Paris will never sink

The Great Arms of the City of Paris have told many stories since 1358, but perhaps most importantly of all, a story of continuity over 650 years of troubles and dramatic changes.

The motto of the city, Fluctuat nec mergitur, is usually translated into English as ‘She is tossed by the waves, but does not sink’, or in French ‘Est battu par les flots mais jamais ne sombre’.  Its a story of resilience, and a perfect reminder that however gloomy and scary the times may seem now, a great city always rises again.

See and reflect upon the Arms of one of the world’s great cities.  We are all in that boat.  Paris will never sink.

Paris Coat of Arms

Vale Australia’s Third Knightage

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull last week announced the abolition of the third Australian knightage – or, as the jubilant Fairfax-Murdoch press complex and the even more triumphant social media opinionists shouted, he “abolished knights and dames”. What a man!

I have in earlier posts (Why Knighthood Matters in 21st Century Australia, Honours for the Honourably Challenged) supported the restoration of the knighthood level in the Order of Australia or elsewhere within the Australian honours system. I continue to do so. However, the enraptured celebrations of the Turnbullistas, and the square metres of media space given to the gleeful FitzSimons-Turnbull republicans to broadcast their support for this bold, brave move, have given me pause to reflect upon the nature of the latest abolition and the character of the responses to it.

The responses, as far as I can guage, fall into six main categories: the anachronistic, the nationalistic, the vulgar, the Abbott-hating, the derisive and the simply confused. It’s quite a raffish, larrikinish ensemble, and I’ll consider each in turn.

The anachronistic. Anachronism is one of the principle reasons given by the PM for abolition. Describing something as anachronistic means it is in the wrong time (like an 18th century clock in a 21st century room).  In the academic world it is a pejorative, but it is used in the vernacular to mean something like old-fashioned or out-of-date, although not necessarily bad. Apparently, it doesn’t apply to titles such as Adjunct Professor or Honorary Doctor, and it certainly doesn’t apply to the Melbourne Cup, won a few days later by Prince of Penzance (although I heard one sports commentator this morning, apparently desperate to stay in the new zeit, call it Pirate of Penzance!), with the jockey described in much of the press the next day as the Cup Queen of Queen of the Sport. Anachronism, it seems, can be quite desirable in some circles.

The nationalistic. This has perhaps been the most bellicose of the responses, with all sorts of claims about imperial honours, toadying to the palace and the general un-Australianess of allowing someone to have the uppity pre-nominal title Sir or Dame which is contrary to our legendary egalitarian (and I mean, legendary). The knighthoods were a level within the Order of Australia, and unless Australia is now an Empire, and they are awarded to imperial subjects in oh, I don’t know, say Manus or Nauru or Mawson, such claims are the ultimate in 1950s cultural cringe made by nationalistic Rip van Winkel’s still stuck nostalgically reading the Bulletin of the 1890s.

The derisive. In many ways a variant on the anachronistic and nationalistic strands, found especially in the medium of cartoons that can be relied upon to depict the characters in some sort of medievalist setting and, by implication, casting anyone not antagonistic to knighthoods as anachronistic and deserving of being cast out of the polis. The fact that these depictions and allusions bear little, if any, relationship to the actual medieval world is beside the point. This is the Medieval Australia we never had, but apparently must have now, to show the cleverness of the anti-knights, to have existing prejudices confirmed through a cartoon medium that always contains a sense of epicaricacy.  To be ahistorical is to be modern.

The vulgar.  Another variant on the nationalistic, and particularly favoured in the cold anonymity of social media commentary. Those not sufficiently opposed to knighthoods, those who received knighthoods, and of course Tony Abbott, are generally described in very short, often single-word sentences that, in a sort of unconscious anachronism, rely almost exclusively on a broad knowledge of terms popularly considered to be old Anglo-Saxon words for cursing and describing those who have annoyed or offended, and intimating physical violence will be used on dissenters.

