Proud Aussies or Racists?

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 26th February 2010.

Since the shameful Cronulla Riots of December 2005, one of Australia’s most significant icons appears to be in danger of being hijacked as a symbol for White Australia amongst extremist groups. The Southern Cross seems to be more popular than ever. Bumper stickers, car window decals, tattoos… Is this simply an expression of patriotism and “Aussie Pride” or overt racism?

In our night sky, the Southern Cross, also known as Crux, is one of the most recognisable constellations, even though it is one of the smallest and simplest. It is an important symbol in many cultures of the Southern Hemisphere and features prominently on the flags of many countries, including New Zealand, Brazil, Papua New Guinea, Samoa and of course, Australia.

The Southern Cross has an important place in Aboriginal astronomy, also known as starlore. It represents the talon of a giant eagle to the Aranda people of Central Australia. To others, it is a stingray, with the nearby pointer stars representing two sharks pursuing.

The Eureka Stockade of 1854 saw the Southern Cross emerge as an important symbol in modern Australian history. One of Australian history’s few armed rebellions, miners clashed with Colonial forces over the brutal administration of the Victorian Goldfields. The insurgents were led by Peter Lalor, an Irish immigrant, who proclaimed in his famous Eureka Oath, “We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other and fight to defend our rights and liberties.” The Eureka flag, flown by the rebels, is commonly thought to display a stylised depiction of the Southern Cross, although there is now some argument that it actually represents an Irish Cross.

The Southern Cross also features within the lyrics of our national anthem, albeit the rarely sung second verse, which was made official in 1984. It is also mentioned in the Brazilian national anthem which was penned in 1909.

Orange born Banjo Patterson also mentions the Southern Cross is his poem, A Flag for Australia. He wrote, “…the flag the Australian dies to save, is the flag of the Southern Cross.”

Nowadays, the Southern Cross is a popular business name. In the Yellow Pages, there are 1023 entries across Australia for businesses with said name. It can be found on the labels of a major brand of soft drink. It is also featured in the logo for Scouts Australia.

Born and bred in Australia, I have always held the Southern Cross in high esteem. It represents the country I am proud to call home. Growing up in Australia has fortified my strong beliefs in democracy, freedom and peace. We are, however, certainly not a country without problems. Immigration and the environment are only just a few of the challenges that we face now and in the future.

I’m not at all suggesting that everyone sporting a Southern Cross car sticker or tatt is racist. Far from it. In fact, if every one of those symbols represents a sense of “belonging” to a smart, accepting and worldly community which welcomes the best aspects of other cultures and races, then I’m all for it.

The Southern Cross belongs to all Australians, no matter where they were born. From those with first fleet ancestors to newcomers to our shores, we all have immigrant roots of some kind. This Australia Day, let’s celebrate our country and not allow one of our national symbols be misrepresented.

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Published in: on January 27, 2010 at 11:10  Leave a Comment  
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