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The present national flag of Australia has become an outdated symbol of the nation. It is outdated because it reflects a colonial relationship that no longer exists. The flag is a variation of the British Blue Ensign, the flag flown by colonies of the United Kingdom. Even until recently, the official government description of the flag described it as such. The Union Jack in the canton implies that Australia's ultimate allegiance lies with Great Britain. There was a time when the flag represented our place in the world, but in a post empire world this is no longer the case.

It has been said that the Union Jack on the flag reflects Australia's history. It is not to say that the Union Jack is not a great flag, indeed it is one of the finest flags in the world. But it is such a striking symbol of the United Kingdom that on the Australian flag it is not seen as history by people around the world, rather it is seen to represent Australia as being a British colony, like Gibraltar or the Falkland Islands. Often when an Australian flag is draped behind a speaker, television will capture only the Union Jack on the flag. The distinguishing Federation Star and Southern Cross are not seen. This gives no indication of Australian history, or indeed any indication of Australia at all. As Australia is no longer subordinate to the UK, the Blue Ensign is anachronistic. A new flag is needed that reflects more than just Australia's former status as a colony of the British Empire.

If the Union Jack is on the flag to represent history, then it does not represent the full history of the people of this continent. History according to the flag can only date back to the establishment of British settlement in 1788. Of course the history of Australia stretches back many thousands of years before 1788, throughout the history and culture of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. There is a growing awareness in Australia of the need for acknowledgment of indigenous history and culture. The current flag does not reflect this heritage.

Flags based on the Blue Ensign were always intended to be colonial flags. This is demonstrated by the fact that of the 54 independent nations in the Commonwealth, only four (not including Britain) now have flags based on British Ensigns. Of these, Fiji has become a republic, Tuvalu changed its flag in 1995 only to revert to the old one two years later, while the flag of New Zealand is so similar to that of Australia that the two are often mistaken for one another overseas. When under British rule, all Commonwealth nations flew flags based on the Union Jack or one of the ensigns. Many of these nations remain monarchies under Queen Elizabeth II. The adoption of new flags by these nations was done to replace colonial symbols with symbols of their newly acquired independent status. There is no question of Australia's independence, yet we still fly a colonial symbol.

Some argue that Australia's system of government comes directly from the British Westminster tradition, and that this is reflected by the Union Jack. This is partly true, but Australia's federal system also draws a great deal from the American model, particularly the concept of the Senate. Yet there is no question of featuring the US Stars and Stripes on Australia's flag. Such arguments are used to attach greater symbolism to the colonial blue flag than already exists.

It is often argued that the flag should remain unchanged as it was the flag under which Australians served in wartime. During the conflicts that Australia has been involved in since federation, the current flag was the appropriate flag to fly. In every conflict with the exception of the Vietnam War, Australia has fought alongside the British and in support of the Empire and its objectives. Australia was a part of the British Empire. The Union Jack on our flag was appropriate as it reflected this relationship.

Today, however, we no longer have such a relationship with Britain. If Britain were to go to war, Australia would not be obliged to follow as a member of the Empire. While we may well offer support to Britain as a close ally, such an alliance would be no different to that which we might share with the United States. Our flag no longer needs to show deference to Britain, or indeed to any other nation. To change the flag would not be to show any disrespect to those who have served in the past. The current flag will always be known as the flag Australians served under in the 20th century, reflecting Australia's role as part of the British Empire during this time. Should Australia enter conflict again, the flag should continue to reflect our status, but now as an independent nation responsible for its own policy decisions.

No one argues that the current flag has not served us well. However the Union Jack on the flag has become anachronistic, implying that Australia remains a dominion or colony of the United Kingdom. A post-colonial flag is needed to reflect post-colonial Australia.

Why This Design?

Whether by referendum or act of Parliament, the Australian flag will not be changed without the agreement of the Australian people. Although there is significant support for a new flag, (some polls indicate between 40 and 50% support) change will not happen for the sake of it. An ill-considered design will definitely be rejected in favour of the current flag. It will be easier for the general public to support such a change if a new design is in some way familiar. With this in mind, this design maintains links with the present flag. After all it is only the Union Jack on the present flag that is the main point of contention. The Federation Star and Southern Cross are distinctive symbols, and should be retained. On this design they are the same dimensions as the current flag, and in the case of the Southern Cross, feature in exactly the same position. The dark blue field and 1 to 2 proportions also feature in the new design, providing a link with the British Blue Ensign and maintaining the sense of continuity. The Union Jack is replaced with a design bearing the official colours of Australia; green and gold.

