Saturday, September 3 is Flag Day.
It’s a day when we celebrate the adoption of the Australian flag 121 years ago. It’s a day when we reflect upon our history of war, development, advance and innovation. Most of all, it’s a day when we show pride in our nation, what it has become, and what the future may hold.
The story of our flag is important, but it’s seldom told.
On September 3, 1901, Australia’s first Prime Minister Edmund Barton announced the results of a “Federal Flag Competition” that attracted an impressive 32,823 entries.
When announcing the winner of the competition, Barton said: "the award of the Board (of Judges) will be final and the prize given in accordance with their decision, even if the design be not accepted by the Imperial authorities (in Great Britain)."
Ever since, the Aussie flag has become the primary symbol of this great nation and what it represents.
The Southern Cross, which features prominently on the national flag, was known to ancient Aboriginals and is mentioned in a number of their timeless legends including the story of Mululu and his four daughters.
Just after the outbreak of World War One, the HMAS Sydney flew the Australian flag during her November 1914 victory over German warship SMS Emden as celebrated below:
At Gallipoli, our diggers flew the flag in 1915 as confirmed by famous historian C.E.W. Bean. The flag was raised at Pozieres on the Western Front in 1917. It flew at the Battle of Polygon Wood in Belgium that same year as depicted below:
Of course, the flag was flown proudly right throughout World War Two.
It was flown after Kokoda was recaptured by the Allies from the Japanese. There’s a photograph of Sgt. Derrick hoisting the Flag at Sattelberg in 1943 as shown below:
During the war, some of our soldiers went to extraordinary lengths for the flag.
For example, Captain Strawbridge MBE took the extraordinary risk of hiding a hand-made Australian flag in the terrible POW camp at Changi, Singapore.
According to Major General Crews, Strawbridge’s flag was one of just four flags to make it out of Changi, and was made and kept “as a piece of defiance” against the Japanese and “all the more precious because you were not allowed to have it”.
“Discovery could have caused immediate execution of the owners,” he said, asking whether many people today would “risk death for a flag”.
When Singapore was finally liberated from the Japanese in 1945, the very first flag to fly over the island was his Australian Flag.
One of the hand-made flags from Changi POW camp is photographed below:
The incontrovertible fact is that since Federation, more than one million Australians have served under the Australian National Flag in our armed forces and 102,000 Australians have died defending our country and the flag that represents it.
We should be proud of it.
We should protect it.
And we should pay respects to those brave men who fought under it.
As Banjo Paterson wrote in a 1915 open letter to the troops at Gallipoli titled “We’re All Australians Now”:
Australia takes her pen in hand
To write a line to you,
To let you fellows understand
How proud we are of you.
From shearing shed and cattle run,
From Broome to Hobson's Bay,
Each native-born Australian son
Stands straighter up today.
The man who used to "hump his drum",
On far-out Queensland runs
Is fighting side by side with some
Tasmanian farmer's sons.
The fisher-boys dropped sail and oar
To grimly stand the test,
Along that storm-swept Turkish shore,
With miners from the west.
The old state jealousies of yore
Are dead as Pharaoh's sow,
We're not State children any more —
We're all Australians now!
Our six-starred flag that used to fly
Half-shyly to the breeze,
Unknown where older nations ply
Their trade on foreign seas,
Flies out to meet the morning blue
With Vict'ry at the prow;
For that's the flag the Sydney flew,
The wide seas know it now!
The mettle that a race can show
Is proved with shot and steel,
And now we know what nations know
And feel what nations feel.
The honoured graves beneath the crest
Of Gaba Tepe hill
May hold our bravest and our best,
But we have brave men still.
With all our petty quarrels done,
We have, through what you boys have done,
A history of our own.
Our old world diff'rences are dead,
Like weeds beneath the plough,
For English, Scotch, and Irish-bred,
They're all Australians now!
So now we'll toast the Third Brigade
That led Australia's van,
For never shall their glory fade
In minds Australian.
Fight on, fight on, unflinchingly,
Till right and justice reign.
Fight on, fight on, till Victory
Shall send you home again.
And with Australia's flag shall fly
A spray of wattle-bough
To symbolise our unity —
We're all Australians now.”
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