The Abbott-hating. The focus of these responses was on characteristics attributed to the former PM, with nationalism and vulgarity heavily featured. A key element in these responses is the acceptable racism of Brit-bashing, in which a circular narrative positions Abbott as a foreigner because he was born in Britain, and because of that he must retain some sort of genetic loyalty to a foreign monarch, which means he is British and so un-Australian (any nationality can be inserted into this old formula). There is a strong whiff of American birtherism and Social Darwinism in some of these responses, which along with the nationalistic and vulgar strands points to the capacity for the internet to both connect closed minds and to keep them truly closed.  It is an ironic response in a migrant society.

 The simply confused. All of the above strands will be evident in these responses to some degree. It is characterised by the ad nauseam references to imperial honours, and illustrated in one Fairfax opinion piece that, on the one hand, actually said something sensible and even supportive of Prince Charles, but then, almost as if surprised by this, concluded he would have made a suitable candidate for an Australian knighthood. Prince Charles was made a knight in the Order of Australia in 1981! Never let historical accuracy get in the way of political rhetoric.  A Murdoch opinionist demanded to know why the Queen had to approve changes to the rules of the Order, in a casebook example of never letting actual knowledge about the Order get in the way on forthright opinionising.

These responses reveal much about the people who use these tropes. They suggest that the media savvy anti-knighthood warrior is one who is thoroughly and consciously modern (although in a post-modern world, does that make them already anachronistic?), who is truly, really, 100% Australian (with no qualms about living on stolen land), who is never short of a clever phrase, sharp response or derisory smirk to anything that offends them, who can easily hurl the rude or tasteless witticism at any time, who may have a special reserve of bile for Tony Abbott and/or any or all current or former elected office holders, and who, perhaps more than anything else, wears their mind-numbing ignorance of the Australian honours system or honours generally as a badge of pride.

Some things have not been evident in the responses, most notably any actual knowledge of the Australian honours system, any real signs of actual republicanism or monarchism, and perhaps most disconcertingly in a liberal democracy, anyone brave enough to stick their head above the parapet and question, let alone dispute, the abolition. The reported response from the leader of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy saying the abolition was simply revenge by a republican for 1999 may contain some shard of truth, but it essentially conforms to a rhetorical framework set up by the abolitionists in which such responses can be cast as fuddy-duddyism and turned to support their characterisations of those who don’t agree with them. Passion in the face of derision will only ever encourage the tormentor.

This post is not a defence of Tony Abbott’s approach to the Australian knightage. As Prime Minister, Abbott mishandled this whole issue from the beginning. The surprise announcement of their restoration, apropos of nothing at the time, was a bad omen from a man who had promised a ‘no surprises’ government. The quality of the early appointments seemed to overcome this surprise until another surprise, an Australia Day appointment of Prince Philip as a knight. Australia Day is the nationalist’s day, when they try and pretend there was no invasion in 1788, and so their online response at what they perceived as the hijacking of their day became the story du jour in the ‘old’ media, who needed to do little to turn such frothing content into printed words other than give instructions to some cartoonists. They had such fun with that that it became impossible for anyone to defend the appointment without also being subject to a self-righteous bollicking in the middle-class press.

By the time Abbott tried a tactical retreat on the issue by returning the right to nominate knights to the Order of Australia Council (from which it should never have been removed), he had inflicted a grievous wound on the third knightage. More than anything else, the interaction (or failure of interaction) between Abbott’s office and a content-hungry media revealed to the public the shemozzle within the political classes. The knightage had been dangerously politicized, worse in a way than the old honours-for-mates knighthoods of the 1980s that finally killed off the first knightage. The Order of Australia Council could have made recommendations for knighthoods after this point, but seems to have instead opted for silence.