In its most recent flag design competition, Ausflag has listed the following criteria for a new design:

  • Australian identity
  • Distinctiveness among the world's national flags
  • Simplicity
  • Clarity of colour
  • A design which will not date
  • The rules of heraldry as they apply to form and colour
  • Ease and cost of manufacture
  • Respect for the history, institutions, and character of Australians
  • A united Australia

    (Source: The Australian Flag Professional Design Competition and Exhibition,
    Designers' Brief - Ausflag Limited July 1997)
The last two points of Ausflag's criteria are most important. A new flag must respect what has come before, not just the previous flag, but the history of the nation. It should not be divisive. Despite initial opposition, Canadians soon gave widespread support to their new flag in 1965 as it was a bold symbol of their nation. Today the Maple Leaf flag is an unmistakable emblem of Canada. A new Australian flag should have the same effect.

This design, I believe, meets all these criteria. The flag is undoubtedly Australian and is distinctive among the flags of other nations. The design is unique without being radical. Only a handful of nations fly flags that are blue, green and gold. Many flags have stars but only one other (Jordan) features a seven-pointed star. Several flags feature the Southern Cross, but Australia's representation of it is unique. The wavy lines are also distinctive. The flag of Kiribati is the only other national flag to feature wavy lines, and on that particular flag they are horizontal. The design is simple, obeying the rules of heraldry. In this case the colours, green and blue are separated by a metal, gold, while the Federation Star is given the position of honour in the canton. As it uses many elements of the current flag, it would also be comparatively easy to manufacture.

The use of curves in this flag reflects Australian identity far better than the straight, bold lines of the Union Jack. When you consider great visual Australian icons; our coastlines, Uluru, the Opera House, Harbour Bridge and Parliament House, straight lines do not dominate. These and the images of Aboriginal art are constructed with curves. This new design also lends itself well to ensign form. With this in mind I have designed several ensigns based on the new design along the lines of the ensigns currently in use.

The Colours

The use of indigenous symbolism has become a common theme among new flag designs. Many seek to incorporate the colours of the Aboriginal flag, often resulting in a hybrid design featuring red, black, gold and blue. Whilst I agree with this sentiment, I believe that these designs fail to produce a flag that is distinctly Australian. The Aboriginal flag is one of the most striking flags in the world. To add blue to it in a new flag is to diminish its impact and to create a colour combination that has never symbolised Australia, indigenous or non-indigenous. I believe it is better to leave the red, black and gold as a distinct symbol, and to create a new flag of universal symbolism.

The green and gold stripes meet this requirement. The image of the Dreamtime Serpent acknowledges Aboriginal heritage. At the same time, the wavy stripes are not an exclusively indigenous symbol, for example they can also be seen as a representation of Australia's warm, sandy coastline. Green and gold are the official colours of Australia and are widely acknowledged as such. They are the colours of Australia's floral emblem, the Golden Wattle that features on the national Coat of Arms. Whenever Australia is represented among other nations at sporting contests, green and gold are invariably used. The baggy green cap worn by Australian test cricketers since 1877 is a hallowed symbol. The use of the wavy lines in the green and gold colours is a merging of ancient and modern Australian symbolism.

When Should the Flag be Changed?

September 3rd has been proclaimed National Flag Day by the Governor-General, marking the anniversary of the first raising of the Australian national flag in 1901. In 2000, the Sydney Olympics are scheduled to commence less than a fortnight after National Flag Day, on 15th September. The 3rd of September 2000 would therefore be the ideal time to hoist a new national flag. It would help emphasise the sense of continuity between the old and the new, as well as being a landmark event in the lead up to the games and the centenary of Federation on 1st January 2001. The old flag would be lowered, closing the chapter on Australia in the first hundred years of federation. It would be a time to reflect on Australia's achievements and losses, of emergence from the British Empire and the consolidation of independence. The new flag would then be raised ushering in the 21st century. Then, twelve days later, at the opening of the Olympics in Sydney, the flag would be proudly flown as the world looked on, Australia's new flag for a new millennium.

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This site and contents - © Dylan Crawfoot 1999