I must confess I hadn’t given a great deal of thought to the Australian flag until I returned to these shores in 2012. I found it very easy when out of Australia to have limited thought about our culture and heritage, and subsequent historical unease.
In London, I celebrated Australia Day like many other Aussies, in an Australian-themed pub drinking Fosters and listening to Men at Work and Cold Chisel (I hated Cold Chisel before leaving).
On return, I was prompted to think more often and more deeply about our national identity and about where I want to fit within that. In all honesty I was more proudly Australian abroad than when my feet were planted on local soil.
Living here, I am aware of the conflict. I am aware of the wrongs within our history. Were they my personal wrongs? No. Do I feel like I could do more to stand up for what I believe is right? Yes.
Like so many other countries, I believe our flag is currently being held hostage by parts of our society I do not wish to associate with; many who believe that to be proudly Australian is to shun other cultures, that being Australian involves being from a white, English-speaking background.
When I see the merchandise everywhere in the shops at the moment – everything from eskies to chip boxes brandished in the Australian flag – I can’t help but flinch slightly. We celebrate a day as Australia Day, which must cause deep-seated dislike and distrust in our indigenous population. We fly our flag and celebrate being Australian on a day of enormous injustice to the people who were here first. For so many reasons I would love to see us celebrate being Australians (from whichever journey we may have trodden) on a different day, and my inner republican would love to see us celebrate with a different flag (one that includes the more relevant Aboriginal symbol instead of the increasingly irrelevant British one).
My English husband reminds me that the same thing has happened in many countries. The ‘far right’ often sabotage national symbols to promote their causes. He reminds me that it is not for me to shun our flag for this reason alone, but to rewrite my associations with it and appreciate its role in our own history.
This Australia Day, I hope to see many locals from the original people (as says my young daughter who can’t fully pronounce the word aboriginal) through to the strong mix of diverse cultures that we now have living in Canberra, celebrating how lucky we are to be here and what a beautiful city it is.
Maybe one day we can get the day right and include a rightful and respectful historical emblem on our flag indicative of our countries true roots, but until then I sincerely hope Canberra enjoys a celebration of tolerance.