Flying The Flag

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:50 pm

Australian flag

Went to the beach for a picnic on Friday, which was Australia Day (January 26). Most of Australia seems to have had the same idea, so it took us a while to find a parking space and a relatively unbusy bit of beach, but we did and it was fantastic. Clean, fine white sand that squeaks as you walk across it, blue water and surf, sun… and the family. Celebrating living in Australia.

Noticed a heap of Australian flags flying that day, on people’s tents and shelters, on cars, in hands. That’s something new for Australia, and something I associate with America. Nice to see the Aussie flag get an airing, definitely. And yet…

Nationalism in all its forms worries me, just because it can so easily become xenophobia and supremacism. What’s the step from saying ‘Australia is great’ to ‘Australia is the best (and everyone else is inferior)’? Not that big. So I do think there’s a place for patriotism… and even just gratitude for the blessings our country has. But the flags worried me for more reasons than that.

The political context, and I’m sure the motivation behind the large number of flags this year, is in two linked events. Serbian and Croation fans (or actually, Australian fans of Serbian and Croation heritage) wore their respective flags and colours to the Australian Open tennis, and that led to some fairly minor brawling. In response to *that*, organisers of the Big Day Out music festival discouraged (didn’t ‘ban’ I don’t think, although that’s how it was portrayed in the tabloids) the wearing and waving of flags at the festival. Politicians on both sides waded in ‘defending’ the right to fly the Australian flag, plenty of people did, and there was no violence at the Big Day Out.

I guess what worries me is if the attempt to define an Australian identity is in opposition to other identities, and is about exclusion – ‘I’m a real Aussie, not like them’. Maybe I’m just too curmudgeonly an old leftie and internationalist, and I should just kick back and enjoy the beach… and maybe get a flag.

7 responses to “Flying The Flag”

  1. RobW says:

    More significant in the decision for the “ban” than the Serbo-Croatian folk dancing was the fact that last year’s BDO, held shortly after the Cronulla race riot, was beleaguered by a pack of aggressive banner-toting drunks who were hassling other concert goers to “kiss the flag!” As I remarked to a friend, in making the announcement to encourage that the flags be left at home the organizers foolishly assumed that the issue would be dealt with sensibly and failed to take into account that the Oz media and political class is rife with posturing wankers, anxious to sell newspapers or gain votes by appealing to the always important “stupid arsehole” demographic. If they’d announced a blanket ban on all banners on the grounds that they obscure concert-goers’ views of the stages, they would probably have gotten away with it (well, until the day, when certain types started bitching about their Aussie flags being confiscated). And if they’d complained that hanging flags around your shoulders or tying them around your waist would not be permitted as this was an act of disrespect to this vital and sacrosanct national standard (and probably technically illegal) they would have likely got praise from exactly the same people who were haranguing them.

    This sort of thing is always about exclusion, which is why it’s so popular amongst the young, who tend to be susceptible to tribalist impulses, no different in motivation from teasing the fat kid. Most people grow out of it. What else can nationalism sensibly mean? I’m as baffled by the notion of being proud of one’s country as I am by people who watch a team they “support” play to victory and happily announce “We won!” No, numbnuts, the players on the field “won”, you sat on your arse and watched. If there was an associated community-mindedness to this stuff I could see the value of it, but it usually seems those who invest their patriotic spirit in empty symbolism don’t ever have the time or inclination for anything of substance, like actually giving a damn about their neighbours.

    The real problem is that the original notion of a nation-state is an idea well past its use-by date, and governments know it. Without ethnic and cultural conformity, old style nationalism is meaningless. Rationally then, a nation-state becomes simply an administrative method useful to the extent it serves the preservation of democratic norms and the freedoms of its citizens. It has no other value except as a means to those ends, and because governments tend to have a distaste for those ends, however much lip service they might give them, they prefer to push the notion of devotion to the political entity to which you “belong” for – well, no reason at all. Just because. Their preferred form of nationalism is a moral obligation without reciprocal dues, yet another strategy to achieve the politician’s dream of power without responsibility, just how our leaders like it.

  2. Bravus says:

    {Young Ones}That was a highly articulate rant, Vyvyan{/Young Ones}

    Yep, what Rob said. See, this is why you should all read Trenchant Lemmings. Ideally in addition to ‘Bravus’… but if you have to choose, run with the lemmings. 😉

  3. RobW says:


    Well, yeah, except there’s nothing there.

  4. Sirdar says:

    Should we read Trenchant Lemmings because he has the same viewpoint as you? 😛

    I have no idea where to begin on this. So are you saying that we can’t be proud of the country that we live in? That we should all be one great big world country….one government, one religion, one set of standards so that we are all the same? Sounds like Communism 😕

  5. Bravus says:

    Hehe, maybe: except he can write much more eloquently about a similar view of the world! (And I didn’t actually know about his flag-related poetry post when I linked across above.)

    I think I’m saying the opposite, Lorne. Not homogenization and everyone being the same, but everyone being free to be different. Because what I see in Australian nationalism, and sometimes in Canadian too, is “I’m proud of my country, so long as it’s full of people like me. But no immigrants, gays, people with different beliefs, people with different haircuts… they’re not real Aussies (Canadians). Only people like me count.” See what I’m saying? I’m worried about a national pride that’s too narrowly defined. What if our pride in being Australian included our Aboriginal history, and the achievements of our many immigrants from all over the world?

  6. RobW says:

    we can’t be proud of the country that we live in? That we should all be one great big world country….one government, one religion, one set of standards so that we are all the same? Sounds like Communism

    Actually it sounds like nationalism extended to the whole world. Presumably we can look forward to that once extra-terrestrial colonisation begins. “I’m proud to be an Earthman!”

  7. Sirdar says:

    Bravus: OK. I see where you were going with it. I think in a lot of ways Canada has done better than most countries to include people…yes even gays. The sky “was” falling but it hasn’t hit the ground yet. 🙂

    RobW: I was tongue in cheek there but: Clinton One-World Government Conference to Address “Threat” of Religion

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