This story starts with a council cleanup, a discarded Australian flag, and a curious toddler.
It was the kind of flag that attaches to the window of a car – a white plastic stick (miniature pole?), with a thin fabric flag sewn to the top section of it. I’m not sure where it came from, we are not the type of people who attach such things to our vehicles – not in January, not any other time. So, when I found it in a pile of random crap in the corner of our garage, I didn’t hesitate when I placed it on the “chuck out” pile.
When my small person, JJ, came across the pile of crap, and the random flag atop it, he became enamoured instantly. This was what he wanted. This flag, cheap, insignificant, uninteresting. “What it?” he asked. “It’s a flag.” I replied. “Flagga. Flagga!” said JJ, his tiny voice full of wonder.
‘Flagga’ quickly became part of the family. It is tradition in my family to be non-traditional: and Flagga was proof that weirdness is born, not bred. Where other children had a small blanket, or a soft bunny, as a comfort toy, JJ had Flagga. It went everywhere with him – still does – and the word quickly became part of the family vocabulary. “Where is Flagga? I need it now, we are going! I can’t find friggen’ Flagga anywhere!” “JJ took Flagga in the bath with him tonight – so Flagga is a little damp.”
JJ quickly became known around our frequent haunts as ‘the boy with the flag’. At the gym, reception greeted both him and Flagga by name. The lollipop lady at his sister’s school, the staff at the swimming centre, the residents at my grandmother’s nursing home. JJ and his Flagga made everyone smile.
As Flagga became worn and over-loved, it became apparent to us that we were going to need a replacement flag. Never before have I had the inclination to purchase such a patriotic item, and it quickly became apparent that Australian flags are only easy to come by in January, or in the lead up to major international sporting events. However through researched shopping, and generous donations, JJ soon possessed quite a collection of flags, from a variety of nations and causes. Flagga, the simple Australian flag, was still the original though, and the best.
At times I briefly wondered what other people thought about my child proudly displaying his Flagga for all the world to see. I worried that strangers might associate us with groups like Reclaim Australia, Australian Settlers Rebellion, and all the other ‘patriot (racist white supremacist)’ groups that are floating around social media these days. That they would associate us with the original ‘patriot’, Pauline Hanson. And even worse, that these groups, that have taken the flag, and turned it from a symbol of a country into a symbol of hate and exclusivity, would see my son, and his flag, and think to themselves, “Look, there goes a good white mum, raising her white kid right.”
Well, the other day, it happened.
I had been made aware of a group of ‘concerned citizens’ that were meeting at the site of a proposed community centre , to express their ‘concern’. These citizens had taken issue with two things: firstly, the community centre was to be opened in a building that had previously been the home of a much loved Ex-Serviceman’s club. Secondly, the community group who were planning on opening the centre happen to be Muslim. Since it was a day I wasn’t working, and the kids and I were in between social engagements at the time it was on, I decided to head down, stand back, and take a little look.
We stood at the back, the kids and I, with a couple of other people who were also just curious to see what all the fuss was about. I took photos of the kids, in a bid to keep them entertained, and me occupied – I didn’t want to talk to anyone, I am unintentionally honest at times, and I feared that my ‘cover’ would be blown if I did. And I was eavesdropping, just a little, on the people standing near me. Words such as ‘muzzie’ and ‘raghead’ were being uttered. I heard the phrase “they’re bloody trying to take over.”
As I was teasing the kids for their silly faces, the people I was sort of listening to turned to us and smiled. A man, with a southern cross tattoo on his arm, leaned down to my little JJ. “You wave that flag with pride, son.” He looked at me, and smiled his approval. Against his leg, leaned a sign protesting the development. I realised, quite suddenly, that this guy thought that I was raising my kids to be tiny
bigots ‘patriots’. I felt a little ill.
And then, I felt mad. Really mad. Strangely mad. Never before had I cared so much about the Australian flag. Why did they get to claim it, for their agenda? It was my flag, too! It was JJ’s Flagga!
We left not long after that – the protest was pretty unimpressive – but the issue of the flag weighed on my mind. That the ‘patriots’ seemed to think that it represented them, and them alone. That my son’s love of his Flagga meant something to them that it didn’t to me. So I made a decision:
I’m taking back the Australian flag. It is mine, just as much as it is theirs. Actually, it is more mine, because I understand what it represents. It represents a country that, for better or worse, was built on immigration and multiculturalism. A country where the majority of the population can trace their roots back to a specific time when their ancestors came, by boat or by aeroplane, to call Australia their home. A country that was multicultural long before it was colonised by the English.
So, ‘patriots’, leave our flag alone. Stop trying to associate it with the hatred that you peddle. It does not belong to you, and your ‘way of life’ is not the kind of life it should represent. This is a country of so many cultures, so many fabulous, interesting people, and our flag should represent this diversity, not the small mindedness of your beliefs. I am proud of our diverse little nation, and if you are not, perhaps this flag is not the one for you.
‘Patriots’, leave our flag out of your plans. Because little boys like JJ deserve to love their Flagga, without fear of being branded something they are not.