Every so often, the prospect of changing the Australian flag crops up in the media. Politically, I don’t much care: there are more important things than some piece of cloth on a pole. But creatively, if people are designing flags, then I want in on the action.
The latest revival of the conversation was triggered by a rather hideous design that’s not worth linking to (it’s only a catalyst, anyway). A better design along a similar line was Brendan Jones’s 1995 Reconciliation Flag, of which my only criticism is that the white line looks rather too divisive. I think it was the first I ever saw that involved the use of a boomerang.
Here’s a link to a list of 100 flags proposed by the public in the late 90s.
It’s been a while since we last had a flag debate in Australia, and likewise, a while since I last had a go at designing one of my own. Now, I happen to work as part of a graphic design team these days, but at home I don’t have access to the software we use at work, so I had to try and sketch a design using Windows Paintbrush.
So bearing in mind that this is better thought of as a rough sketch than a finished design, here is the best idea I came up with. [Update: I've fiddled a bit since the original upload, but still using Paintbrush.]
Every flag tells a story, and I took as my inspiration the rarely-sung second verse of Australia’s national anthem.
- “Beneath our radiant Southern Cross, we’ll toil with hearts and hands“
So I’ve depicted the Southern Cross, which is also depicted on our current flag. The number of points on the stars is irrelevant, but five points is easiest in Paintbrush, so I went with that.
- “To make this Commonwealth of ours renowned through all the lands“
The red boomerang (an idea borrowed from the Reconciliation Flag and others like it) is firstly a distinctly Australian symbol but also doubles as an upward-pointing arrow for ambition. More evocatively, picture a boomerang being tossed into the night sky, to fly amidst the stars of the Southern Cross.
- “For those who come across the seas, we’ve boundless plains to share“
I’ve included blue for the ocean on both sides of the design. As for sharing boundless plains, it has to be said that Australian politics right now is anything but welcoming to outsiders. But personally, I like the idea of national symbols that can be used to shame us, by expressing values we’re supposed to have but seem to have forgotten.
The one thing obviously missing is any representation of Australia’s individual states and territories. But flags are supposed to be simple, and one must make decisions about what to put in and what to leave out. There is no rule that requires a country’s flag to indicate the number of states and territories it has, so I decided that this design would not. (An advantage is that if ever Australians decide to alter the number of states, it can be done independently of the flag.)
To defend the design from another perspective — without the boomerang, you’d have a simple flag with the Southern Cross in the middle, and colours representing the water and land of our island continent. Surveys show that many people would like to retain the Southern Cross on a new flag, although here it appears in a simplified, more abstract form. On the other hand, the main argument against using the Southern Cross is that it is not distinctly Australian, as the flags of New Zealand and Papua New Guinea also share the feature. The boomerang adds precisely that Australian element, and is integrated with everything else.
I sketched this for fun, and won’t try to convince anyone that we should adopt it as a nation. This blog post is simply my humble contribution to the national discussion. If you have some flag-related ideas you’d like to share with me — whether you’re Australian or not, whether you think we need a new flag or not — then you are welcome to continue that discussion in the comments.
Update: I found a site that lets you convert a flag image into an animation. Here’s what mine looks like in motion:
Update: I got thinking about how states’ flags might be constructed to match my design for the national flag, and the idea that worked best was to turn the design sideways, put it against the mast, extend the stripes, and add the state’s emblem on the other side. Here’s how that turns out for South Australia.
Update and Postscript: My supervisor at the graphic design place I work at mentioned that he likes Brendan Jones’s other design. It is certainly one of the better conservative proposals (i.e. ones that maintain continuity with the current Australian flag), and I would consider it serviceable — if a little stark for my taste and overreliant on stars. I decided to fiddle with it, creating a modified version with a 2:3 aspect ratio, a brighter shade of blue to contrast better with the black, and stars reduced in size to better fit the new width. (Here it is animated.)