Australia's Flag, Anthem, and Constitution

Posted by Mike Kaaks

08 July 2019

Australia’s Flag, Anthem, and Constitution

When my family came to Australia people like us were called New Australians. It was the 50’s and through to the 60’s the migrant story was always in the news and always part of politics. Now in the 2010s the migrant story is still at the forefront of news (or should I say opinion) and politics. Things have changed though - we are now talking about people coming from a different set of countries, and our politics have become about exclusion and separateness in place of inclusion and unity. The common point here is that we are a country of migrants. If we look at history over a long enough arc we see that our first peoples were also migrants, although 50,000 years compared to 200 years entitles them to a different role in the way we organise and recognise our country. Certainly a different role to that of those 200 years.

The modern times migrants have done little to recognise these forebears. We adopted a constitution based on a system from a country on the other side of the world, a document that enshrined little or nothing to recognise that this land once belonged to someone else. In fact it took until 1967 for us to recognise first peoples as citizens, to count their numbers as part of a state or the commonwealth. We adopted a flag in much the same way, stamping it with a union jack rather than creating something unique, something that spoke of the true history of our land. And our anthem with lyrics that show that as recently as 1984 we still had no feel for the impact settler decisions have on first peoples. Describing us as Young and Free clearly doesn’t embrace first peoples. It is at odds with our history and with the state of our nation today.

You might baulk at the use of the phrase first peoples. I first encountered it in documentaries about Canada - its a phrase they have used for some time. It has a respectful tone that doesn’t exist in the words Aboriginal or Indigenous. Canada has moved on its flag too, and along with New Zealand provides a beacon light for some of the issues about which I write.

The genesis of this piece is the recent protest about the anthem by some NRL players.  Their protest encourages me to speak out about these issues, issues that must be addressed.

Time to Make a Difference