If we are designing flags…

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.]

flag2013b

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:

flag2013b-XL-anim

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.

flag2013b-sa2

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.)

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3 Responses to “If we are designing flags…”

  1. Stan Says:

    I think your flag design is very attractive; strange how WordPress won’t render it properly. Like you, I’m not particularly interested in the political aspect of their use, but aesthetically they’re good for experimentation and discussion.
    (There’ve been “flag protests” in Belfast over the last few weeks that have made life very difficult for many residents and visitors. Here’s a short report from last week on the protests’ effects on the local economy.)

  2. Flesh-eating Dragon Says:

    The original version rendered fine, but something strange happened after I removed the image and replaced it with an improved version. However, we’d best not dwell on this, because I’ve contacted WordPress Support and expect they will have fixed it by the morning.

    As a teenager I wrote a parody of the national anthem criticising the concept of anthems and flags. (“Some countries like to have a song, a piece of cloth and more. It makes them think that they are strong but really they’re a bore.“) I’m almost embarrassed to quote that, but it was about twenty years ago so I’m sure I won’t be judged by it. :-)

    I haven’t heard any more national conversation about the flag since I posted — it seems to have been a one day news item and Twitter trend. Also, there’s no-one currently fostering debate on the subject as Ausflag would have done in the past.

    Thanks for the Belfast link. It’s been a while since I’ve heard news of conflict there, but it isn’t hard to remember when rectangles of cloth were not the weapon of choice.

  3. Stan Says:

    I like your parody rhyme. Young people’s poetry tends to have an unpretentious directness that is its own charm.


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