21 November 2016

It’s time to change the ACT flag

| John Hargreaves
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I want to wade into the issue of replacing our ACT Flag; a subject started by Steven Squires in an article earlier this month. I invite people to read or re-read that thread.

The comments offered in response to Steven varied from considered opinion to frivolous and mocking. Indeed, a serious question re the presence of the white swan was largely ignored. Credit to Dungfungus for outlining the actual reason for the presence of that coloured swan.

Just to reiterate that reason; it was to show that the two peoples, white and black, live together in the ACT and share in its sovereignty. The last part is my own interpretation.


The presence of the white swan is odd for two reasons. The first is, as Dungers quite rightly pointed out, there are no indigenous white swans in Australia. The second is the patronising demonstration of co-habitation instead of the theft of land and culture from our indigenous brothers and sisters.

Sure, we have signposts welcoming people to Ngunnawal country as one enters the ACT. But they were put there by a white administration from the Legislative Assembly. I don’t know any Ngunnawal or Ngambri people who necessarily share that welcome. It must be said however, that often we have welcome to country ceremonies with welcoming speeches by Ngunnawal elders inviting us to lay our footprints on their land. But even here, I reckon if they had their druthers, they would prefer some greater recognition of their traditional “ownership” to “custodianship”.

And sure, when the pollies start speeches (and indeed in some instances in NGOs) proceedings are started with an acknowledgment of the traditional custodians of the land. This poem is recited by folks who, I’m sure don’t always have its sentiment at heart.

So, in my mind, the swans can go from the flag. They really represent to me the occupation of the boundaries of the ACT by white folks to the detriment of the original owners of the land.

If you look at the pictures at the start of the article, you will see two different coats of arms. That they are different gives cause for a re-evaluation of the presence of the coat of arms at all on our Territorial symbolism. That the flag contains a “modified” coat of arms gives rise to questions of why was it necessary, and who said it was a good/bad idea?

Now is the time to stand on our own two feet and declare the individuality of the Territory, in much the same way as the NT did, and to sever connections with the Crown, once and for all.

Ivo Ostyn developed a few alternatives for a flag and put them into the public arena for discussion (and hopefully, adoption). Some are:


Note that there are a few images which invoke emotion of patriotism for the Territory. One is the colour scheme, and the other is the Southern Cross. No one seems to object to the blue and gold colour scheme as being inappropriate. I agree that we should embrace those colours because they, for me, do show our individuality and lend an instant recognition that we are not part of either NSW or Victoria, whose colour scheme seem to follow traditional pommie lines.

Ivo proposed a stylised version of the Royal (yuk) Bluebell to replace the coat of arms. Whilst disliking the label Royal, I do think that the Bluebell, being only found here, is a good call.

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

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Back to the coat of arms. The reference to the British (and some say, the Australian) hereditary monarchy is abhorrent to me (please note that I was born in the UK, came here when I was 3 years old, and only go there to visit cousins. I feel no affiliation with the UK at all).

The references to the Crown are (obviously) in the true coat of arms – the crown is placed above the shield. Also, the rose is that of the monarchy. Interestingly, I read recently, that the rose symbol for the House of Windsor is actually a pink rose being a blend of the Lancastrian red rose and the Yorkshire white rose. But we have a white one on our coat of arms. Note also that there is another crown in the shield itself.

I must say that I don’t think we have too many castles in Australia lived in by major or minor royalty and I can thus only surmise that this also refers to an English aspect of the monarchy.

The scroll below the coat of arms reads “For the Queen, the Law and the People”. I’m happy about the latter two sentiments but not the “For the Queen” bit. Did you know that when Legislative Assembly members are sworn in they can swear allegiance to the Queen, her heirs and successors, or affirm their loyalty to the ACT and its people? No guesses for the way I affirmed my loyalty to the people of the ACT when I was sworn in.

Note here that the scroll is missing from the flag’s coat of arms.

Indeed, when the sitting periods commence each day in the Assembly, the Speaker asks members to stand in their place and pray or reflect on their responsibilities to the people of the Australian Capital Territory. No mention of the monarchy.

I think the ACT is ready for another considered discussion about its uniqueness, its sovereignty and the symbols which represent them.

The flag was inaugurated following a motion in the Legislative Assembly on March 25, 1993, after a competition and extensive conversation with the community. The process was quite robust but in none of the discussions I have been able to unearth is there a discussion on the modified coat of arms. Nor a conversation as to whether ties with the monarchy should be severed.

