Unflagging

Deep in the South Australian outback, outside a hamlet of perhaps twenty souls, there resides a man named Cornelis Alferink. The man sculpts in talc, a material found in the hills of Adnyamathanha country, the rock country of the Flinders Ranges. Talc Alf, as the man is known, chooses to live at a remove from the centre, reflecting his independent character. He is literally an eccentric man.

When you drive into Alf’s encampment you encounter a number of structures that he has built. The first is a timber arch upon which you see the words, The Pub with No Beer. Alf is a republican, conducting his own campaign. He explains, ‘So long as Australia is a monarchy I’ve vowed not to drink.’

Alf shows me – he’ll show you too; he shows everyone who visits – postcards of the Australian flag he’s had made. In place of the British flag in the top left hand corner Alf has inserted the Aboriginal emblem. ‘That’s how our flag ought to look’, he says. Alf wants Australia to feel proud of our Aboriginal back story. He wants to show that pride within our Constitution and in our insignia.

I wonder about Alf’s idea. The time will come, I believe, when Alf will drink beer in his pub in the Republic of Australia. When that time arrives andwe look upon our present flag with fresh eyes, might we not see something incongruous in the top left hand corner? 

The time has already come when Australians of all opinions hanker for reconciliation. We want to heal this ache, this discomfort of the spirit that we feel about our place in this land.We sorely wish this shadow over our success as a nation would be no more. 

One early Sunday morning recently I looked out of a second storey window across the wide, empty street of my home town. Nothing moved except a couple of flags flying from the roof of the shire building opposite. One was the Australian flag and the second was the Aboriginal emblem. The thought occurred to me that the emblem that I’d prefer would unify the two: a single oblong of fabric with one design on one side, the second design on the other. In my fancy this would satisfy those who wish to preserve the historic national symbol and honour this country’s first inhabitants. Of course this is fancy. I don’t imagine anyone would embrace it.

Meanwhile January 26 presses down on us. This date of mainstream celebration hurts Aboriginal people. We must seem insensitive and heartless to those lamenting. I am not alone in feeling this and looking for a better way.

By the rivers of Babylon there we sat down,

Yea we wept, when we remembered Zion…

For they that wasted us required of us mirth, 

Saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.

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