6 February 2018Opinion
Hot on the heels of the recent “Change the Date” debate regarding Australia Day, has come the debate over flying the Australian Aboriginal Flag along side of the Australian National Flag.
NSW Labor is backing the online campaign by a young indigenous woman named Cherie Toka, to permanently have the Aboriginal Flag fly alongside the Australian National Flag and State Flag at the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Before we get into it though, lets have a brief history of both flags.
The Australian National Flag has undergone several transformations since Federation. On the first flag in 1901, the Delta Crucis star (the star on the right of the Southern Cross) and the Commonwealth Star had six points. In 1903, the Delta Crucis was changed to a seven pointed star similar to three of the other four stars. In 1909 a seventh point was added to the Commonwealth Star, and in 1953 the Blue Ensign was proclaimed the Australian National Flag and henceforth given seniority over the Union Jack.
The Aboriginal flag was designed in 1971 and was nationally adopted by Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders in 1972. In 1995 it was proclaimed a “Flag of Australia” under Section 5 of the Flags Act 1953.
The argument that the current Blue Ensign has only been our national flag since 1953 is akin to the argument that Australia Day has only been a national holiday on January 26 since 1994 — it is what it symbolises not how long it has been used.
Flying two flags representing two different people on an iconic landmark such as the Sydney Harbour Bridge would be encouraging division when we need unity. The question remains, how do we do that with a flag?
Many Australians are quite conservative when it comes to changing things of national importance. For example, the Returned and Services League of Australia (RSL) has said it will staunchly defend the current flag design because of the number of service personnel who have died defending it in the two world wars and other conflicts.
Of the 15 conflicts Australia has engaged in since Federation, nine have been officially represented by the Blue Ensign. It is understandable why the RSL is hesitant to see any change to our flag.
As of 2016, 26% of Australia’s residents were born overseas from at least 27 countries all over the world other than Britain. Along with the indigenous population, their heritage is not represented by the current Australian flag. Rather than remaining a divided nation under two flags, the logical move would be to design a flag which is representative of Australia, and of all the peoples and cultures that call themselves Australians.
The designer of the Aboriginal flag, Harold Thomas, is wary of incorporating his flag into a new national design, for example replacing the Union Jack, as he views that as secondary status. As it is his intellectual property, his approval for any such use would be dependent upon the status awarded to his design within a new flag. So, it’s not as simple as combining the two flags.
As green and gold have officially been recognised as Australia’s national colours since 1984, it may be prudent to have a national flag that incorporated such colours rather than the red, white, and blue that continues to offend the indigenous peoples and remains insignificant to a majority of migrants.
The design of a future flag has unlimited possibilities, and many websites display the ideas of talented Australians already in favour of a new flag. A new national competition similar to that held in 1901 is feasible, and Federal Parliament acting on the results of a national vote has already proven itself to be practical.
I have no argument against reconciliation between the Australian government and the Australian indigenous community and I support a more inclusive Australia. However, reconciliation does not mean “White Australia” doing all of the giving and the indigenous the taking. We need to meet each other at some point on the graph other than the origin if reconciliation is to ever truly occur. Having both sides respect one national flag would be a good indicator of success.