Monday, February 15, 2010


"If you want a symbolic gesture, don't burn the flag, wash it." Norman Thomas

No less august authority than Sam Kekovitch has argued convincingly that the Union Jack on the Australian flag should be replaced by that symbol that unites all Australians in heart; fluttering admiration: the lamb chop. When fully considered, the sensibility of the proposition is axiomatic - not all Australians appreciate Aussie Rules Football, Rugby, or even, (perish the thought) cricket. Some do not even fish or understand "So you think you can dance." Asylum seekers and boat people in particular would see in "The Biggest Loser" a paradigm of Australia as a land of plenty, ("after all, does not our land abound in nature's gifts?) while the meaning of the Southern Cross, would be generally lost on everyone, except for the Greeks. This is because the flag of Byzantine Emperor Romanos III Argyros was eerily akin to that of the symbol of the Eureka protest, it being dissected by a cross and having four stars, though in the Byzantine version, the stars are blue and the background gold. The lamb chop on the other hand is generally of a brown hue, depending on the level of its carbonization and unfortunately this particular prismatic fraction does not lend itself to appealing placement upon one's national flag. Perhaps the fork that holds it into place would be more symbolic, though Edward Hubbel Chapin holds ostentation to be the signal flag of hypocrisy.
The argument that the Australian flag should be changed because the Union Jack does not represent Australians, is a poor one and given the intense flag waving during Australia Day recently, not a particularly popular one. The Union Jack represents the union of the Scottish and English peoples, through the accession of the Scottish king James I to the throne of England and those of Northern Ireland. Wales does not get a mention, which may vex Tom Jones but need not bother us here. These nations account for the origins and cultural identification of the majority of Australian citizens. As for the rest of us, we need to acknowledge that they were here first. After all, it is poor form, having invited by your host to enjoy the accommodation of his home, to, once settled it, demand that the colour scheme be changed. Applying this rationale of course, the national flag of the moon is that of the United States, since they got there first. This can be proven by the fact that there are six US flags on the moon and no one else has disputed their vexillogical claim by supplanting them with any others, probably because they may obscure the bat signal.
Furthermore, the changing of the flag would require such a tremendous capital outlay, that it may just well prove to be the very thing that would tip an Australian economy perched precariously upon the precipice of economic perdition, teetering over the edge. No, these are times of austerity, where we must all tighten our belts and practise restraint. An ideal recession-busting activity could actually be the tearing away of the useless blue section of the Australian flag - the Southern Cross, which also appears on the flags of New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Samoa and Brazil with the salvaged material being applied to resuscitating the moribund domestic lingerie industry. "The less a statesman amounts to, the more he loves the flag," Kin Hubbard once opined. This may be just what Tony Abbott needs to gather the requisite impetus that will propel him high over the heaving mass of Joe Hockey, straight to the office of the Prime Minister.
Then again, maybe if we wait around long enough, the Australian flag in its present form, may become relevant to all. That was certainly the case with the flag of Constantinople. Originally a white crescent moon on a red background, representing the goddess Artemis, a white star was added to it in 330AD, to symbolise the Virgin Mary. It is a flag that endured throughout the Byzantine Empire and was subsequently adopted by the successors, the Ottomans, and flies still, as the national flag of Turkey.
Recently I suggested to a particularly ageing left comrade, who was demanding the replacement of the Australian flag on the grounds that it did not represent him as a non-English speaking Australian of Kalamatan ethnicity, that Greece also consider changing its flag. After all, the over one million people of non-Greek extraction who reside in the country cannot all claim to feel that the Greek flag represents them. Certainly Tzimis Panoussis, the veritable Aristophanes of our times does not have filial feelings towards it, which is why he has replaced its cross with the hammer and sickle. Similarly the hordes of rampaging anarchists and students who burn it during protests every year may just be engaged in a vociferous debate as to aesthetics. Since the European Union seems hell-bent upon removing crucifixes and icons from classrooms, does not the removal of crosses from flags seem like the next logical consequence? In that eventuality, the national flags of such European nations as Slovakia, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Malta would have to be changed and of course, Britain would lose its Union Jack, making Australia and other former Pacific colonies, the final repositories and guardians of a distinguished vexillogical tradition. Would it therefore not be prudent to anticipate such an event rather than react to it once it occurs? For the only people in Greece who perennially seem to fuss over the Greek flag are Albanian over-achieving students, who wish to appropriate one for themselves in time for the traditional Independence Day March, a tendency without historical precedent, since the Albanian captains who fought under a variant of the Greek flag for Greece's liberty were not a few. In fact, I suggested, the best way of accommodating the Albanian minority in Greece would be to add the double-headed eagle, already a prominent feature of their flag, to the Greek cross. However, the end result would be the flag of Autonomous Northern Epirus and that would most likely provoke a diplomatic incident. Conversely, we could do a Cyprus or a Kosovo and make our map our flag, which for Kekovitchian purposes is most instructive, given that the map of Kosovo on that breakaway entity's flag, does in fact look like a lamb chop, albeit with the bone removed. Unsurprisingly, my next suggestion, that the Greeks of Australia adopt as their own flag, one with a blue background and the Souvlaki Hut logo, was also met with the derision that it deserves.
If flags truly do encapsulate the history and aspirations of a people, they cannot be changed lightly. As Greeks, we revere our awe-inspiring flag because the terrible privations endured in order to fly it freely have been drummed into our heads since our infancy. It has the capacity to move us to tears. Though Australians have also fought and died under their flag, it is still a relatively new flag and it is premature for it to be expected to be an icon of the country. For this reason, we would dismiss its historical elements at our peril. The flag of Hawaii still preserves the Union Jack, despite the fact that it belongs to the United States, whose very existence was forged in spite of, or rather as an ancillary to British Imperialism. This is no sop to the British but rather mature historical recognition. At any rate, should the groundswell of consensus demand that the Australian flag be changed, there can only be one other alternative: the Aboriginal flag, for to relegate it as only one of many 'national' flags is to deny the primacy of custodianship of this land to its original inhabitants. That in itself verges upon racism and must be abjured.
Until next week then, keep the flag flying, (whichever one strikes your fancy: I have one of Autonomous Northern Epirus in my living room at the moment and it is causing domestic strain) if possible, to the rhythm of these words, by the immortal Jimi Hendrix: "White collar conservative flashin' down the street, pointing that plastic finger at me, they all assume my kind will die, but I'm gonna wave my freak flag high."


First published in NKEE on 15 February 2010