Next Monday, January 26th, the nation will acknowledge the date Arthur Phillip sailed into Sydney Cove. There will no doubt be a sea of Australian flags parading the streets and painted on faces. It’s a familiar scene, the waving of our nation’s flag – a symbol of Australia’s identity, values and rich history.
But, for some, it is a rich history often overlooked. Beneath the backyard cricket games and Triple J countdowns lies a prevailing unease for what we celebrate. For many, our flag is a reminder of what has been forgotten, alongside the culture and history of people who nurtured the land prior to colonial settlement.
Despite its controversies, January 26th is a day of observance and perhaps it should be a day to re-examine our national symbol and reflect on what it means to be Australian.
In conjunction with the 2014 Sex, Drugs & Helvetica conference, AGDA, together with Build’s Michael C. Place, organised workshops in Melbourne and Brisbane that centred around a timely challenge: redesign the Australian flag.
The challenge was significant. At the time of the conference, Scottish citizens were about to vote on the Scottish Independence Referendum — a vote that could potentially change the history of many cultures. Voters were asked to decide whether the country would become an independent sovereign state.
“My thoughts turned to our flag, would it potentially have to change if it was a yes vote? In turn, would Australia’s flag have to change as it features the Union Jack?” UK-resident Place asks on the Build blog.
The Union Flag of the UK, colloquially known as the Union Jack, was created in 1707 to symbolise the United Kingdom of Great Britain. With British colonialism, the image of the Union Jack on a flag came to reflect the lands occupied, including New Zealand, Canadian provinces and, of course, Australia.
The workshop’s brief was certainly not new – it’s been a topic of interest for decades. On Australia Day in 1991, the apolitcal lobby group Ausflag proposed a new national flag without the Union Jack, featuring a white Southern Cross on a blue background. The group continues to hold competitions and promotions of flag concepts.
Expanding on this idea, Deakin University senior Visual Communication Design lecturer and former ico-D president Russell Kennedy created a Southern Cross national flag and supporting flags for states, territories and supporting ensigns.
“This flag has a strong, recognisable and symmetrical design which can be supported by a genuine unifying claim that people have lived under the Southern Cross in Australia for between 40,000 and 70,000 years,” Kennedy explains.
Recognising both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, Kennedy changed the stars from white to yellow as a nod to the Aboriginal flag. The blue remains as a link to the current Australian flag, the Torres Strait Island flag and to the colours of the original Australian coat of arms.
Using the pre-existing five-star combo would surely resonate with Australian individuals. During a nationwide poll in 1995, 41 per cent chose the Southern Cross as a symbol they thought most appropriate for the Australian flag, with the kangaroo at 18 per cent and the Union Jack at 17 per cent. Now, 20 years later, we wondered what Australians would choose to represent a diverse, unified and unique Australia.
“Because Australia is such a strong nation of diverse people and everyone has their own interpretation of what it means to them, I was excited to see how those perspectives translated to design,” says Studio Vertigo’s Mirella Marie.
Her core idea (below) during the workshop combined both the existing flag and Aboriginal flag, creating an image embracing multiculturalism and celebrating indigenous ancestry.
“The blue represents the sky and the sea by which migrants travel to Australia. The yellow represents the sun, the outback, and the dawn of a new hope, positioned at the bottom as the Southern Hemisphere,” she says.
Elizaveta Dilanyan initially found the task tricky.
“It is deeply personal to the designers executing it. I wanted to step away from the political theme and concentrate on the freedom and beauty that Australia represents to me, and to pay homage to the wonderful and unique Australian nature,” she says.
Maegan Brown rolled out her design across the state and territory flags. Her design connects components of Australia’s past and present, along with depicting the iconic Banksia species.
“The state and territory flags are based off the same design system as the national flag, however feature a different number of rings to one another based off the order of establishment of the British colony settlement, and when the territories as we know it today were separated from the state. For example, New South Wales has one ring on the state flag, as it was the first established colony, Tasmania being the second features two rings,” she explains.
On September 18th, 2014, Scotland voted “No” on the Scottish Independence Referendum, maintaining Scotland’s unity with Great Britain and leaving the Union Jack unscathed. For now, Australia’s flag remains the same. But in the coming years, Australia (and countries and states alike) might hold its own referendum, giving our nation the opportunity to formally recognise its long existing culture and to establish our own unique identity.
Thanks to Jack Mussett, Steph Brady and AGDA Victoria (Melbourne Workshop) and Neisha Phillips, Michelle Albert and AGDA Queensland (Brisbane Workshop) for all your work in organising the workshops. All flag designs are copyright respective designer.