13 December 2022

BEST OF 2022: As a migrant, the Australian flag has been ruined for me

| Zoya Patel
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The meaning of the flag can change depending on what it’s representing. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

Year in Review: Region Media is revisiting some of the best Opinion articles of 2022. Here’s what got you talking, got you angry and got you thinking in 2022. Today, Zoya Patel says she can’t imagine a future where the Australian flag is anything but an emblem of hate.

When my family migrated to Australia in the early 1990s, I distinctly remember loving the identity of being Australian.

My primary school had a morning assembly at the beginning of every week where the flag would be raised and we’d all sing the national anthem. I loved singing the anthem.

The notion of being Australian had been reinforced to me as a positive thing, and I had a real sense of pride in it. When we were naturalised as citizens after four years, my family visited the local council and the Mayor officiated the proceedings. We have loads of photos of the six of us with our certificates, standing in front of the Australian coat of arms, grinning.

Around the same time as we became Australian citizens, Pauline Hanson was elected to Parliament for the first time. I can still remember the rhetoric about migrants going back to where we came from, and the anxiety I felt at the time. A friend told me I could hide at her house if the government tried to send my family back to Fiji – a place I had no memory of and couldn’t think of as ‘home’. I think that was the first time I saw the Australian flag used and associated with a negative message that made me feel alienated as opposed to patriotic.

Senator Hanson has been draping herself in the Australian flag for decades. Image: One Nation.

By the time the Cronulla riots happened in 2005, I had experienced enough racism to be wary of the flag when used by individuals and not institutions. I knew by then that for some, the flag was a symbol of a particular type of Australia, one that didn’t include me or people who looked like me.

Watching young white men draped in the flag, screaming racist abuse and bashing people who they deemed to look un-Australian was enough to cement in me the sensation that the flag was a signal of something ugly and exclusionary.

Fast forward to the last few weeks, where Canberrans have endured the influx of protesters disrupting the city, often driving around tooting their horns in cars adorned with the Australian flag (and other flags). While many of the protesters were focused on anti-vaccination sentiments, a cross-section also demonstrated extreme racist views. Every time I passed someone with a flag flapping from their window, I automatically had a flash of anxiety – a PTSD that made me feel wary, concerned that the driver would see my brown face and wind down their window to tell me to go back to where I came from.

How did we get to this point? I can honestly say I feel more of a sense of allegiance to which Hogwarts house I’m in at this point in my life than I do to a sense of Australian identity (I’ve even sorted my cat into Gryffindor).

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As a child, the Australian flag and our national anthem had a simple and positive association for me, to a sense of community, shared values, culture and country. As an adult, I have a more nuanced understanding of colonisation, the need to recognise and reconcile with First Nations Australians, and how patriotism is used as a vessel for racist ideology – but I don’t think that that understanding should have to exclude the potential for a national pride that is predicated on inclusion and harmony, not hate and discord.

Unfortunately, I can’t imagine a future where the flag is anything but an emblem of hate. I feel quite sad when I think of the child I was in the 90s, memorising the words to the national anthem and puffing my chest out in assembly so I could sing loud and clear while facing the flag. That was a brief moment where I was untouched by the racism and hate that has since defined a lot of my experiences as a culturally diverse Australian.

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Capital Retro6:08 pm 20 Feb 22

Peter Malone (Irish?) there are only a few: https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-35890670

Thanks CR, I’ve now got RSI from scrolling for what seemed ages

Capital Retro10:15 pm 21 Feb 22

And then there are the Islamic flags.

Islamic symbols are found on the flags of 21 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, the Asia-Pacific region and the Middle East and North Africa.

I wonder how many of those flags were made in China. Just asking

Frank Spencer11:28 am 18 Feb 22

What a rubbish article. No truth in it.

Capital Retro10:47 am 18 Feb 22

Almost every Commonwealth country has the Union Jack on it, including the one of Fiji.

What’s your point?

Seriously ?? Its humiliating. It looks like we have simply photocopied the Union Jack & are too embarrassed to have a flag of our own.

Capital Retro7:00 am 19 Feb 22

The union jack accurately describes our heritage and the Southern Cross stellar formation our location on the planet.

National flags are not “fashion” items like iPhones, you know.

In most American schools the day starts with students swearing allegiance to the flag. What do we do here? We mumble on about “welcome to country”.

You really were born in the wrong era CR. You should have lived in 1822, not 2022.

I don’t see the flag in any way humiliating, but just reflective of a country that still has no idea what it’s place in the world is, and still dominant is an element desperate to hang on to a past now nothing but a fading distant memory.

And while, similar to the republic debate, I see clear rationale for change, I also recognise the likelihood of anything happening anytime soon is remote. And there are much more important issues to worry about at this time to be honest.

I just checked some of the news footage of the arson attack on Old Parliament House.

I definitely saw the Aboriginal flag being used by people invoked with and/or supporting that despicable event.

