A Symbol Of Freedom And Light…

Once upon a time, in a land far far away, there was great debate about whether Australia should become a republic. A survey was created (called a referendum) and all of the people in the land were invited to participate. The results revealed a nation divided with the vote to maintain Australia’s colonial status quo snatching victory from the republicans  55/45.

But there was outcry. Some of the people suggested that the questions did not really present a clear choice between Republican-ism and Colonial-ism. And so while the Colonialists won the battle in 1999, the undercurrent of discontent around the Great Republican Question bubbled on.

And in the midst of this, there remained another question – the question of the flag and whether it was really fitting for our modern and multicultural nation.

I love the Australian flag.

I love how it celebrates our southern location and open skies with the Southern Cross constellation.

I love how it honours our Federation with the seven pointed Commonwealth Star – with six points representing the six previously self-governing states and one point representing the territories and any future states.

And I love that it also gives a nod to the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788 to make the first modern settlement in Australia, 16 years after pioneering Englishman Captain James Cook sailed along Australia’s eastern coastline.

But like most things in life, this is not a simple fairytale and our nation is still on its journey to find a happy ending. Does our flag reflect the indigenous, the discoveries of the Dutch (through explorers Willem Janszoon and Abel Tasman) and the emergence of a multicultural nation inspired by new horizons, the prospect of success borne of hard work and not least, the hopeful opportunity of the Gold Rush.

Is it really a reflection of our modern nation, whether it be colonial or republic?

And then earlier this week, I opened an email from Mum to find a poem that was given to her in the late 1970s by an ex-servicewoman she knew in Cairns. As I read it, I felt proud that our flag held such patriotism and passion in its thrall and my fierce republican heart couldn’t help but recognise the validity – and poignancy – of her words.

 
KEEP THE FLAG
Our flag bears the stars that blaze at night
In the Southern sky of blue
And a little old flag in the corner
That’s part of our heritage too.
 
It’s for the English, the Scots and the Irish
Who were sent to the ends of the earth.
The rogues and schemers, the doers and dreamers
Who gave modern Australia birth.
 
And you who are shouting to change
You don’t seem to understand
It’s the flag of our law and our language
Not the flag of a faraway land.
 
Though there are plenty of people who’ll tell you
How, when Europe was plunged into night
That little old flag in the corner
Was their symbol of freedom and light.
 
It doesn’t mean we owe allegiance
To a long forgotten imperial dream
We’ve the stars to show where we’re going
And the old flag to show where we’ve been.


Out with the old and in with new? Suddenly it’s not such a simple question.

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