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Symbolism : Culture & the Union Jack


Many times in my life I have seen images that represent the fight Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islanders bring to the table in our pursuit for equality in Australia. While I can understand the connection between Aboriginal & Australia are intertwined in a manner that cannot be reversed; and that is respectfully represented in images where the Australian Flag is shown in the shape of Australia etc. These images do unsettle me in a way that can be hard to explain at times.


Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have been struggling to have our culture, language, our artwork even, honestly represented in its entirety. Unfortunately when our own people place items such as the Union Jack on our own advocacy materials; the world no longer sees our culture, they see the banner of those who conquered our ancestors.


While most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders these days share the same DNA of the individuals who came to these lands from Britain, our British Australian culture is not the one facing extinction. Our Aboriginality is what is at risk of disappearing from the world forever, for eternity. So when we ourselves brandish that banner about, that banner becomes the main part of the message seen. The message we portray essentially condones that banner replacing ours, condones the extinction of our Aboriginality.


Images and symbols contain powerful messages, their use has a wide reaching impact. Representing the Union Jack within our own takes away the traditional aspects of our own, it makes room for something that destroyed our traditional way, our traditional knowledge and broke our spirits in many aspects. Incorporation of the Union Jack changes the message to symbolise something completely different to our traditional culture.


History tells us the Union Jack was planted in our soils and the soils along with everything upon it was suddenly proclaimed British property. Property of a King who never laid eyes upon said property. Property of an Empire that invaded, enslaved, slaughtered and oppressed the people, who to this day still do not have the same equality even though their legal rights for such exist.


Combining the Union Jack with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander images works against our rights in retaining the lore and protocols of our ways. This combination emboldens Non-Aboriginal individuals to the beliefs that they are entitled to our culture; it increases the appropriation of our cultures; something that has become increasingly difficult due to the alarming frequency with which these acts occur.


Applying their banners to ours also occurs every time we name ourselves Indigenous or Aboriginal, these are words they are trying to take back from us after applying them to blanket our own nationalities. My nationalities are easily understood when I claim my European ancestry yet like every other individual of First Nations Australia, when we use names such as Alawa or Marla like I do to describe my nationalities the word Aboriginal must also be applied. Blanketing our own with theirs yet again.

Much the same occurred with the naming of places or locations in Australia. Many to this day use the words Ayers Rock to incorrectly name Uluru. Similarly businesses with massive online followings label Ikara Flinders Rangers minus the word Ikara. The dispossession of our languages is something our peoples have fought against for centuries! There are climbing routes across Australia that have some of the most disrespectful names, recorded upon international forums for rock climbing routes, some climbing upon ancient rock art in places that already have centuries old names.


So for those who are seeking to gain traction for topics that consist of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, we ask that you consider the imagery you are using in the promotions. We ask that you consider how widely the message will be corrupted by including symbols such as the Union Jack in your work. We ask that you imagine how your ancestors who were enslaved or slaughtered would feel about the use of that symbol being applied to their descendants work today.



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