Zoya doesn’t seem to have a problem with that flag being flown at our public buildings. She doesn’t seem to be concerned about the hate, destruction and racism associated with that flag.

That seems rather odd!

The vast majority of Australian’s are perfectly happy with the Australian Flag, with Australia Day, with Anzac Day, with Easter and Christmas Day and all of the traditions that have made this country what it is.
Sadly, the vocal minority disagree and are prepared to throw tantrums until they get their way.

ilovecanberra2:23 pm 17 Feb 22

I’m so sorry that this has happened. It’s completely understandable that you would flinch whenever you see people aggressively wearing the flag. Sadly, it has been co-opted by racists and people who call themselves patriots, as in ‘we’re patriots and you others are not.’ White people and anti-Vaxers are the real Australians, in their own reality. Sadly, the same thing has happened in America. There’s a lot of horrible comments on here but don’t worry, the convoy people are flooding our local social media with this stuff. They’ll be gone soon, thank heavens. Hopefully the flag will become a symbol of unity again.

The flag has been hijacked. For years because of the right wing hijacking it, anyone flying the blue ensign was suspect. Now these warped individuals have added the red ensign to that too. This tiny, ignorant, selfish part of the population have stolen it from the majority of the people. They have made flying the flag a symbol of being un-Australian.

As a migrant from America, I can agree with controversy of a flag…the US flag is overly revered by some (patriots blindfolded by the flag) and sported as a thong (budgie smuggler…sp?) by others. I would say the Confederate flag of the Civil War is more controversial and is the go to emblem of the racist/nationalistic, but for some represents freedom of choice against the government. We don’t have the same history as Australia and other places that were under colonial rule for much longer. I kind of like how Canada decided to change their flag back in the 60s (I’m guessing it wasn’t an easy transition) and now they have the cool maple leaf that everyone associates and loves. Can’t see why this wouldn’t hurt for Aussies as well. We love sports here and seems like the green and yellow with the kangaroo would be a good fit or something similar…maybe even something paying respect to our First Nations. I know though that this would be a hard change for those who feel proud of the the current flag, especially those who served in the armed forces under it.

I’m sorry Zoya is not happy with Australian democracy and people’s right to protest.

limestonecowboy10:30 am 17 Feb 22

Even as an Australian born to Anglo-Australian parents I feel alienated by these “yobs” who have appropriated the blue ensign that is currently the Australian flag.
I prefer to think of these yobs as “Staylians” who are patriotic to a mythical land “Straylia” the home of bogans and mindless unthinking boars whose views and actions are entirely at odds to mine.
A very good reason for this country to finally grow up, become a republic and adopt a new flag that actually reflects our ethos.

Capital Retro9:42 am 17 Feb 22

I’m just wondering what would happen if you returned to Fiji and wrote an article like this about their flag?

It was nice knowing you, Zoya.

Capital Retro9:39 am 17 Feb 22

Anthea Kerrison, you have got your wires crossed. It was Bob Hawke who initiated the Australian nationalistic movement when he appeared in a jacket emblazoned with the flags of Australia.


You can still hate Howard for lots of other things though.

limestonecowboy11:29 am 17 Feb 22

Good try it was Howard who whipped up xenophobia and motivated the deep flowing undercurrent of racism.

Capital Retro12:16 pm 17 Feb 22

Hawke liked it, but then he wasn’t a Howard-Hater like you are.

lol, if this ruins it for you, then I have no pity for you

If we’re going to play this game, I’m a second generation migrant with zero British heritage and “brown” inherited from “first peoples” of the americas. I find the opposite. What I find has made things worse here since the 90s is the endless progressivism that keeps forcing me to care about things that I don’t want to, hiding the underlying neoliberalism that sells out our future for a quick buck.

Ultimately, I just want to be left alone. It comes down to Conquest’s three laws of politics, and that someone who wants to be left alone will always lose to someone who wants control how others live, which is why Cthulhu always swims left.

Hi Zoya,

Veteran here that has deployed and fought for this Country. Now I’m not familiar with Your articles but have managed to have a read of a few before making this post and can tell You excel at hyper progressive Dog whistle type articles. That’s fine, you can have Your own Political beliefs but I feel this article to be rather reflection of Yourself and the hate You seem to hold towards certain people and their beliefs.

Maybe You should try working on Yourself a little and realize people are allowed to have difference of opinions and that doesn’t make them terrible people or filled with hate.

Based on your posts, you seem to excel at finding things about this country you don’t like.

Perhaps there may be another country that you would find more suitable to your tastes, though my feeling is that such a search is unlikely to be fruitful.

However if you decide to stay and believe it is important that migrants should be accepted in an inclusive society, I suggest you avoid supporting the Greens. They are strong supporters of racism and seem to believe that not all people of this nation should have the same legal rights.

Unless of course you support such a racist stance?

perhaps you have some actual evidence? Its sad that you feel the need to peddle such nonsense The greens are not rascist in any way.

