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Amid pride and prejudice, it’s time for a new flag

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Whenever I see a flag worn as a cape, I can’t help thinking of those Cronulla crusaders shouting, ”We grew here, you flew here” or ”Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, oi, oi, oi”.

I grew up watching flags fly from poles, not shoulders. The first time I saw them draped on bodies en masse was in footage of the December 2005 Cronulla beach riots.

Six years on, flags are still being worn – mostly peacefully on Australia Day: flags on girls in short shorts, draped like pashminas, flags on baseball-capped boys, knotted around necks. This starkly intimate relationship to a national symbol gives fresh meaning to the term ”body politic”.

Flags are turning up in all sorts of places. There are flags on tattoos, top hats, sun visors, sweatbands, aprons, bikinis and board shorts. Flags on dinghies and beach umbrellas, doggie sunglasses and disposable nappies. Flags flying from cars, protruding like antlers. Patriotism is now a marketing opportunity (just don’t mention Asian labour) so plastic flags are the Santa hats of late January.

The Howard government worked steadfastly to put the flag centre stage, fostering a feel-good nationalism in response to that gloomy black-armband mob. And we have embraced America’s in-your-face patriotism and fondness for public emoting – even as we wave a flag that includes the Union Jack.

But while the flag unites us, it can be a divisive symbol, too. Even asking questions about it can leave you open to attack. Last week, Perth-based academic Professor Farida Fozdar released the results of a 2011 survey of more than 500 people at Perth’s Australia Day fireworks.

One in five flew flags on their cars. Those flying car flags tended to express more racist attitudes, she reported: only 27 per cent felt positive towards Asian-Australians, for instance, compared with 48 per cent of non-flaggers. Fifty-six per cent of people with car flags feared ”their culture and its most important values” were in danger, compared with 34 per cent in general.

This modest survey was hardly controversial (a majority of both groups supported cultural diversity) yet it attracted considerable vitriol online and on talkback radio. Fozdar, a Brunei-born sociologist and anthropologist, says she received abusive emails suggesting she ”go back to where I came from”. She was shocked by the national reaction.

Read the rest of the column in The Age, HERE

Suzy Freeman-Greene is a senior writer on The Age.

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Rob Walls

    February 12, 2012 at 1:22 pm

    Ah, the last resort of the patriot scoundrel, that tired old, “if you don’t like it why don’t you go back to where you came from” argument. As if an Australian born elsewhere, revokes the right to criticism and freedom of speech when they become a citizen…as opposed to native-born sons and daughters who will forever unthinkingly accept the status quo.

    “a symbol of what Australia once was and hoped to be but the dream will not be realised.”

    Sorry, mate, Australia can no longer be the outpost of empire, it wished to be (and went to war for)…now that empire no longer exists.

  2. ALF1

    February 12, 2012 at 9:11 am

    Only they who have done nothing but whinge, want a new flag. Too many good men and women have fallen for this darling old flutterer, a symbol of what Australia once was and hoped to be but the dream will not be realised.
    We are a confused, Godless, amoral, leaderless and lost country. If the Chinese keep buying huge tracts of the country, we won’t have a say in what the next flag will look like.
    Its amazing that after so many years here #1, your comment is reminiscent of a whinging Pom. Why not go back to where you came from and see if you’d like to live there now.
    In the meantime keep the flag as it is until such time we can’t get an army to fight for it any more…or at least until the last Digger has died.

  3. Karl Stevens

    February 10, 2012 at 12:59 am

    The Aussie flag is just the British flag at night when the stars are out. For some weird reason Australians want a permanent reminder that they are a nation of ex-convicts that carried out the partial genocide of the original people that continues to this day. Let the Bogans have whatever flag they want. Let them have a ball and chain on their flag, if it makes them happy. The truth is we are a bloated nation of bureaucrats that is 10 times worse than the British Raj. In Australia we have 15 levels of managers all managing other managers and all living on the few people working. In Tasmania we have 19 parliamentary representatives for every voter and the Bogans think its not enough. They deserve a colonialist flag.

  4. Rob Walls

    February 8, 2012 at 1:52 pm

    Suzy Freeman-Greene’s essay echoes my own feelings about the flag. Back in the late 1950s I was subjected to a lot of bullying as a “pommy bastard” at a fairly tough, inner-city Sydney high school. In those days such activities were comsidered part of an adolescent toughening up process.

    One day In defiance of my tormentors, I pointed out that the defaced ensign flying over the school yard was a colonial emblem and that if they were content to live as second rate citizens under MY flag (I was still a British citizen), that was fine with me. Naturally, my arrogance just earned me another beating…but to this day I remember this as the very instant my republican instincts became full-formed.

    Since then I have been instinctively wary of the wavers of my old flag (I have for a long while been an Australian citizen) and have joined in support of any movement to change it. Any movement that is, except those advocating the so-called “green and gold”. The simple fact is that I cannot stomach the bilious combination that is the colours green and yellow. Yes yellow. Gold is a metal, not a colour. And my reason apart from their visual clangor, is that in the psychology of colour, green, apart from its ecological connotations, is associated with envy and bile (sorry Nick McKim and Bob Brown) and yellow of course is the colour of cowardice.

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