Tony Abbott had a chance to invest some of his political capital, while it still existed early in his term, in a broad public discussion of the Australian honours system and how it could be improved (and there’s plenty to improve). That would have provided a context for introducing the idea of restoring knighthoods, and ensured a more reasoned discussion. Even if the outcome had not been a restoration then, it would have opened up discussion about appropriate means to honour achievement and merit in ways that are more inspirational than the current system and that may, one day, have provided a space for restoring the knightage. Rather, a hubristic moment was allowed to prevail over an opportunity for introducing a considered and enduring change that could appeal to tradition, to moderation and to the generations who had not experienced the ignominy of the end of the first knightage and were curious about the idea.

Instead, we have now had to endure the degrading spectacle of the mainstream and online media yet again participating in and shaping the hunt, well-blooded by the recent years of priming the leadership battles with which the political classes have been amusing themselves. Bringing down a prime minister is now passé, but nasty personal attacks on Prince Philip, criticisms and sly imputations that people such as Dame Marie Bashir or Sir Peter Cosgrove were just grubs with their snouts in the trough, and any number of ever-more bizarre conspiracy theories, especially online, really showed an ugly, callous and spiteful element in the character of our country and, indeed, in many of us.

Abbott’s method of restoring the Australian knightage proved to be unacceptable, and in this his cryptic personality played a role. However, the virulence of the anti-knights is cast from the same mould, as is the pseudo-casual and smug manner with which Prime Minister Turnbull dispatched the third knightage. If only one lesson is learned from this whole fiasco, it should be that neither politicians nor the media (that is, the political classes) should be allowed anywhere near the honours system, especially in shaping the system and its rules, or participating in the nomination or assessment components of that system, although they should remain eligible for awards. As it is, any chance to review and ‘modernise’ (in the current lexicon) the Australian honours system now seems to have been lost for another generation.

And what we are now left with? Dame Quentin Bryce, Dame Marie Bashir, Sir Peter Cosgrove, Sir Angus Houston and Prince Philip, and by implication Sir Ninian Stephen and Prince Charles (from the second knightage) none of whom were politicians, and who each have been recipients of the highest honour bestowed by the Commonwealth of Australia, have had their reputations questioned, their dignity trashed and even their physical appearance ridiculed by an ugly mob sharing the shadenfreude delights of the political classes, in our very own Australian virtual Place de la Revolution. That’s cause enough for national shame, but even worse is that the ugly mob was us. No-one defended our actual, living, feeling ‘knights and dames’. They were, by our silence, thrown to the arm chair revolutionaries, and we all played the role of Madame Defarge, click, click, click. By our silence we let it happen to them, and no amount of disruptiveness, agility, nimbleness or modernity will hide that.  It was an expression of sublime anachronism.

 Vale the Third Knightage.

MH17 One Year On | Mr Norris never forgotten

Today, it snowed in the Blue Mountains where I live.  Today has been marked by commemorations of the first anniversary of the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine, and the murder of everyone on board.  Today, wattle blossom was for remembrance.

Among those killed was one of my old high school teachers in Geraldton, Western Australia. Nick Norris, or Mr Norris as I knew him, was well-liked by his students, captain of the school cadets, and well known to all when I was a teenage boy at Geraldton Senior High School between 1971 and 1975.

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He was not one of my regular teachers, but I well-remember a day when he stood in for a teacher in a class dealing with human relationship and sex education. The bogans at the back of the class were creating their usual disruptions when he called the ring leader out to the front of the class and gave him the opportunity to share with everyone his knowledge of the venereal diseases that he had been telling his mates about in the back row.

Seeing one of the school bullies red faced and fumbling for words was one of those delicious moments that remains forever in the minds of every school boy and girl who has been subjected to a school bully. At that moment, when the power of a bully crumbled before our eyes, Mr Norris became one of those heroes never forgotten. He showed us that bullies can be stood up to. He gave us back a power we thought we had lost. It’s a lesson I’ve never forgotten, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who will remember.

