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Restoring the ACT Flag to the vision of its designer

By Steven Squires - 2 November 2016 15

ACT Flag

As the recently re-elected ACT Government campaigns to increase the Capital’s recognition, and make our city a tourist and cultural hotspot, it’s a good time to discuss the value of good symbols for creating civic pride. It is undeniable that civic symbols, such as flags, contribute to civic pride, and when the flag is a good design, the entire populace has a strong symbol to rally and bring the community together.

The ACT Flag already has most of the elements of a great flag in place. It uses the ACT colours blue and gold. It has the Southern Cross, a great symbol recognising the ACT as a part of the common Australian identity. However, the design has one mistake, which mars a potentially great symbol: The overly complex and heraldically incorrect Canberra Coat of Arms placed on the right of the design.

The Northern Territory flag shows how a simple, well-defined flag can raise civic pride and awareness. The NT flag is highly recognisable because it uses simple and meaningful symbols, such as the Sturt’s Desert Flower.

Many city governments make the mistake of placing their seal on flag designs to try to make it easier to recognise. The problem is that recognisability comes from the design itself, and its widespread use. It would be like writing the meaning of an artwork on the front of the canvas. It makes the work look ugly, and the meaning should be apparent from the work anyway.

This mistake hasn’t been instituted by the ACT alone. It’s a common mistake that has been repeated by municipal and state governments in the United States, and was even the subject of a TED Talk.

Indeed, some municipal governments have adopted new recognisable designs, or removed the municipal seal from their flag.

America’s most recognisable flags have no seals to tell you where they are from, they are recognisable by design. Think of the Lone Star Flag in Texas. And in Australia, the Aboriginal Flag, by using a very simple design, has become one of the most recognisable flags in the country.

In the case of the American municipal flags, it’s not necessarily fair to blame the designer. Often the designer will create a good proposal, only to have the authority in charge of approving the new flag add the municipal seal against the designer’s wishes. The ACT was no exception.

The ACT Flag’s designer, Ivo Ostyn, openly denounced the overly complex and heraldically incorrect use of the Canberra Coat of Arms on the ACT Flag. Ostyn advocates replacing the Coat of Arms it with a Royal Bluebell symbol (proposal here), which was rejected by the ACT Government in favour of the Coat of Arms. When a flag’s designer comes out in opposition to the design, you know that it needs fixing.

Would you like to see a new flag for the ACT featuring our bluebell rather than the coat of arms?

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But some American cities have taken action to remove their emblems from their flag. Portland, Oregon is a good example.

When Portland decided to adopt a flag in 1969, they accepted a proposal from local designer R. Douglas Lynch. But, against Lynch’s objections, the city seal was added to the design. This made the design unnecessarily complex, and hardly used in the public. However, in 2002, Lynch, along with the Portland Flag Association, successfully pushed for the city council to restore the design to his original vision. The Portland flag has since become iconic, with the improved design now used proudly by its everyday citizens.

Not once in the many years that I’ve lived in Canberra have I seen the ACT flag flown by members of the public in sports events, Canberra Day, or any other public event. However, looking at the parallels between the ACT and Portland, there is great opportunity for the ACT Government to turn the ACT flag into an iconic Australian flag, loved and used by the Canberran public.

Correcting this mistake would not mean making a new flag, but refining the existing flag to produce greater civic pride, and create the beautiful, striking design that the designer intended.

What’s Your opinion?


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15 Responses to
Restoring the ACT Flag to the vision of its designer
1
Adsy 9:47 am
02 Nov 16
#

Great article. The original bluebell design by Ivo Ostyn is a vastly superior flag to the cobbled together coat of arms design the ACT sadly inherited. Our new Legislative Assembly should right this travesty and restore the original design as a truly beautiful flag for the ACT!

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2
MERC600 6:16 pm
02 Nov 16
#

Any flag change by the assembly will lead to one already existing.

The CFMEU’s.

