Supporting our National Symbols

This week saw the celebration of National Flag Day. It passed with little fanfare and virtually no public recognition in the mainstream media. However, a hardy group of souls assembled for lunches, dinners and other events across the nation to recognise the occasion.

Most of the functions in each state were organised by the Australian National Flag Association, which operates through a national network of state-based affiliates. Their aim is to ‘communicate positively to all Australians the significance of our chief national symbol’. They do this through educational material, a ‘fly the flag’ program and by working cooperatively with many service organisations.

Our flag is the only one that flies over an entire continent and also the only one that was adopted through a national competition. Five people submitted very similar designs and shared the £200 prize money. Two of the winners were only teenagers at the time, a fact that should encourage every young person to take the opportunity to make a real and lasting difference.

Unfortunately, too few people know of the important history of our flag, which makes National Flag Day even more significant.

This year I attended a luncheon in Tasmania as part of National Flag Day. The spirited patriots who attended heard welcome messages from many national public figures including the Governor-General Quentin Bryce, the Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott.

There were also messages from state dignitaries as well. However, there was one notable exception. Despite a formal request for a message, the Premier of Tasmania, Lara Giddings, chose not to respond. By all accounts this is the second time in as many years that no response has been received. As I commented to some of the people present, her lack of message sends a very strong message in itself.

It also raises a broader question: just how important are our national symbols to some of our political leaders?

Some readers may think this isn’t a particularly important topic to explore but to my mind it is important, not least of all because our national symbols are also symbols for good. They unite us in a sense of nationhood, celebrating the diverse backgrounds that have merged to form a strong and prosperous nation.

They represent our collective hopes and optimism, our celebration and our sorrow. They provide stability and continuity in a rapidly changing world.

In respect to our flag, it flies high in times of joy and is lowered in times of sorrow. It covers the caskets of those who have given all in service of our nation and covers the shoulders of many on Australia Day. Yet earlier this year we were told that those who fly our flag on their cars are more likely to be racist than others. Such claims only seek to discourage the patriotism that we should be supporting.

Patriotism is devotion to one’s country. There is a great deal to love about Australia and we should show our allegiance to the values, virtues and customs that make our country great at every opportunity, for they are the things that unite us: one flag, one people, united in “one indissoluble Federal Commonwealth … relying on the blessing of Almighty God.”

God has indeed blessed Australia. We have a proud history and a bright future. However, in good times and in bad, more of us should also give our blessings to this amazing nation. It can start with honouring the symbols of nationhood – something that has apparently been lost on the current Tasmanian Premier.

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