That Mr Norris, all these years later, became a victim of the most vicious and invisible of bullies, makes his death even more meaningful. It exposes the awful violence at the heart of nationalism, and through this tragedy we saw the tragedy lived every day by the poor people living among the sunflowers. That his death was shared with his grandchildren and so many other people on that plane makes their loss even sadder and more hurtful. But, as the commemorations today have also shown, neither Mr Norris nor any of the other passengers and crew are forgotten.

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Vale Mr Norris and everyone else murdered on that awful day over the sunflower fields of Ukraine. Your presence will live for a long time yet. You were, and will always remain, a true champion.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness

Only light can do that.

Hate cannot drive out hate

Only love can do that.

(Martin Luther King, 1958)

 

Anzacery, or, Who Is Not Invited To The Great War Centenary?

I watched the commemorations last weekend broadcast from Albany in Western Australia marking the centenary of the departure of the first convoy of ships taking Australian and New Zealand troops to the war. The streets were filled with thousands of cheering onlookers as returned and serving army, navy and air force personnel paraded with banners flying and bands playing. The sun was shining, the old town was all dressed-up, the waters of Prince Royal Harbour and King George Sound were sparkling in a truly inspiring setting. It was all very rousing.

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But it all left me with an odd feeling. Something was missing, but what? I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. It wasn’t the sunlit scene, the delight of the crowds or the pride of the marchers. It was something else, something about the way the images were being framed for the television audience, something about the story being told. I wondered if the townsfolk and the marchers knew how their participation was being presented?

Then flicking through the weekend’s Sydney Morning Herald two stories caught my attention. The first, a commentary on page 11 upon the Albany commemorations, noted that Banjo Paterson had been in the convoy as a ‘special commissioner’ reporting for the Sydney Morning Herald. Banjo was apparently an enthusiastic war correspondent for the paper, and wrote a typically evocative piece describing the departure from Albany. However, it was the final two paragraphs that caught my eye. Paterson’s reporting was ignored, his descendants had not been invited to the commemorations, and there were no official plans to honour or mark his connection to the anniversary. Good enough for a ten-dollar note portrait, but not for Anzac commemorations?

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Then on page 18 there was a report on a rarely-noticed event, the attack on a Broken Hill picnic train on new year’s day 1915 by two ‘Afghan’ cameleers that killed four people and wounded another ten. Local people wanted to commemorate the attack, but their requests for support from the official commemorative authorities in Canberra had been ignored. The local police, back in 1915, killed the cameleers, and the attack was reported in the press as a ‘Turk atrocity’. The local people’s retaliation including torching the German Club in Broken Hill, and preventing the fire brigades from extinguishing the fire.

Thinking back to the commemorations in Albany I began to pick at my unease. The dais from which the official speakers spoke was blazoned with the official “100 Years of Anzac” logo. I have been uneasy about this for some time, as it seems to cast the whole five years of war as a single event, almost predetermined, whose only real significance lay in its causing the creation of the Anzac story and, by implication, the birth of ‘the’ Australian ‘nation’. It follows, of course, that anything not connected to Anzac (especially this version) would not get a place in the “100 years of Anzac” story, and I began to see what was making me uneasy, and I began to see who was not in Albany.

The first, and most obvious missing historical actor, was any sense of British involvement. Australian Prime Minister Abbott once mentioned the British Empire in his speech, and New Zealand Prime Minister Key once referred to the Australian Imperial Force, but otherwise any sense that the convoy of a century ago was participating in a British imperial war, or that the departing soldiery had any sense of Britishness or being British subjects was completely erased from the event. When the laying of wreaths took place, there was eventually a call for the “British Ambassador” to take his turn. The whitewashing of Britishness from the commemorations was, to anyone with even a passing acquaintance of early 20th century Australian or New Zealand history (or current intra-Commonwealth diplomatic terminology), utterly bizarre and ahistorical.

