crux australis

I spent the last few days thinking about how to “redesign” the Australian celebration of Christmas using colors and symbols adapted to this country and more suited to summer, and some of my thoughts formed the last entry here.

My wife and I wanted our Christmas cards to be “Australiana,” but not the usual bikini girls in Santa hats or kangaroos with antlers. We ended up with a nice set of cards from Oxfam featuring contemporary Aboriginal art. The cards were blank and not specifically Christmas cards, but the mostly abstract and very colorful paintings featuring kookaburras, gumtrees, and fiery red dust perfectly suited the season for me.

While I was imagining that Christmas could look very different down under, I couldn’t help but think of some of the proposals for a new Australian flag. A growing number of Aussies think their flag should not refer to distant Great Britain, but should be distinctly and proudly of this country. 

Perhaps paying tribute to the northern yuletide during the subtropical southern summer is much like having the Australian standard plastered with (dare I say colonized by?) the Union Jack. Getting rid of it is the starting-off point for all critics and designers; from there the design elements of new flag proposals vary.

Some refer more or less explicitly to indigenous culture and the Aboriginal flag; some incorporate the national (and sporting) colors green and gold. Some have kangaroos and some do not. Almost every one of them features the southern cross, the chief design element on the current flag — inarguably antipodean and widely cherished.

I love pondering flags and their design and could go on about this for much longer. Naturally it’s a controversial issue as a lot of Aussies are pretty attached to the flag they’ve got and aren’t keen on giving it up anytime soon. I don’t mean to enter this debate right now.

But as I was looking at some of the new proposals online with Christmas in mind, I was struck by how they seemed to go with my theme. Most of the designers make use of the colors and elements of this continent, especially the sun, the red soil, and the iconic monolith Uluru.

Since I was considering native flora in thinking of how a truly Aussie celebration might be decorated, I was pleased to take note of the waratahs and wattles found on a few of the flags.

Best of all everywhere I looked there were heaps of festive, Christmasy stars. 

I was happy with my indigenous art Christmas cards. But the great thing about these new flags is the notion of reconciliation. Here are artists and designers finding symbols for all Australians, visual keys to the land and all its people and their many ways. Since among these is insisting on keeping a “silly” holiday that combines European paganism and Eastern philosophy, there is hope it can have a new visual tradition on this continent too.

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