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Australian Flags – Revisit

National and State

Introduction

In 2009 I set out to standardise the flags of Australia, based on the split pale designs of the ACT and NT flags [link]. The idea of standardising flags was reasonably well received though comments on the flags themselves were varied. I wanted to continue in a similar vein but with a different emphasis placed on national identities.

National Flag

The Australian national flag has been a periodic topic for debate, hotly by the flag obsessed and not so much by others, usually surfacing around Australia Day. There are plenty of proposed designs, some would make for a good flag while others would not. When it comes to design, everyone has their own opinion and this only helps to muddy the issue.

Past Design

My design, 2009

My design, 2009

My last iteration of the national flag was based on the “Australian Pale” used by the Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory designs. In retrospect I feel that I took the easy route by merging elements of the current flag with the structure of the territory designs. Other than that, the colours were picked because I wanted them to work together, not necessarily because they do work together. The blue pale bleeds into the green field and there is a lack of bold contrast in general.

Creating an Eye Catcher

There’s more than one way to skin a cat when creating a distinctive design. Below are a few solid examples of how flags set themselves apart from others:

Jamaica

A country that pulls off the green and gold by heavily offsetting them with black. The structure, although common, stands out amongst others as a result of its colours.

South Korea

Uses cultural iconography and its distinctive written language as design elements, it could only possibly represent one of the two Koreas. The red touching blue breaks the heraldic contrast rule but it works very well.

Estonia

Another country whose flag structure is common, though they set themselves apart from others with unique colours, particularly the brilliant shade of blue. The three colours together are perfect for a Baltic state, and some suggest that the flag is derived from a winter skyline [link].

Japan

As simple as they get but no one mistakes them for anyone else, the rising sun design also has significant meaning to the Japanese national identity, history and mythology.

Switzerland

The flag is as simplistic as Japan’s and just as distinctive, in addition to the odd dimensions. Several international companies use the Swiss cross as a signifier of quality and craftsmanship.

Canada

An unlikely candidate for the focus of a flag but the maple leaf is strongly ingrained into the Canadian identity, its everywhere. The wider middle pale is an interesting variation on a common flag structure.

Aboriginal Flag

One of our own flags that is both bold and meaningful. Though similar to Japan’s, the derived meanings are entirely different.

All of these flags are simplistic but bold. Its surprising that most of them use common colours, particularly combinations of red/white/blue, but their applications are far from boring. Jamaica and Estonia use fairly typical designs but apply unusual colour combinations. Many of the flags symbolise the essence of the nation, be it natural, cultural or otherwise.

Design Criteria

Based on the above, I set myself these criteria in designing the national flag:

  • The flag has to mean something, it has to summarise “Australia” – this is a challenge as the Australian identity has become increasingly more complex with greater diversity and varied histories.
  • The flag has to be unique – the current flag crashes and burns on this point. The design has to either distinguish itself by colouring, structure, or both.
  • The flag has to be simple – remember the cliché that a 5 year old needs to be able to draw a flag/logo/whatever? Well I still have a hard time drawing the current flag as an adult. The rule holds water in all aspects of identity design and is particularly advantageous for flags which are viewed at distance.

Proposed Design

With the criteria in mind, I came up with the following design:

A flag to move forward

A flag to move forward

Design Features

The flag is split into three panels, two horizontal bars overlaid by a pale on the fly end. Its similar in structure to the flag of Texas but flipped horizontally. The structure uses traditional rectangular blocking to achieve an unconventional style. Red and blue horizontal bars depict the sky over a desert landscape, a powerful image synonymous with our red centre. The star in the canton, the federation star, represents our federated nation: past, present and future. It is the primary linkage between the current and proposed flags. The black pale represents the indigenous Australians, who have lived in Australia since prehistory. The dotted vertical border refers to the art of dot painting – an art style seen nowhere else in the world.

The colours feature black, a traditional red, and a vivid blue. Red/blue/black is seldom seen on national flags and, when used with the above structure and elements, makes for a flag that stands out amongst others.

The design focuses heavily on the golden ratio [link], in the dimensions of the flag itself and the placement of elements within it. The basis for the design and actual ratios are demonstrated below:

The elements do not align exactly, but are approximated by simple fractions for ease of manufacturing and reproduction.

I’ve answered some potential questions in advance:

Why is [thing I like] missing?

Green and Gold

Yes they are our national colours but:

  • The colours don’t translate well to flags. Very few national flags feature green and gold on their own. Green is a calmer colour than reds and blues and yellow looks weak in large colour blocks. In the past, many have argued that proposed green and gold designs have looked like tea towels and that other colour schemes are stronger for flags. I’d love to have been able to pull off a majority green flag, its my favourite colour, but whatever I threw at the wall didn’t stick. Adding blue to green and gold would make a colour scheme that isn’t friendly to colour blocking so I steered clear of that as well.
  • The national colours are based on a flower, the golden wattle to be exact. Eh. Australia as a country has more to offer than flora. That’s not to say that we should scrap the national colours, mind you; we have a solid history with them, especially with sport. Which leads to…
  • Why does a flag need to include (or solely comprise) the national colours? If we put ourselves out there strongly enough, both the flag and national colours will be identifiable. Italy seems to do alright.

Southern Cross

  • Its very busy. Take four seven-pointed stars, arrange them in a tilted cross and slap a smaller five-pointed star off-centre. I struggled to draw it accurately as a kid, therefore it breaks the simplicity rule.
  • Its not uniquely Australian, unless we have a separate night sky from all other countries. Plenty of other flags feature the Southern Cross.
  • It emphasises a maritime culture. I’d have thought the Southern Cross would be more culturally significant to Polynesian countries who relied heavily on the stars in navigation.
  • It has become an icon of Australian jingoism, fairly or unfairly.