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“100 Years of Anzac”, as well as being Britannically-amnesiac, also appears to have no interest in reconciliation with former enemies, except for a certain type of Turk. ‘Johnny Turk’, fighting from the trenches on the Gallipoli peninsula, has been reified as the noble adversary (perhaps has had to be) in order to explain the Anzac’s “loss” in that deadly battle. And, in the roll call of wreath layers was a Turkish diplomat. But, no one was called to represent those erstwhile enemies, the Germans (or the Austrians, Hungarians or Bulgarians). Ironically, that is who the soldiers in the convoy thought they were sailing off the fight. How the Ottoman armies later encountered by the Anzacs in Palestine and Mesopotamia will be represented is yet to be seen, but the historical inconvenience of the ‘Turk atrocity’ near Broken Hill doesn’t augur well.

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The other missing actor from Albany was royalty. The Australian Crown was well represented by the Governor General Sir Peter Cosgrove KC and the Governor of Western Australia the Honourable Kerry Sanderson AO, but in 1914 there was no Australian Crown, only a single unitary British Crown. The divisibility of the crown was an outcome of the war, but it was unheard off in 1914. Members of the royal family have been evident at war commemorations in Britain and Canada, but apparently have been subject to some sort of silent fatwah in Australia.

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The unease I felt watching the Albany commemorations picked up a similar unease I had felt watching two recent television series, Anzac Girls and The War That Changed Us, both shown on ABC. Both displayed very good production values and told entertaining stories, but at their heart they both conformed to the standard, orthodox, nationalist interpretation of the Great War that has prevailed since the 1960s.

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This interpretation could be called the ‘futilist’ view, and consists of five main points. One, the war was futile and had no actual purpose; two, the main protagonists were Australia (young, free, bronzed, Anzacs) and Britain (decayed, class ridden, pasty, Colonel Blimps) while the Germans and others were a bit of a side-show as ‘our boys’ valiantly fought the incompetent gin-sodden pommie generals; three, everyone on the home front was a pacifist trying to stop the war, either overtly or covertly; four, men only joined up for a ‘boy’s own’ adventure, they had no other meaningful reasons for doing so; and fifth, the few people who actually supported the war in Australia were hysterical imperialists who, by definition, were obviously not real Australians. It is a script straight out of British revisionist historian Alan Clark’s 1961 book, The Donkeys, with an Australian nationalist overlay.

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This futilist approach leaves no space for any counter-narratives. It cannot account for, or even acknowledge, the shameful treatment of German Australians during the war. This national disgrace has never been faced, never accounted for, and still, I believe, forms a large but ignored historical scar. The centenary of the Great War could be a time to open our eyes to seeing this scar, to at least beginning a reconciliation and acknowledgement of our German Australian heritage. It could be a time to face the denigration and repression of German Australia that continued well into the 1920s. It could be a time of healing. It could be time when we might learn of any ‘honourable Germans’, like the Gallipoli Turks. It could be a time to question the war-time attribution of an innate Germanness to the royal family. However, the “100 Years of Anzac[ery]” seems it will be at best ambivalent about any questioning of the German-hating propaganda and rhetoric of a century ago. As the official slogan proclaims, “the spirit lives”.

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The Anzacery of the “100 Years of Anzac”, it seems, is simply unable to cope with histories beyond the futilist view. It just can’t encompass Britishness, reconciliation with old enemies, royalty, a Turkishness beyond Gallipoli, even the descendants of Banjo Paterson. And this is the official commemorative body set up, funded and endorsed by the federal government in Australia. This is the official narrative of commemoration. What is unfolding before our eyes, it seems, and not unexpectedly, is a very limited and nationalistic version of history that, if not endorsed by the “100 Years of Anzac”, then it’s just not the true, real, actual history of the Great War (or rather, of the Anzacs).

It will be fascinating to see just who gets included and who gets excluded from this new official history, and even more fascinating to see the underground commemorations or anti-commemorations that arise among communities who don’t, can’t or won’t conform to the “100 Years of Anzac” official narrative. They might instead choose to mark the centenary of the Great War by trying to understand its consequences that we still live with today.

