AUSTRALIA'S NATIONAL FLAG - FLYING PROUDLY SINCE 1901
The Australian flag reflects the history of our nation
A FLAG is a symbol- it speaks for the Nation's history and soul. The pattern which emerges when the flag is unfurled tells of the birth, the growth, the trials, the glories and the hopes of the people who fly it. What does the Australian flag tell us, when it swells upon the hot wind of an Australian summer or hangs folded in the stillness of a southern dawn?
It was born with the creation of Federation at the dawn of the century. A contest attracted 32,822 entries. Seven judges, representing the Army, Navy, Mercantile Marine, Pilot Services and Parliament, unanimously chose the winning design. Thus was produced Australia's own flag of stars.
Melbourne's Exhibition Building displayed the thousands of flag entries, the exhibition being opened on 3rd September 1901, by Lady Hopetoun, wife of Australia's first Prime Minister, Edmund Barton. On the building's dome a huge flag of the winning design flew gloriously in a strong south-westerly breeze.
The Union jack reflected the new Federation's historical background, the Southern Cross its place in space, and the large star the six States of the Federation. Here was a flag containing history, heraldry, distinctiveness and beauty. It has flown nearly 100 years of Australia's history as a nation. It is a flag to be proud of.
Civilisation is impossible without symbols. Words are symbols. If their meaning is corrupted, this aids the forces of subversion and social disintegration. Shaking hands is a symbolic gesture which originated when most men carried swords or daggers; the open hand was extended to show it contained no weapon. Symbolism gives life a richness it would otherwise lack. An attack on a traditional symbol like a flag is not just an attack on the symbol itself, but is an attack on what that symbol reflects.
Most critics of the Australian flag are united against the presence of the Union jack. This is the number one target. This is the type of statement made by critics:
"We are now a nation which has come of age. We must stand on our own feet and show the rest of the world that we are truly independent. It is therefore essential that we free our selves from our colonial past. How can we use the flag of a foreign nation? Let us show the world a distinctive Australian Image."
This type of criticism lacks the logic which its authors often stress. The famous Roman statesman, Cicero, observed that
"Not to know what happened before you were born is always to be a child "
The great English Statesman Edmund Burke warned that
"People will not look forward to posterity, who never look back to their ancestors."
Tradition is not something which can be dismissed as a "blind clinging to a past which no longer matters." Tradition is the accumulated wisdom of the past, learned in the long years of a people's history. Those who will not learn from the mistakes of history are doomed to keep on repeating those mistakes.
The Union Jack not only symbolises the truth that the overwhelming majority of the people who explored, pioneered and developed Australia were of English, Irish, Scots and Welsh background, but that every aspect of social, cultural, constitutional, legal and religious life had its roots in the United Kingdom. Changing the flag does not alter this fact. In a geographical sense, it is true to say that Australia is near to Asia. But people not only live in space, but in time. Asia did not give Australia the concept of limited constitutional Government, the priceless heritage of English Common Law, trial by jury, and Christian concepts of behaviour. Removing the Union jack from the Australian flag would be about as sensible as tearing several chapters from a history book.
Rejecting the Union Jack not only rejects the nation's history, but it rejects the special symbolism of the flag. The symbolism of the Union Jack is Christian in origin. It was first formed in 1606 under James I of England by a combination of three Christian crosses - that of St. George, patron saint of England, a red cross on a white background; that of St.Andrew, patron saint of Scotland, a white diagonal cross on a blue background. In 1801 was added the cross of St Patrick, the patron Saint of Ireland, the red diagonal cross on a white background. The red cross of St George is still the symbol of the International Red Cross organisation, a respected symbol of mercy throughout the world. As has been stressed even by non-British writers, British constitutional and legal developments reflected to a high degree the Christian concept concerning the uniqueness and, therefore, the rights,and duties, of each individual.
The Anzacs who stormed the beaches at Gallipoli did not feel subordinate to anyone, nor did they feel they were searching for a "new identity." They fought under the Australian flag. The Battle of El Alamein was one of the turning points of the Second World War, where Australians joined with troops from all parts of the Crown Commonwealth. All fought under their own flags in which the Union jack was incorporated. The Australian flag flew proudly over HMS Sydney as it defeated the German ship Emden in the FirstWar. The first allied flag raised in Singapore after the Japanese surrender in 1945 was an Australian flag made in secret. In two World Wars, in Malaya, in Korea and Vietnam, Australians have fought against totalitarianism under the symbol of the Australian flag. It is this flag which symbolises Australia's real heritage and has been so closely associated with everything worthwhile in Australian history.
Back To Archive Contents