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3
Gorephil 7:50 pm
02 Nov 16
#

I completely agree. The coat of arms on the flag is so deadening, and very hard to reproduce and warm to. I actually voted for the one with the silhouette of the Brindabellas on it, but the bluebell would be better than the current one. I’ve written to my MLA to support a change in this favour. I know, it’s relatively low priority stuff, but sometimes getting the symbols right makes a lot of other things easier. I don’t even care that it’s very similar to the NT flag. So what? What’s wrong with some thematic consistency? I like it.

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4
Nilrem 5:19 am
03 Nov 16
#

Yep, agreed. The coat of arms should not be on the flag, the blue bell looks much better. Right this wrong now.

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5
creative_canberran 12:59 pm
03 Nov 16
#

Does any other Australian state use it’s flag as a promotional device? No.

The flag serves an old fashioned and narrow purpose. For business and tourism, states use dedicated brands that reproduce well on a variety of mediums. For sports, people fly their team colours, not their city colours.

The current design is outdated, as is the shield on which it is based with the cringeworthy motto “For queen…” given we’re a progressive jurisdiction favoured to a republic.

But a flag won’t do anything for civic pride. Most wouldn’t even realise the change.

If we want to improve out civic pride and the stature of the ACT, how about equal representation in the Parliament to the states, instead of our second class status?

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6
John Hargreaves 12:49 pm
07 Nov 16
#

This a great piece. As a former MLA and a Labor supporter AND… a republican, I developed a view on the flag and the coat of arms.

I was around when the flag conversation and competition was run.

firstly, though, check out the coat of arms on the flag. It is actually wrong. The City of Canberra Coat of Arms has a crown and portcullis over the shield. the crown is the symbolize our subjugation to the Queen and the portcullis is to show our connection with Westminsiter Palace.

But actually, the coat of arms does not belong to the people of the ACT. it belongs to because it was awarded to the Government of the ACT. This is why is it not on the logo of the ACT Legislative Assembly, which is roundel of blue and white with a Royal Bluebell depicted in its centre.

Readers should be aware that the ACT has no Governor like the states, nor an Administrator like the NT and thus has no vice-regal overseer of its legislative functions. it is responsible directly to the Governor General and to the Commonwealth Parliament, whose deadly fingerprints have deaded our legislation before now. Thus uniquely, our connection to the Crown is through the GG whereas the Queen appoints (using the GG often as an agent) both Governors and Administrators. Even the Norfolk Island had an Administrator until recently.

I reckon the People’s Democratic Republic of the ACT, should sever any symbolism of subjugation to the British crown and go with something unique to the ACT. The Royal Bluebell is a good start.

As for that old one about the Queen being the Queen of Australia, so what. I think we are past bowing our heads and tugging our forelocks to someone who is given an exalted position of dominion over us through birthright.

The link to a pickie of the coat of arms is http://farm6.staticflickr.com/5240/5814044664_981dc0340c_z.jpg and the Legislative Assembly is at: http://www.northcanberra.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/legislative-assembly-logo.jpg

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7
Blen_Carmichael 1:22 pm
07 Nov 16
#

I agree we should have a new flag. In line with the values of this territory and the power sharing arrangements, perhaps our new flag should bear a picture of Gaia, a near-empty gold-plated tram, and logos of the more militant unions?

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8
wildturkeycanoe 2:33 pm
07 Nov 16
#

We have a flag? For tourism and civic pride I would have thought the CBR logo was already a solution, but perhaps with some colour to make it stand out.
I can’t say I’ve either seen or noticed this particular blue and yellow flag flown almost anywhere in Canberra, even though there appears to be one hanging outside the Assembly building in Civic on Google Street View. Obviously not a popular design.
Be it a coat of arms or a bluebell, makes little difference unless you are trying to get kids to draw a facsimile as part of a school project. Digital technology means we can print any image onto any material in most all kinds of complexity with little to no fuss, so the argument for simplicity is not very persuasive.

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9
John Moulis 4:45 pm
07 Nov 16
#

The current ACT flag has the stigma of being associated with the chaotic first term of ACT self government which was derided as a circus with members elected on no self government platforms, one of which was a front for the far-right National Civic Council. Many people might not remember that in order to choose the flag, Chief Minister Rosemary Follett held a public poll with three alternatives, none of which was the original bluebell design. The bluebell was removed and replaced with the ACT coat of arms by somebody in the Chief Minister’s Department. Restoring the bluebell design as the ACT flag would be a symbolic break with the early years of self government and be a sign of Canberra’s maturity.