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References

Neil McMahon, ‘Poet sailed in to Anzac history’, Sydney Morning Herald, 1-2 November 2014, page 11

Damien Murphy, ‘First terror attack recalled’, Sydney Morning Herald, 1-2 November 2014, page 18

Damien Murphy, ‘Silver City Showdown’, Sydney Morning Herald News Review, 1-2 November 2014, page 28

‘Centenary of ANZAC: Albany Commemoration’, News, ABC1, 12:00-3:00pm, 1 November 2014, and blog

‘Anzac Girls’, Drama, ABC1, 10 October to 14 September 2014 (six episodes)

‘The War That Changed Us’, Documentary, ABC1, 19 August to 9 September 2014 (four episodes)

100 Years of Anzac: the spirit lives 2014-2018, official website

Alan Clark, The Donkeys: A history of the British Expeditionary Force in 1915, Hutchinson & Co., London 1961

The Royal Family attending Commonwealth Great War commemorative services in Glasgow and in Liege

Joe Quixote | Hot Air or Wind Power: which is actually offensive?

Federal Treasurer Joe ‘Quixote’ Hockey thinks wind farms are a blot on the landscape. “Utterly offensive” he says here and here and here.  Presumably that’s an ideological statement rather than an aesthetic, conservation or economic argument. Every wind farm that is stopped is an opportunity to expand or open another open-cut coal mine or frack another CSG site. That is the real cost of wind farm phobia, not the faux ‘saving’ of any local landscape.

The Alinta Wind Farm, Greenough, Western Australia.  Established in 2005 with a 90 megawatt capacity from 54 turbines, capable of displacing 400,000 tones of CO2 from fossil fuel power generation each year.

Part of the Alinta Wind Farm, Greenough, Western Australia. Established in 2005 with a 90 megawatt capacity from 54 turbines, capable of displacing 400,000 tones of CO2 from fossil fuel power generation each year.

While I would agree there can be aesthetic value in the ruins of an old coal-fired power station, I am curious to know why the Treasurer seems to think the total and overwhelming destruction of a landscape inherent in open-cut coal mining or the fracturing of landscape sub-strata, and the consequent destruction of even more landscapes arising from transporting and burning the excavated coal or gases, has greater aesthetic and landscape value than a wind farm?  The Treasurer later claimed, “just for all the greenies”, that he would also be appalled by the aesthetic impact of a “huge coal-fired power station” in a beautiful landscape.  Perhaps a small one would be OK, or at least, better than a wind farm of any scale.

: an abandoned coal fired power station becomes a romantic ruin in Charlottesville in the United States.

Aesthetic values and coal power: an abandoned coal fired power station becoming a romantic ruin in Charlottesville in the United States. Source vtunderground

Open-cut coal mining involves the absolute destruction of the landscape it consumes, and so-called ‘rehabilitation’ does not restore a landscape ruined by an open-cut pit or fracturing. Even if the aesthetic sensitivities of wind farm phobics can never be ameliorated, at least at the end of the farm’s life the mills can be removed and the landscape returned to its pre-wind farm aesthetic forms.

An abandoned open-cut iron ore mine at Koolanooka, Western Australia.

An abandoned open-cut iron ore mine at Koolanooka, Western Australia.  This site has been ‘rehabilitated’.

An open-cut coal mine consumes and destroys every grain of the material evidence of the history of its own site, and leaves only a blank and deformed monument to human greed and short-sightedness. By contrast, a wind farm contains the potential for future possibilities, for histories and senses of place to continue and evolve.

The power of the wind: One of the leaning trees of Greenough, WA, river gums shaped by the constant southerly winds.

The power of the wind: one of the leaning trees of Greenough, Western Australia, river gums shaped by decades of the constant southerly winds, and an emblem of the local community.

Wind power has a long and continuous history in Australia. It shaped the design of the humpy, it was the industrial energy source in Old Sydney, it still powers the iconic rural windmill and all sorts of water craft, and the kilometres of shelter-belts across the countryside attest to its landscape-forming powers. It is an inheritance that any conservative can embrace in preference to pandering to the highly destructive and short term attractions of open-cut mining and fracking. Wind is continuity and lineage, coal is rapid change followed by absence.