So, I say, let the conversation recommence. Let us take the opportunity to have another look at the flag and all that it connotes.

The ACT became the People’s Democratic Republic of the ACT in 1989, after much angst and venom in 1988. It will be 30 years old in 2019, the Territory will have been around for 106 years. Perhaps the timing for a change is nigh.

Interestingly, the flag can be changed by a mere motion carried by simple majority by the Legislative Assembly in much the same way as the original flag was created. So, perhaps those august legislators could be enticed to reconsider the flag and its connection with the people of the ACT rather than a hereditary monarchy, removed geographically and spiritually, from the peasantry.

I haven’t met Steven Squires but intend to do so very shortly. I have spoken to Ivo Ostyn and intend to meet with him shortly also. Anyone else interested in being part of a movement for change?

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An absolute non-issue. Change it or don’t change it – nobody cares either way, except current and former ACT politicians.

John Hargreaves10:20 am 22 Nov 16

Other uses where the flag has been flown are in international for a, such as in Westminster Palace as part of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association annual exchange, the Commonwealth Speakers and Clerks at the Table conference, interparliamentary meetings and conferences, trade delegations and ministerial visits overseas and interstate, Scouting functions, non-government councils and conferences where a representative from the ACT has needed a distinction. All schools in the ACT, public and private fly the flag, and it is flown at Manuka Oval and Bruce Stadium when our representatives paly their sport.

These are a few.

The real issue is that whether one likes the current flag or now, it is flawed. This has been pointed out by academics like Steven Squires from the ANU. If it is a flawed flag, it needs fixing.

So, now is the time to reflect on what symbolism we want to show that we are not the little brother of another state or a child of the Commonwealth but a truly legitimate jurisdiction of our own, with our own uniqueness as citizens and lovers of Canberra.

RichPoetry said :

The existing flag is rich in history and it has words … true the Queen is a bit dated … and law and order very regimented … the replacement offered is so bland and forgetful … and there are no words to describe it – other than of course utterly inadequate … come on all you creative Canberrans you can do much better!

That was rather naughty, but very funny.

wildturkeycanoe7:45 am 22 Nov 16

Apart from waving this flag at the assembly building and parliament house, what other purpose does it serve? Is this something that we can take to national sporting events, to show our athletes that we have Canberra pride? I really can’t see what all the fuss is about and wonder how many people even realize we have a flag at all. Schools proudly display the national flag, aboriginal and islander flags, but never have I seen an A.C.T flag. In N.S.W they hang their state flag from school flagpoles, but not here. Why?

Alex GreyWing2:43 pm 25 Apr 18

Sorry about this being late, but I’d like to confirm, yes, schools do fly the A.C.T flag. And, as John Hargreaves said before, it is used in sporting events, along with diplomatic events and in front of some public buildings.

Any new flag should reflect the new “grown up” Canberra. It must have a tram and a high rise apartment block on it. There must be some more important issues than this to occupy the time of the Legislative Assembly.

Blen_Carmichael said :

Do we really need a flag for what is effectively a tarted-up town council?

The Territory really needs the current flag to be flown inverted which would be an accurate statement about all the latent problems our current government has.

I must admit I’m not a great flag waver … perhaps our number plate gives sufficient recognition … I remember ‘The heart of the Nation’ … strange that some outsiders thought of a better word, one that rhymes with heart – LOL

Blen_Carmichael3:04 pm 21 Nov 16

Do we really need a flag for what is effectively a tarted-up town council?

The existing flag is rich in history and it has words … true the Queen is a bit dated … and law and order very regimented … the replacement offered is so bland and forgetful … and there are no words to describe it – other than of course utterly inadequate … come on all you creative Canberrans you can do much better!

Frivolous and mocking? Who said this:

“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. 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.”

That is frivolous and mocking. So if you don’t like the swans (because of the white one) and you don’t like the colour (because it’s Royal yuk blue) and you don’t like the stylised design, what shall we have for your “People’s Democratic Republic of the ACT”.

A hammer and sickle? With a stirring adaptation of the Internationale:

“Arise ye ex-pollies from your slumbers,

Arise ye pensioners of want,

A need to change the flag now thunders,

March on, march on, to arms ye nonchalant.”

An alternative flag has merit, but if the current design irritates old Lefties then it continues to serve a most useful function.

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