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10
dungfungus 8:42 am
08 Nov 16
#

John Moulis said :

The current ACT flag has the stigma of being associated with the chaotic first term of ACT self government which was derided as a circus with members elected on no self government platforms, one of which was a front for the far-right National Civic Council. Many people might not remember that in order to choose the flag, Chief Minister Rosemary Follett held a public poll with three alternatives, none of which was the original bluebell design. The bluebell was removed and replaced with the ACT coat of arms by somebody in the Chief Minister’s Department. Restoring the bluebell design as the ACT flag would be a symbolic break with the early years of self government and be a sign of Canberra’s maturity.

Yes, it should be updated with the castle in the coat of arms being replaced with an image of the Westside Container Village. A big rainbow behind it would be perfect.

The floral emblem should now be a cannabis sativa plant to herald the changes to the laws relating to use and possession of same.

Also, why is there a white swan being shown? I have seen black swans in LBG but never a white swan, anywhere in the ACT, in fact.

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11
Holden Caulfield 9:57 am
08 Nov 16
#

wildturkeycanoe said :

We have a flag? For tourism and civic pride I would have thought the CBR logo was already a solution, but perhaps with some colour to make it stand out.
I can’t say I’ve either seen or noticed this particular blue and yellow flag flown almost anywhere in Canberra, even though there appears to be one hanging outside the Assembly building in Civic on Google Street View.

What are you talking about? The ACT flag is almost always flown on the top of city hill. There aren’t many more visible locations in Canberra, within the ACT Government’s control, than that.

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12
dungfungus 11:41 am
08 Nov 16
#

Holden Caulfield said :

wildturkeycanoe said :

We have a flag? For tourism and civic pride I would have thought the CBR logo was already a solution, but perhaps with some colour to make it stand out.
I can’t say I’ve either seen or noticed this particular blue and yellow flag flown almost anywhere in Canberra, even though there appears to be one hanging outside the Assembly building in Civic on Google Street View.

What are you talking about? The ACT flag is almost always flown on the top of city hill. There aren’t many more visible locations in Canberra, within the ACT Government’s control, than that.

Too right!

It can be seen clearly from the Westside Container Village which is now Canberra’s premier tourist destination.

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13
John Hargreaves 2:00 pm
08 Nov 16
#

This is a serious issue demanding considered comment. The flag is supposed to be a rallying point for the citizenry. The current one has a modified coat of arms and the only selling point is the colours and the Southern Cross. Why we can’t substitute the coat of arms with a stylized Royal Bluebell is beyond me. Perhaps people just don’t care. the modified coast of arms represents nothing.

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14
dungfungus 10:03 am
09 Nov 16
#

John Hargreaves said :

This is a serious issue demanding considered comment. The flag is supposed to be a rallying point for the citizenry. The current one has a modified coat of arms and the only selling point is the colours and the Southern Cross. Why we can’t substitute the coat of arms with a stylized Royal Bluebell is beyond me. Perhaps people just don’t care. the modified coast of arms represents nothing.

In the absence of any comment from our usual panel of experts about the presence of an elusive white swan on the coat of arms I have done some research of my own and it appears that there are no white swans native to Australia.

The appearance of the white swan co-supporting the shield with the black swan on the Canberra coat of arms is actually symbolic political correctness, the black swan representing the Aboriginal race and the white swan, European races.

Accordingly, I find it difficult to agree with you that the issue about what is on our coat of arms and what it means is a serious issue.

Instead, it invites the sort of mockery and satire it is getting.

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15
rogueideas 7:02 pm
24 Nov 16
#

Just did a vexillology task with college design students and actually challenged them to re-invent the ACT flag. Most took the lead provided by the Northern Territory and designed a new flag with ours featuring the Bluebell (and without them having seen the proposed flag posted as part of this debate). Perhaps we should leave the vote (as with many) to the future generation/s… or simply to those that have vision and care. Too many “it’ll do” luddites get involved in these debates – yep, drop the coat of arms… next stop, the National Flag.

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