The Sydney skyline in 1822, artist Joseph Lycett: numbers 3, 13, 15, 16 are all windmills.

The Sydney skyline in 1822, artist Joseph Lycett: numbers 3, 13, 15, 16 are all windmills.

The aesthetic values of landscapes are important to local communities, a point that the Treasurer appears to appreciate. That appreciation could be enhanced by also considering which and whose landscapes bear the real costs of stopping wind farms when offering aesthetic insights to the public.

SepiaGreen | a new blog for book reviews

A new blog has been added to the suite of mrbbaskerville’s blogs, for posting and discussions on reviews of books, journal articles and so on.  The new blog is called SepiaGreen, and there is a link to SepiaGreen in the top right hand corner of this page under the heading ‘Go to my other blogs’.  The name reflects my interests in cultural (sepia) and natural (green) history and heritage.

The banner image, shown below, is a photograph of the beautiful translucent marbled inside cover of a copy of a book containing speeches and addresses given by Prince Albert that was published in London in 1862 and presented by Queen Victoria to the University of Sydney.

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The review of David Phillips’ book, Emblems of the Indian States (2011), formerly a page attached to this blog, has been transferred to SepiaGreen.

Scotland Secedes, Australia Looses its Flag: More Media Absurdity

The people of Scotland will vote in a referendum on the 18th September 2014 on the question “Should Scotland be an independent country”. Should the “Yes’ case be carried, some Australian opinion writers have happily concluded that this will mean the Australian flag will have to be changed.

 

The Scottish Flag

The Scottish Flag

The Australian Flag

The Australian Flag

 

When Ireland left the United Kingdom in 1922, the Australian flag did not change. Why? Because the Union Jack displayed on the Australian flag does not represent a foreign country. It represents the union in Australia of people from Ireland, Scotland and England to create a new people. At first they were called British, then Austral-Britons, then Australians.

 

That uniting of three peoples that occurred here, not in the British Isles, made today’s multicultural Australia socially, culturally and politically possible. The Union Jack was the vexillological emblem invented in 1801 (thirteen years after British colonization of New South Wales began) to represent the union of the three kingdoms of Scotland, Ireland and England.

 

In Australia the people of those three kingdoms united with each other and with other peoples to form the new Commonwealth of Australia in 1901, and they chose the Union Jack in combination with the Southern Cross to portray both the success of that union and its future prospects under southern skies. Whether the date of adoption is 1903 or 1954 or any other year, the fact is that the Australian flag, as designed by Australian residents and adopted by Australian authorities, includes St Andrew’s Cross because of that history, not because any Scottish authority gave some permission for its use, a permission that could be withdrawn at any time.

 

An announcement of the adoption of the Australian-designed Australian Flag by Australian authority in 1901

An announcement of the adoption of the Australian-designed Australian Flag by Australian authority in 1901

 

Just as Ireland’s separation from the United Kingdom did not result in the Union Jack design, as used in either the Australian or British or any other flag, being changed by deleting the St Patrick’s Cross, so any separation of Scotland from the United Kingdom in 2014 will not lead inevitably to deleting St Andrew’s Cross from the Australian or British or any other flag.

 

I am a sixth generation ‘Old Australian’, as the current condescension terms it, with an ancestry that, from the time each stepped of the boat, is 42% English, 37% Irish, 9% Scottish, 8% Welsh and 4% Indian. They all arrived before 1901, and gave me a genealogy that is purely the product of Empire – a genealogy that is representative of many Australians (see 2011 census data ). I can never “go back” to anywhere, to any land of ancestral purity. I will only ever be ‘miscegenated’, for which I am ever thankful. To be Australian is to be more than some generic Anglo-Celtic- Subcontinental blend but at the same time it is not to forget any of those ancestries and how their fusion creates the whole.

