The decision to ban the Australian flag and items bearing its likeness is a curious one. It is apparently for Sydney and only on the 25th of January. Presumably organisers of the Big Day Out have determined this is an efficient ‘politically incorrect’ method to determine the likelihood of violence since the Cronulla riots over a year ago.
I cannot determine what exactly the organisational structure of the Big Day Out, the website is woeful, so I am not sure if it is purely private or not. From a neo-liberal point of view, the organisers have a greater responsibility to the patrons of the event than to adhere to vague and often conflicting nationalist demands. One of the problems of nationalism is that it is a pretty diffuse brand. The flag is a unitary symbol or logo of nationalism but some use that ‘logo’ in negative ways.
A good example of the erosion of a flag’s meaning is the Eureka Flag. It was Australia’s first flag of liberty, but use by ultra-nationalists and the Builder’s Labourer’s Federation made the flag repugnant to many Australians. A flag of liberty became equated with nationalist violence and industrial strikes.
The Australian Flag also suffers a crisis of confidence. As was pointed out indirectly: this wouldn’t happen in the US, a stronger flag would not have this issue. Aesthetically the Blue Ensign is a pleasing flag, it is well balanced with the blue, red and white being time tested colours. The problem is that nationalism has unitary demands and the Australian flag breaks that by having another nation’s flag on the Australian flag. This gets ridiculed during cricket matches in England when the chant breaks out from English cricket supporters that “our flag’s on your flag’.
Ethnic nationalism has fallen from favour, and rightly so, it is an inefficient form of organisation that perpetuates political inequality. Consequently the only way current nationalists can solve the contradiction of the Australian Flag is to appeal to a western or British heritage. The newness of Australia has largely robbed Australian conservatives of perpetuity which is why I am not surprised to see nationalists – which both major parties are – get upset at the Australian flag being used to determine the likelihood of threat to an event’s patrons.
The other issue the Australian flag faces is that it is facing both public and private competition. Australian vexillology at the national level has moved toward pluralism. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags were elevated through section 5 of the Flag Act to ‘flags of Australia’. Additionally there have been private competitions, such as those sponsored by Ausflag, to replace the Blue Ensign with another unitary flag. There is also competition from flag entrepreneurs: Brendan Jones is now selling his designs directly. However, until the Blue Ensign loses its government mandated monopoly that it has held since 1953 it will be hard to displace.
So we are left with a weak flag that has been used as a symbol for the intimidation of patrons at a prior event. I don’t see either of those conditions changing in a week. From a politically correct point of view the problem is many nationalists who are not violent and genuinely do see the Blue Ensign as a positive symbol of Australianiaty are being discriminated against. This is similar to the arguments over airport screening for terror in relation to those from high risk countries or ethnicity.
In my opinion it ultimately becomes the organisers decision, nationalism can’t trump that, no matter how unpopular the decision. This does raise issues of how much an event can dictate to an individual – for instance I don’t consider a flag dangerous. It would not be enough for me to actively boycott the Big Day Out but it would be sufficient for me to lose interest in the event. As Your New Reality wrote:
The ban is going to cause more trouble than it’s worth. The easier option would have been to simply have security guards at the Big Day Out keep an eye on those they think are going to make trouble.
I do hope that 2GB’s IT department got the funding for that upgrade of the switch board for EOY 2006. They will probably need it.