our white flag

Americans have their White House, Canadians their white ribbon, New Zealanders their long white cloud and we Australians are justly proud of our white flag. Nowhere in the country is the white flag more celebrated than in that prince of sports, Australian Rules Football. Symbolising the spirit of the nation, the white flag is waved every time one side’s goal is breached. One flag for a minor breach and two for a ‘major’; the rules could not be simpler: the side waving the white flag the most loses the game.

The white flag has featured on many occasions of national remembrance.

Most famous, perhaps, was the reenactment of the landing of the First (British) Fleet during the sesquicentenary in 1938. Indigenous Australians were taken to Botany Bay and forced to wave a metaphorical white flag as weird-looking costumed actors approached them.

Then in 1949, in a speech welcoming immigrants to Australia, Immigration Minister Arthur Calwell famously declared: Two Wongs don’t make a white flag! The protection of the flagging industry (iocus voluntarium) from the competition of cheap imports was thus maintained right up to the Whitlam Government in the early seventies. White flags are now often imported.

The current Government, perhaps because of its enduring unpopularity, or perhaps from genuine deep-seated Aussie patriotism, reaches for the white flag at almost every provocation.

White flag: Prime Minister Turnball agrees with Shinzo Abe, farting whales the real cause of global warming.

Action on climate change? We can’t do it! Wave the white flag! An Indigenous Treaty? Too difficult! Wave the white flag! Resettling refugees from Manus Island and Nauru? No, you’re frightening us! Wave the white flag! Murray-Darling Basin? Rampant land-clearing? Newstart allowance? Corporate tax avoidance? Live sheep exports?…

White flag: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern forces Turnball to take back Barnaby Joyce.

White flags are waved everywhere now; we have become a nation celebrating our own incapacity.

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