One man is on a mission to change the Australian flag. What do you think about this controversial issue? Join our poll below!
- Andrew Denton's controversial argument for assisted dying explained
- What do you do when your parents need different levels of care?
- I bought a house and discovered my ancestor was a convict
My cause: Harold Scruby's wish for a new Australian flag
Harold Scruby, Founder and Executive Director of Ausflag, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to changing the Australian flag, has lots of stories about our current Australian flag – and they don’t reflect well on it.
Scruby remembers an incident in 1984 when then Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, made a trip to Ottawa in Canada on a diplomatic mission.
“He arrived to a city festooned with New Zealand flags. It was highly embarrassing,” recalls Scruby. “Hawke must have been very diplomatic to deal with that,” he says.
In another example Scruby talks about an embarrassing medal ceremony at the London Olympic Games. In the ceremony a British gold medallist stood next to an Australian silver medallist and New Zealand bronze medallist on the winner’s podium.
“We christened it: ‘Big Britain, little Britain and littler Britain” says Scruby. “It looked like mum was teaching the kids how to fly because the huge Union Jack belittled us as a nation,” he reflects.
But Scruby’s favourite embarrassing flag story comes from a comment he attributes to Jerry Seinfeld on a visit the US comedian once made to Australia. According to Scruby, Seinfeld joked about why he liked the Australian flag, describing it as ‘Britain at night.’
It’s a comment that Scruby says is very funny but also carries an undercurrent of truth that should make Australians wake up and consider how our flag is perceived overseas. “If that’s the way a foreigner sees our flag then it’s not doing its job. It’s not screaming ‘Australia,’” he says.
How his cause began
Scruby first became passionate about changing the Australian flag in the 1970s while working for the company Levi Strauss. It was while travelling overseas that he became frustrated when other travellers spotted the Aussie flag on his luggage and wondered where he was from.
“Everyone would always ask me what part of Britain I was from,” says Scruby.” “But I was passionately Australian and I was embarrassed by this idea that people couldn’t understand my flag,” he says.
Do you think the Austalian flag should be changed?
In his travels Scruby says he met other Australians with the same problem. One such Australian was James Hardy of Hardys Wines. One day in an airport lounge the pair swapped flag stories. Hardy told Scruby how he fixed the confusion about the flag on the rear of his boat by superimposing the image of a kangaroo from an old Australian penny coin.
“Hardy never again had to tell anyone where he was from. It was very obvious from then on,” Scruby says. “But the take home message from the conversation was clear for me: Our flag doesn’t represent who we are,” he says adamantly.
Incorporating the colours of the Aboriginal flag, this design by Harold Scruby of Ausflag is a revolutionary rather than an evolutionary flag (Photo: Ausflag)
AUSFLAG is born
Scruby set up Ausflag in 1978. Back then it had three major objectives: Change the flag, change the colours and change the national anthem. The organisation pushed Bob Hawke on all three issues and saw success on the anthem and the colours in 1984 when Hawke proclaimed green and gold as the new national colours replacing the then blue and gold, and the British anthem “God Save the Queen” was replaced with the anthem “Advance Australia Fair” that we sing at national ceremonies today.
But 38 years after the founding of Ausflag, the Australian flag remains the same as it was back then. It’s a situation that Scruby wants to see changed, especially in light of recent action taken by New Zealand to potentially change its national flag.
New Zealand has selected a new design named The Silver Leaf Fern flag after a successful referendum last year and in March will vote at another referendum to choose between this design or to keep its existing New Zealand flag.
The Silver fern flag was officially voted in the 2015 national referendum
The history of our flag
It’s true that the Australian flag has undergone more than one change in Australia’s short history and it’s this history that Ausflag will use to help convince Australians that changing the flag is part of an evolving process that will reflect on a changing Australia.
In 1901 Australia’s first federal flag was announced by Prime Minister Edward Barton following a private design competition.
There was no debate about the winning flag in the Australian parliament but rather the winning design was approved by King Edward VII in 1902.
The flag was very similar to the flag we know today, except the Federation Star had only six points and there were differences in the number of points of the Southern Cross. It also had a red field. This flag became known as the red ensign flag or civil flag. The blue ensign did exist but it was used for official government business.
A genuine version of the red ensign flag (Photo: Ausflag)
However it wasn’t until the Flag Act 1953 was passed by the Menzies government and approved by Queen Elizabeth II in 1954 that Australia finally adopted the blue ensign flag we use today.
The argument for and against
Scruby presents a strong argument to what can only be described as a very complex issue. On the one side, Scruby’s Ausflag and its supporters argue that the Australian flag has been changed many times before.
They also claim that the current blue ensign flag is too similar to that of other nations such as New Zealand and that the Union Jack in its top left corner, while also being too commonly used throughout the world, represents an outdated symbol of imperialist rule that doesn’t represent a modern, multicultural Australia that has seen a weakening of its ties with Britain.
On the other side are staunch supporters of the current flag such as the Australian National Flag Association (ANFA). This organisation and others like it see our national flag as the most popular symbol for Australia that has been adopted as a flag so far in Australia’s history.
They say the flag represents Australia and its people – especially the brave men and women who have fought and died for their country in armed conflict.
At parliament house where the red ensign was historically used (Photo: Ausflag)
Where do the majority of Australians sit on the issue?
Scruby claims that the polls have it about fifty fifty each way, with more Australians likely to join the cause once some of what he calls “the common myths and misconceptions” about the flag are dispelled.
And it’s the argument that Australians fought and died under the current Australian flag throughout Australia’s history that Scruby labels as one of the biggest misconceptions. It’s a view that he calls a “blatant lie”.
“The original standard national flag was a red flag from 1901 until after WWII. Our troops didn’t fight and die under the blue flag as far back as WWII. In WWI they fought and died under the Union Jack and the red ensign in WWII,” he says.
Scruby may have a valid point, but some may argue that a simple colour change is really not that important a change and that the red and blue ensign flags have more similarities than differences.
It may also be said that the current flag still holds significance for soldiers and their families who fought and or died in theatres of war or on duty after 1953, such as in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq.
What design should we choose?
If Australia does take action to change its flag, Scruby is reluctant to recommend a favourite design, saying that “the design should be voted in by the Australian people by a plebiscite.”
He does however have ideas about what makes a good flag. He advises against using blue and white because “the colours will disappear in the sky and clouds when the flag flies above the buildings” but recommends incorporating red “because many of the successful flags around the world include red.”
He also says “the flag should be as easily identifiable as flags such as the Canadian flag, the Japanese flag, the Israeli flag or the iconic Qantas logo and should ultimately just scream Australia.”
Well known flags around the world today
What’s off the list? “I’d never want to see crossed thongs or stubbies,” laughs Scruby. We hope we never see them either.
Some of the popular designs can be found on the Ausflag website along with more information about why Australia should change its national flag. Visit www.ausflag.com.au
How did you vote in our above poll? Let us know why you agree/disagree with Harold Scruby below.