Union Jack

  • Like the Southern Cross, its busy. Simplicity is key.
  • It only really appeals to those of British descent and does not represent the direction Australia is headed.
  • Australia is not a dominion of Britain. But if you knew nothing of Australia and saw the current flag, you would assume it was.

Many fought for Australia under the Union Jack. True. But what’s more important than fighting under a flag is fighting for what the country stands for. If the flag does not represent the country correctly, why is it so important to keep fighting under it? Australia no longer fights in servitude of the motherland.

Kangaroo, wattle, boomerang, Rolf Harris (yuck)

Simplicity. I couldn’t and wouldn’t want to fit it all in. The Federation star was a must, it’s the single unifying symbol of all of the flags below. The five dots are as simple an element as possible (and they won’t date like pretty much any other detailed depiction would) and are also a pretty unique element to have on a flag.

Why red and blue? Aren’t we trying to distance ourselves from Britain?

The colours are derived from the big chunk of land in the centre of the country, not Britain. I feel that the colours are arranged in a way that sets it apart from British influence but also depicts a large swath of land, characteristic of our nation.

Why so much emphasis on one culture [Indigenous]? We should either accommodate all cultures or none at all.

Representing all cultures is not an easy task. Diversity is not a uniquely Australian concept/motive. Spraying colours all over the place is more likely to detract from the national identity rather than strengthen it. There is plenty of opportunity to promote national unity through design.

I included the indigenous elements for two reasons.

  • The first (and higher priority) reason is that its a simple addition that you don’t see on other flags. The black pale is a nice contrast that sets the design apart from any other (that I know of) and the dots hold specific cultural significance to Australia.
  • Indigenous Australians were here first, and they’ve been screwed over pretty bad. I’m not one to grovel and/or supplicate myself to any group, but a small nod on a flag to tens of thousands of years of habitation is an appropriate and a symbolic means of the country working to heal its wounds.

Sporting Flag

The green and gold should not be cast aside simply for not being part of a national flag. Our national colours are most closely associated with national level sport. We’ve seen green and gold sporting flags in the past, particularly the boxing kangaroo. I’ve offered a modest variation of the national flag below:

The green and gold

The green and gold

Parallax_1

State and Territory Flags

Like my 2009 post, I set out to standardise state and territory flags. Because I had less time to work on it, I only focused on the six states and ACT/NT. The standardisations are not at strict as the previous set but all flags have the federation star placed in the canton. I’ve tried to portray each state uniquely in simple forms.

Australian Capital Territory (ACT)

render_ACT

Colours: Navy, gold, white

Fly: The name Canberra is supposedly derived from Kambera (meeting place), a suitable name for the city where parliament meets. The ACT flag contains a symbol used to depict a meeting place in Aboriginal art.

New South Wales (NSW)

render_NSW

Colours: Navy, sky blue, white, red

Fly: Sydney was the first of the British settlements (NSW being the “first state”). A fimbriated St. George’s cross is featured a sky blue field to signify the English roots in the founding of the state.

Northern Territory (NT)

render_NT

Colours: Black, orange, white

Fly: Sturt’s desert rose, no need to change anything about it

Queensland (Qld)

render_Qld

Colours: Maroon, white

Fly: Maltese cross – there isn’t a real historical link between the cross and Qld but it has come to represent the state at government level.

South Australia (SA)

render_SA

Colours: Navy, red, gold, white

Fly: A gold sun on a red field. The sun is a drastic simplification of the state seal (piping shrike overlaying the sun) which I feel does not need to be repeated on the flag. The sun over red also reflects the hot and arid conditions that the state endures.

Tasmania (Tas)

render_Tas

Colours: Green, red, gold, white

Fly: Red and gold vertical bars, a the stripes of a Tasmanian Tiger.

Victoria (Vic)

render_Vic

Colours: Navy, white

Fly: A big white V, an established icon of Victoria.

Western Australia (WA)

render_WA

Colours: Black, gold

Fly: A black swan on the water. The horizontal bar is extended to the entire flag length for effect.

Standardisations

Dimensions

Currently, all national and sub-national flags are proportioned based on British ensigns, their heights being half that of their length (1:2). This ratio originates from maritime Britain where longer flags could take advantage of the greater winds at sea, enhancing their visibility in any direction.

I’ve proposed a ratio with shorter length – 5:8, which is more suited to flying on land. The dimensions approximate the golden ratio, which occurs both in nature and art, and is naturally appealing to the eye.

All flags are split vertically, according to this same (5:8) ratio.

  • National flags – vertical split 5/8th from the canton
  • Sub-national flags – vertical split 3/8th from the canton

Colours

I’ve tried to streamline the colours used in each flag for the sake of practicality. All proposed flags use a combination of the following:

Colours

State flags have been recoloured from ensign colours to better suit their actual identities.

Symbols

There are two recurring symbols amongst the flags:

  • The Federation star – on national and sub-national flags
  • A 5 dot vertical border – on national flags (including the sporting flag)

Note: I’m completely expecting these designs to be debated, there’s no one flag that everyone agrees on. Please try to keep the comments civil on this post. I will moderate anything inappropriate or unnecessary.

I’m back to studying starting March so don’t expect any changes to these designs any time soon. I just don’t have the time.