A flag draped in racism and war

ITEM:Ausflag has always been aware that the Union Jack in the corner could be used as a cultural and racial wedge, a means by which white, Anglo Australians could remind everyone else that "you are not, and will never be, considered truly Australian".

Regrettably, the Cronulla riots saw this come to pass. Never before has this country seen the national flag used so aggressively to put non-Anglos back in their place. But the signs have been there for a long time. Most white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups in Australia bind themselves root-and-branch to the Union Jack on our flag.

When One Nation burst onto the scene, Pauline Hanson was photographed draped in the flag, the Union Jack proudly on her shoulder. And now we have Cronulla. The national flag as racial wedge and cultural sledgehammer has gone mainstream.

Those who profess to love the flag need to reflect deeply on what has happened. Are they troubled that the flag is being used for overtly racist and divisive purposes? Do they care that more and more Australians find this alienating and offensive?

Racism draped in flag, Brendan Jones : MORE>

There is this massive contradiction in pursuit of Australian nationalism. In the work of historian Russell Ward such as The Australian Legend -- there is this attempt to edit the cultural history so that it can be claimed as being fed with a progressive national edge -- which he calls the 'up country ethos' --a projection of a bush based egalitarianism.

This is like Turner's US "frontier thesis" which tries to locate a populist progressiveness in an engagement with the land.

This is hardly to the point, I think, as outside such cultural readings, the historical record which has been much more effective in limiting such feel good terms as "mateship' to whitey. No matter how liberally you try to read Henry Lawson (as Frank Hardy tried to do) you soon enough have to deal with the underpinnings of racism that chose to separate these matey narratives from the existence of the "wogs and chinks" and this is where Lawson is so keen to proclaim his nationalist credentials. As far as he was concerned one of the core attractions of a federated statehood was the prospect of expelling the Chinese (and the Kanaks) once and for all.

This is a major thread through all The Bulletin stuff too-- through Banjo Paterson, and that great graphic artist, Norman Lindsay. The parameters that helped format Australian nationalism was a determined exclusiveness(this was akin to and parallelled by ye old aristocracy of labour developments which fostered its own exclusiveness)

No matter how much you bend or twist it, as the Communist Party tried to do and more so the Maoists, you're still stuck with this problematical feature.

And given that in the main the history of Australian military activity has been imperialist or in keen other coalition with imperialists it is hard to generate a message that is anything but belligerant. Even the holy Anzac myth is based on an attempted invasion of another country -- Turkey -- and that slaughter was embraced at the behest of Great Britain.

So "our" flag hasn't much cloth available within which any one can choose to wrap themselves up in with comfort. Look at Hansen -- her manipulation of nationalism(but not her use of racism) was located in a certain age grouping and the whole RSL, last bastion/Brisbane line mantra.

For the people of my parents' generation this experience of nationalism -- at war with Japan -- was very real and one which they were keen to embrace -- because so many died fighting under its sponsorship. This sacrifice was buoyed up and excused because there was a national consensus within which even the Communist Party participated.

Outside your local RSL sub branch it's hard to tap into this level of patriotism today. Even a million Australians are currently overseas working and such and no mater how many times they hear Tenterfield Saddler or I Still Call Australia Home -- it aint so easy to foster an zenophobia unless they pick it up from their present country of residence.

Even in the refugee debate the line is very crude and straightforward -- these people warrant being interned because they are trying to sneek into Australia. There's this keen attempt to rant on about the foreigners rather than celebrate what we are supposed to be. It's very negativistic...while the message also preaches "our" tolerance.

So while it may be a straightforwrd exericise to demonize Muslims it's another challenge all together to invest "the flag" with a counterposing identity. Indeed, one of the reasons the republican movement here has been so shallow is that in terms of a national consciousness there's not much to bandy around that warrants getting steamed up about and fiddling with the constitution.

And undermining all attempts to locate "our" identity in "the land" is the massive contradiction that the place was stolen in the first place. While you may despise aborigines or whatever thats' hardly a merit badge warranting being affixed to the flag to enhance its qualities. It's not on.

So I'm suggesting there's a lot we can get out of aggressively addressing and debating this flag question and the notion of being UN-Australian.

Because as the Socialist Alliance says: Another Australia is possible --and another flag, perhaps, to go with it.