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Brushtail Graphics

To hell with summer soldiers and sunshine patriots*

30 January 2007

I was sunning myself with a cider outside the Brushtail Café on Australia Day when a bunch of drunken Anglo yobs spilled out of the pub on the other side of Sydney Road. For a while they waved a big Australian flag at the traffic chanting “Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Oi! Oi! Oi!” They were mostly young men but I seemed to recognise Peter Debnam and Morris Iemma among their number. Piers Ackerman, Alan Jones, Miranda Devine, Paul Sheehan, Janet Albrechtsen and a bunch of other shock-jocks, right-wing columnists and howardista spin doctors lurked in the pub doorway, urging them on.

“Kneel down and kiss the flag, Muslim scum”, a young blond lout yelled at poor old Granny Papadopoulos, the black-clad Greek Orthodox widow who happened to be passing. She scurried inside the café as the mob crossed the road and surged down Werrong Lane. Just then, Joadja came out with the cricket bat she keeps behind the bar and the mob decided to move on.

I was watching them go when Stanley, the old retired colonel, sat down with the papers.

“Now here’s a remarkable thing”, he snorted, “In all these pages of flag-wagging Australia Day coverage, there’s bugger-all about our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan … or anywhere else for that matter. Howard’s mob don’t seem to have a word to say about them”.

“You mean, The Lost Patrol”, I said. “The last thing Howard wants is for there to be any coverage of them because he’s sent them off to wars that are shameful political disasters. He’s committed the absolute minimum number of troops he can get away with and still pose as a loyal Bush ally. And that’s only when he goes to Washington. The rest of the time – and in Australia – he doesn’t want our wretched part in the Great Crusade to be discussed at all.”

“And here’s another thing that gets my goat”, Stan muttered , “The Murdoch press and all these erstwhile fervent supporters of the flag are just bloody debasing it. Nowadays it’s being worn as underpants, budgie-smugglers, board shorts and barbecue aprons. Brainless young bimbos sit on Aussie flag beach towels and kiddies have it painted on their faces.

“We didn’t always treat the flag in this undignified way. Until about thirty years ago we ran it up sparingly and saluted it deferentially … on ceremonial occasions. The flag was surrounded by respect and decorum.”

“You’re right”, I said, “But that was when public life was dominated by people who didn’t have to pose as patriots by acting like pig-ignorant idiots. They just assumed, in a quiet way, that they were patriots because so many of them had served – with a greater or lesser degree of enthusiasm – in the Second World War, when the survival of the nation really was at stake. Many of those who’d been too young, had at least done National Service, or served in the part-time forces, or fought in Vietnam, or they’d honourably opposed our involvement in that ghastly business.”

“So what happened Nick? What went wrong? How did the summer soldiers and sunshine patriots hijack the flag?”

“In the early 80s, mainstream politicians discovered that the left-behind, the bewildered, the wilfully backward and the racist could be mobilised as electoral cannon-fodder”, I said, sipping my cider. “I reckon the turning point was Geoffrey Blainey’s anti-East Asian speech at Warrnambool in ’84. Suddenly, appealing to a sort of white trash victim mentality became a mission-critical political tool.

“The new jingoism was epitomised by Pauline Hanson literally wrapping herself – without a shadow of irony – in the flag. Then, Howard jumped on the bandwagon, and the poor old banner spiralled downmarket to become the recognition code for the new dumb.”

“I was never a fan of the flag”, said Joadja, who’d brought out a beer for Stan, “But let’s face it. Under Howard, it’s become the banner of the Cronulla riot, dumb behaviour on Anzac Day at Gallipoli and lager-lout shenanigans at the cricket. Drunken boorish idiots rampage around The Big Day Out demanding strangers kiss it. It’s been turned into a cheap tool for dog-whistlers. Why can’t we change it? The Canadians did.

“In times past, when the question of a new Australian flag was being debated, you old diggers would go ‘You can’t change the flag! We beat the Japs at Kokoda under that flag!’ Next time around we’ll hear shock-jocks and aging Anglo yobs bleating ‘We got pissed at Cronulla and bashed the Lebs, wogs and ambulance drivers under that flag!’ How shameful”.

“You’re right, it’s come to that”, Stan said, laughing. A bit conservative Stan might be, but he has a soldier’s quick grasp of brutal realities.

Right then and there we started sketching out a new Australian flag on a serviette. The first thing we agreed on, was that the Union Jack in the corner – the old butcher’s apron – had to go.

*With apologies to Tom Paine, who was criticising people of vastly sterner stuff.