 

The Scots are in the Australian DNA, and we have every right to care about the referendum and its outcomes, to look deeper than the Braveheart nationalism of Australian media opinionistas. Australia’s Scotland, as distinct from Scotland’s Scotland, as represented in the jack’s union of crosses on the Australian flag, stands for a sort of wholeness which nationalists either cannot understand or, if they do, to which they are antagonistic.

 

While I wish the Scots all the best in whichever course they choose in the referendum, I can’t help thinking that I would feel somewhat diminished by a ‘Yes’ victory that I can only see, from my partly Scottish-descended but not Scottish perspective, as a triumph for a myopic, excluding twentieth century nationalism.

 

In Australia, over several generations, the unity of three peoples opened the way to more people joining that union, that common wealth, and creating a new people. Without that original union could the success of the 1967 referendum, which metaphorically continued the expansion of that union, ever have been imagined or made possible? These are the patterns I discern, that is the future I want to continue, that I imagine will endure under the Federation Star.

 

The specifications for the Australian flag, including those of each of the four component crosses - St Andrew's, St Patricks's, St George's and the Southern.

The specifications for the Australian flag, including those of each of the four component crosses – St Andrew’s, St Patricks’s, St George’s and the Southern, and the Federation Star

White Australia was the great cul-de-sac in Australian history. Derisively championing the erasure of St Andrew’s Cross from the Australian flag is, on the one hand a fairly cheap shot at a prime minister who gauchely stated, in somewhat mangled phraseology, that while he did not seek to tell the Scots how to vote he saw a value and a freedom in unity; and on the other hand reveals a rather pathetic yearning for the comforts of that old white nationalism.

 

The only certainty in the gleeful assertions that the Australian flag will have to be changed if Scotland decides to secede from the United Kingdom is the romanticist desire to witness a satisfying humiliation of prime minister Tony Abbott. Schadenfreude is not an attractive emotion, even less so when displayed as ‘humour’.

 

Changing the Australian flag may or may not be an idea whose time has come, I don’t know. But trying to highjack the decision by the Scottish people on the future form of their state is about as contrived as it gets. Why not extend the logic by banning the use of the colour blue in the Australian flag on the grounds that it, too, seems to be derived from the blue field of the Scottish flag? Just as the humour is duplicitous, the argument is absurd.  Even some in the media seem to have realised this, with the Daily Mail Australia’s April Fools Day spoof of the whole story reprinted again this weekend.

 

'Scot-free' is how the Daily Mail describes this version of a post-referendum Union Jack

‘Scot-free’ is how the Daily Mail describes this version of a post-referendum Union Jack

Whatever the Scottish people decide on the 18th September, it will not provide any reason – logical, legal, political, rhetorical, vexillological – for tearing St Andrew’s Cross from the Australian flag, and symbolically ripping the idea of unity in diversity from the body politic of our commonwealth.

 

References in chronological order:

‘Tony Abbott criticized over comments opposing Scottish independence’, ABC News Online, 17 August 2014

Letters, ‘Don’t take the low road to Scotland’, Sydney Morning Herald, 18 August 2014, page 15

Letters, ‘Flagging problems with Scottish independence’, Crikey, 19 August 2014

‘Could the Scottish vote for independence lead to a change in the Australian flag’, The Australian, 19 August 2014

Letters, (no title), Sydney Morning Herald, 20 August 2014, page 16

Simon Leo Brown, ‘Could the Scottish independence referendum change Australia’s flag?’, ABC News Online, 22 August 2014

John Birmingham, ‘From Australia with Love: Double-o Credlin to the rescue’, Sydney Morning Herald News Review, 23-24 August 2014, page 40

Paul Harris,’Scot-free: Union Jack gets a Yes vote makeover: Secret Government papers reveal how flag will look if Scotland votes for independence'”, Daily Mail Australia, 24 August 2014, originally published 1 April 2014