Many racists perform complex mental gymnastics to convince themselves that they are not racist because “it is for a good cause”, or “I know better than them” or “that group is special and needs special privileges” . But they are all just excuses used to justify racism.

So, some examples:
Dugongs (threatened species) and Green Sea Turtles (Endangered species) are both at risk species. Very sensibly, they are protected from hunting. If I was to hunt one I would get a big fine. However if I was indigenous I would be permitted to hunt them. The Greens support this stance. Allowing hunting of an endangered species is wrong. The Greens should be against it. To allow just one ethnic group to do it is racist.
Whenever I’ve asked any Greens representatives about the use of corporal punishment as part of our justice system, they are (as you would probably expect) strongly against it. A proposal to allow our prison staff to whip or stab inmates would of course not succeed. Yet in parts of Australia spearing of offenders as part of tribal punishment is so recognised by our legal system that even the ABC has reported a magistrate handing down a lighter sentence because he knew the offender would be speared when he returned to his community. I have raised this with both the Greens and Amnesty International, and both refuse to take action, apparently believing corporal punishment is acceptable for some “peoples”.
Are you aware the in Canberra, the Greens want some jobs to be reserved for people of a particular ethnicity? If some jobs were reserved for “white people”, that would be racist. When jobs are reserved for indigenous people, then that is also racist.
Would you like more examples?

Classic Zoya article. She is the queen of stirrers. Still waiting on the “Queanbeyan dogs are smarter than Canberra dogs” article.

There were many brown faces at the protest rally, so as long as you weren’t wearing a mask you would have felt quite welcome. It is tedious to keep on pointing out that the vast majority of the protesters just wanted an end to vaccination mandates and their old lives back, but there is a cohort of people who continue to demonise them for simply standing up for basic rights.
My body, my choice was a common theme at the protests, not my body, your choice and certainly not my body, the government’s choice.
What the pro-mandate supporters fail to understand is that the more they scorn and ridicule the protesters, the more they marginalise everyone. Maybe that is what they want.

“but there is a cohort of people who continue to demonise them for simply standing up for basic rights.”

Not one person has demonised the protesters for standing up for basic rights.

“My body, my choice was a common theme at the protests, not my body, your choice and certainly not my body, the government’s choice.”

Strange then that so many of them abused and harassed local Canberrans for daring to have different opinions to them and wear masks/promote Vaccination then isn’t it?

For pro “choice” protesters, they seemed to be pretty angry with people who make different choices to them.

Your comment is like the inverse of Zoyas article. You’ve maintained the illogical base but flipped the ideology.

It’s truly strange (and illuminating) how some people can ignore and excuse the woeful behaviour of protesters if they agree with them. The cognitive dissonance is astounding.

“Not one person has demonised the protesters for standing up for basic rights.”
Really? Now that is an example of cognitive dissonance. Must be a symptom of stalking.
Thank you for proving my point by offering yourself as a perfect example.

Provide one example of someone demonising protesters for standing up for “basic rights”. And then give us the basis for what you define as a “basic right” as supporting evidence.

And I’m happy to be your “perfect” example because I just goes to show the paucity of your argument, unwittingly proving mine.

Example? Go look in the mirror. LOL.

If they were really for freedom of choice why would they not welcome you if you were wearing a mask? Surely they would respect that choice?

Personally i find it sad that so many of them wrapped themselves in the flag. It has nothing to do with their protest. I dont think they represent most australians, but maybe I’m wrong and the UAP and one nation will sweep to power at the next election…….

Thanks for once again proving my point.

Not once have I demonised protesters for standing up for basic rights. If you think I have, direct quotes please.

I’ve criticised their methods and actions in abusing and harassing locals as well as impeding others going about their lawful business.

Interesting that you must define basic rights as the ability to freely harrass and abuse others for having different views.

But we already knew you were a hypocrite who changes his mind based on whether he agrees with an issue or not, didn’t we.

Dolphin – I think the face mask represents everything they were opposed to so it was symbolic. Actually it was quite pleasant walking through such a large group of people and seeing smiling faces on men, women and kids. As for the flags, well there were many there – Hungarian, Macedonian, Croatian, Greek, Canandian etc, but the majority were Australian and Aboriginal flags. It was quite a multicultural event. A couple of times I got accidently hit by enthusiastic flag wavers, who immediately apologised. No worries, I said.

I actually like Zoyas article last week but this one is a return to form.

It’s a woeful take on the issue, that she should try to recognise as mostly to do with her own internal anxieties rather than any form of objective truth around what the flag means and how it is used.

It’s actually sad how much some personal experiences has affected her overall stance.

Stephen Saunders7:34 am 17 Feb 22

Welcome to the club, Zoya. I was born here of pure Anglo-Irish stock, yet have always detested it and rejected it as a White British Christian flag.

But the so-called freedom fighters remind us Australia is a deeply conservative country. Sadly, you may never live to see our own flag or head of state.

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