs inside it. Especially in nations where diversities are the major part of their heritage and population. It is the time when we should reconsider the invisible boundaries between people who live in the same land but have different origins. What they contribute to the land they are living in are much more important than their distinctive appearances. With love, Mabel ❤

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    • So well said, Khan. Each of us deserves to be respected regardless of our race in any given country. Totally agree with you a national flag should be representative of this, or at the very least symbolise the essence of a diverse country if that’s the case.

      Don’t know if Australia will have a flag that we can all agree on. We are a very culturally diverse country with very different opinions. But who knows.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Great post for the time of year Mabel. The flag is quite tainted for me now because of how it’s used by racist people, but to be honest I’ve never felt very attached to it. Maybe I would if I found it more aesthetically attractive & more representative of our population. As you point out, we can express love of country in many ways other than draping ourselves in a flag. I think the time to change the flag would be if – when – we become a republic, but I find it hard to imagine us all reaching agreement on a new design.

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    • Like you, I don’t feel too attached to the Australian flag. I wonder if we will ever become a republic. There are so many divided views on this, not to mention a lot of resistance too. I’d imagine the new Australian flag will pay homage to the First Peoples. Perhaps we have to work hard towards stamping out racism before this can become a reality.

      I’ve wanted to write this pots for more than a year now. Am very glad a level-headed discussion has been going on here about this sensitive topic. A great community here. But it seems to be the complete opposite on my blog’s Facebook post on this.

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      • I just went & had a look – you did get some nasty comments on FB 😦 I guess it proves your point about having to stamp out racism.

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        • They are rather opinionated comments. Then again, we live in an era where freedom of speech is championed. You are right – we have to stamp out racism and advocate for equality. On a side note, it is interesting to see that most of the comments are from men.

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          • Interesting how they leap to attack rather than debate though – a pity people can’t keep an open mind – not to mention can’t see how they’ve been manipulated by the whole Australia day hype. Anyway, at least you are getting better comments on the blog.

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            • Some of us are resistant towards change because they are happy as things are. Fair enough. But one opinion doesn’t mean it will benefit the rest of us. Perhaps one day there will be a more civilised discussion of the Australian flag on a larger scale.

              Liked by 1 person

  7. Hi Mabel, Yes, I’m very proud of the Union Jack as the national flag of the UK, but I’m also equally proud of the Welsh flag (being I am from Wales). Although the United Kingdom has its own flag, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland also have their own flags. I have no problem with Austrailia wanting to change their national flag, but I believe it will take some time for the whole world to recognise any change.

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    • It is interesting to hear that countries in Europe have their own flags. Sounds like you have no problem being proud of two flags. Good on you since you can identify them both. You are right. It will probably be a long time before Australia will change our flag. There are many Australians who are all for the Union Jack on our flag, for their own reasons.

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  8. Simone needs to get over herself…she appears quite content to inflict her views on you but unable to offer you the same courtesy…the flag is a symbol of your nation…unless you want to get into playing musical flags at the whim of the government and lobbyists, the catalyst for changing the flag should be a significant change in the nation e.g. if it becomes a republic, or when WA is all hollowed and collapses in on itself (if yoyu have to reduce the stars by one, you might as well consider the backdrop at the same time)…

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    • “the catalyst for changing the flag should be a significant change in the nation” Very well said. A flag is often a symbol of pride and it holds significant meaning, especially around the time that it came to be created. There are quite a number of Australians who are supportive of a republic, but also quite a few who are against that. Only time will tell if we do change our flag.

      Liked by 1 person

      • We’ll I’ve always been pretty vocal about it, Mabel 🙂 I think nationalism, just like casteism and other similar forms of groupism is a doctrine that undermines the solidarity of the working class across the world. ‘Pride for ones nation’ has always diverted attention from the real issues affecting people and that has always worked in favour of the powers that be. 🙂

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        • That is such an important point. Often there are a myriad other issues that are more pressing than nationalism. Crime, education and homelessness are just some of them all over the world. Maybe as we work together on these issues, one day we will all have a more liberal view on pride and national unity.

          Liked by 1 person

  9. As someone who tends to favour things as they are rather than change them for the sake of change, I’m fine with the flag as it is. Maybe that’s just my British background talking, but I do know that the British as a civilisation have done some great things in the history of the world and that’s something worth remembering and celebrating.

    However! I know that there have also been many shameful and terrible episodes in the history of the British Empire too both in Australia and abroad, and I’m all too conscious of the fact that many find this heritage difficult to cope with and I’m sensitive to that as well. As someone of Chinese descent, I look at the recent history of China and consider it with much shame and disappointment, and likewise wish there were some aspects of that we could change for the better today.

    In the end, though, I consider that people and nations are constantly changing, developing. If we were to change the Australian flag today for the reason that it would be ‘more relevant’, I can’t help but think that sometime later such a flag would again no longer be as relevant as it once was. Where does one draw the line? If we were to change on a whim, one could argue that we should change flags all the time as one changes their clothes.

    If the flag were to change, I think I could accept it – after all, there are far more consequential things to be concerned about and fight for. But if we were to change it, I would hope that we do so with very good reason, and not just because it’s ‘in vogue’ to do so.

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    • The discussion around the Australian flag and whether it should be changed is always thought-provoking. You pondered an intriguing thought there, “I can’t help but think that sometime later such a flag would again no longer be as relevant as it once was”. All flags are based on a particular moment in time, chosen in a particular moment in time and chosen by a particular generation. Will the future generations identify with it? Will the future generations feel indifferent towards history? It is different for each country.

      As for Australia, I think the debate surrounding our flag will go on for quite a while. Pride and heart is what some of us have towards a flag. I’m quite interested to hear what multicultural and migrant groups have to say in regards to the current Australian flag. Completely understandable that because of your background that you feel a bit of an affinity to it.

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  10. As I was reading this article, a thought experiment came to me.

    Imagine Jesus Christ and Achilles. Change nothing about them except to make them Australian. How do you think they’d answer the question of changing the flag?

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  11. I agree that patriotism can be shown and felt with more than the flag alone! In fact, a flag should be a symbol of what the country stands for, for where it’s headed and where it sees itself a few decades from now. Yes it helps to have elements in the flag that remind you of the past. The Indian flag is designed to encompass elements of secularism and when I look at the flag in inspired by all the stories of the freedom struggle, of which my grandpa was also a part, and the National anthem brings tears to my eyes. But that doesn’t make me a nationalist or a patriot. That’s merely the respect the flag instills in me!

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    • So interesting to hear what the symbols of the Indian flag represents. From what I hear about India, it is such a diverse country with many, many different Indian communities and cultural practises. “that doesn’t make me a nationalist or a patriot” I think that is very important to remember. Just because we align ourselves with a certain patriotic emblem doesn’t mean we automatically belong and see ourselves s part of a certain group of society. Very well said.

      Liked by 1 person

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