What is it about the flag that has us all in a flutter? From the red corner (anti-monarchist, anti-nationalist), it pains me to admit I felt a bit affronted by images of Reclaim Australia supporters wearing the flag like a cape. Fair go, fellas (and ladies), a great many people died in wars on behalf of that symbol. With one exception (Cathy Freeman spontaneously celebrating her epic athletic feat), I reckon people who use the flag as a cloak or cape have some serious issues about identity.
This festering topic prompted me to do a little online research, asking the question – is it illegal to wear the Australian flag? Well, no, it isn’t. Nor, somewhat surprisingly, is it a crime to burn the Australian flag. There have been attempts to bring flag-burning and flag-wearing into the definition of desecration, but so far it seems one of the great Aussie freedoms is to ponce around wearing the flag as if it says something noble about you.
You’ll see a lot of that on Australia Day, cars cruising the streets with small Aussie flags fluttering from the windows, flags flying from certain establishments, not all of whom (like the RSL), have a concrete reason for doing so.
You don’t speak for me
The media has done a fair bit of stirring this week about the “clashes” between Reclaim Australia and their opponents. Nothing excites the media more than conflict, and even when it is under-stated, mute even, they will stir it up.
The ABC made something of a story from Jimmy Barnes’ Facebook Page where the Scottish-born singer said he was affronted by the playing of his signature tune Khe Sanh at a Reclaim Australia rally in Brisbane.
Barnes wrote on his Facebook Page (which now makes me complicit, like the ABC reporter who went “file perving”):
“It has come to my attention that certain groups of people have been using my voice, my songs as their anthems at rallies,” Barnes wrote.
“None of these people represent me and I do not support them.”
Barnes, whose wife was born in Thailand, says the Australia he belongs to and loves is a “tolerant, open and giving” place.
Yes, Jimmy, for you and me both. I, too, long for this to be a country that embraces all sorts of different people, even Kiwis.
Ask me why I’m a Citizen
It’s a while since I filed into Brisbane City Hall with 700 other people who were that day to become Australian Citizens. I feel somewhat lucky I did not have to pass an exam about Australia’s history, lifestyle and values to prove I was worthy of being here.
I was perusing some of the questions commonly asked in that exam the other day. I even tested myself a few times, scoring 78%, 67% and 71% respectively.
The questions I got wrong nearly every time were those that delved into minutiae about the flag – how many stars are on the flag (swot up on that,Tone), from which constellation, where in particular are they placed, what are the four primary colours (that’s a trick question). And so on.
I’d suggest the anti-Muslim protesters who flaunted the flag as a piece of attire last weekend might be more up on this subject than I, but to what effect?
If we are expected to have a good general knowledge about Australia, surely there are more pertinent questions:
What percentage of people living in Australia was born somewhere else?
(a) 12% (b) 17% (c) 25% (d) 40% (e) why don’t they go back where they came from?
What suburb of Sydney has the highest proportion of residents born in the Middle East?
(a) Rose Bay (b) Homebush (c) Woy Woy (d) Lakemba
What is the rate of the goods and services tax?”
(a) 2.5% (b) 5% (c) 10% (d) 15% (e) he promised we’d never have one
Which four of the following people were never Australian Prime Ministers?
(a) Jeff Kennett (b) Joh Bjelke-Peterson (c) Gough Whitlam (d) Harold Holt (e) DameEdna Everage (f) Fred Nile
What is “Q&A?”
(a) Common questions asked about internet companies;
(b) A whooping cough vaccine;
(c) An Australian shipping line;
(d) A live ABC political talk show.
I could go on like this ad infinitum and soon I’d be at the end of the column, which is clever if you are bereft of ideas, but it also duds your readers.
The idea of having aspiring citizens sit for an exam on how well they know the country is not such a bad idea, but must it be loaded with jingoistic questions about nascent nationalism?
My aversion to flag adulation dates back to primary school in New Zealand when one had to salute the flag and sing both national anthems at morning assembly. And drink warm milk at little lunch.
For at least 20 years our cuzzies across the dutch have been arguing for a new flag, saying theirs is too similar to ours. The overt aim is to remove the Union Jack from the national flag. NZFlag.com, a trust established to encourage New Zealanders to change their flag, recently canvassed a design that too closely resembles Islamic State to make the cut. Hence my choice the Eureka Flag as a sort of neutral illustration.
The Returned Services’ Association (RSA) opposes any change to the Kiwi flag, but nevertheless New Zealanders will have opportunities to vote on the issue this year and next. But wait, it’s not a republic. Surely you must wait until the people have decreed Queen and (her) country to be irrelevant before you can (a) become a republic and (b) design a new flag?
Wear the flag and all that
But getting back to the Aussie flag and why we don’t have laws that prevent people from desecrating it. So it is not illegal to burn the flag, we established that. There have been recent examples, but no-one got arrested, apart from a chap who was given probation for destroying “property of the RSL”.
In 2006, contemporary artist Azlan McLennan burnt an Australian flag and displayed it outside the Trocadero artspace in Footscray. He called the art piece Proudly UnAustralian. Uh huh.
As for wearing said flag, the RSL has campaigned to make it illegal, various amendments have been proposed to change the Flag Act 1953, but none can get around the fact that a ban on wearing the flag (it’s illegal in the US) would impinge on somebody’s right to be a dickhead.
You can while away most of the weekend reading up on this subject, unless (ahem) your interest is flagging. You will find gems like this, from someone responding to the debate on a Yahoo forum:
“It isn’t a good idea to burn a flag anyway because you might end up lighting yourself on fire and get sent to the hospital.”