“Sod the wine, I want to suck on the writing. This man White is an instinctive writer, bloody rare to find one who actually pulls it off, as in still gets a meaning across with concision. Sharp arbitrage of speed and risk, closest thing I can think of to Cicero’s ‘motus continuum animi.’

Probably takes a drink or two to connect like that: he literally paints his senses on the page.”

DBC Pierre (Vernon God Little, Ludmila’s Broken English, Lights Out In Wonderland ... Winner: Booker prize; Whitbread prize; Bollinger Wodehouse Everyman prize; James Joyce Award from the Literary & Historical Society of University College Dublin)





24 January 2011


What The Hell Does This Mean?
Aussie Flag Is Five Crucifuxions
Three On The Wrong Damn Cross


It is becoming a DRINKSTER tradition that we discuss the flag of Australia each year on Australia Day (previously known as Anniversary Day, Foundation Day and ANA Day), the official national day of Australia. Celebrated annually on 26 January, this day commemorates the arrival of the British First Fleet at Sydney Cove in 1788, the hoisting of the British flag there, the proclamation of British sovereignty over the eastern seaboard of "New Holland", and all the numerous peoples who had lived on this continent for up to forty or fifty thousand years before England or God were even thought of.

At Easter, the chalk board outside the little Protestant bookshop in Clare sported a sketch of a cross. “Jesus built a bridge”, it said, “with two planks and three nails”.  Christians seem to like the idea of the son of God being slaughtered on a neatly-joined, planed and chamfered triumph of carpentry.

Overlooking the fact that Jesus Christ's so-called bridge was actually built by the Italians, whose consequent, un-Christlike version of Christianity turned their straightened version of his cross into the world’s most powerful and suppressive trade mark, I began wondering again about the Australian flag.

It was very strange, hearing people like Prime Minister John Howard, decry the savage hoods of Cronulla for draping themselves in their own flag during Sydney’s race riots those short years ago. Even stranger were the subsequent demands that mosques should be flying its violently aggro "Union Jack" and stars.

The crescent moon and star on the flags of many Islamic states represent life and peace.

That should do at a mosque.

The Australian flag - really the British Blue Ensign with some southern stars on its blue fly - carries five primitive representations of the Roman form of the gallows.

It's the perfect poncho for rioting yobbos (photo above by Warren Hudson).

And that’s just the beginnings of the religio-racial horrors involved in our flag. Some of these are explained in an amazing little book that every Australian should have read: Carol A. Foley’s The Australian Flag, (Federation Press; 1996).

I annually discuss this book, and other issues here, on the occasion of Australia day.

It says something for the musical Welsh that they never insisted on having a cross, a leek, or even a harp, included in the current Union Flag of Great Britain: the Blue Ensign that we disrespectfully call the Union Jack. Maybe they realised that their harp would have to go in the middle of all those crosses, on top of the cross of St. George, which the English would never permit.

The Scots scored with the cross of St. Andrew – a white saltire on a blue ground, a saltire being a diagonal, X-shaped cross, like the tail of the early Christian fish graffito carved repeatedly into the walls of the Coliseum. This variant on the “Greek cross" represents in Roman Christianity the initial of Christ, the Greek letter χ , or chi, and the number 10.

It is the original Christian cross.

It predates the Roman Catholic church’s revisionary right-angled upright cross by several hundred years.

Roman crucifixions were principally conducted on saltires, not on the standard vertical cross later popularised by these revisionist Christians, who made it their logo, and used its shape as the floorplan of their church buildings.

There would be many fewer right angles in modern architecture had the saltire correctly been the model.

Most Roman executions were summary: fairly abrupt affairs which would not afford the expense of nails, or the types of posh carpentry evident in most tidy Christian portrayals of the crucifixion of Christ.

Crosses were made in minutes by tying two lengths of wood together at their half-way points, and placing two ends of these in shallow holes in the ground.

They were normally held upright by a third supporting beam propped against their intersection at an angle from behind, or were commonly simply leant against walls or embankments.

Nobody knows exactly why the Scots adopted Andrew as their patron in the eighth century.

Foley makes clear that he wasn’t a Scot, and his saltire didn’t begin to appear as a national emblem until about 1290. At least he was crucified, a distinction begrudged Saints George and Patrick.

We think St. Andrew died on his saltire in Greece, at Patras, in 69AD.


Three hundred years later another Greek, called Regulus, took some of Andrew's preserved bones and a tooth – for good luck - on a journey which ended with them both shipwrecked on the coast of Scotland, where the live one eventually started a Roman church called St. Andrew’s.

St. Patrick was the dissolute son of a Scots monk. He eventually took the cloth and worked his way up to Bishop before heading south to Ireland as a missionary. While there were never any snakes in Ireland, his famous purging the Emerald Isle of them had a lot more to do with him ridding its infant church of its dangerous tendencies to accommodate wisps of Druidic, Moorish, pagan Roman and Coptic theology, not to mention its obsessive confusion of the Virgin Mary with a sort of profligate faery queen, the Mother of Life, whom they celebrated with keystones in the arches of their churches.

Other bas reliefs of this woman, squatting on her bottom, her arms about her vertical shins, her hands holding open the labia of a vagina that extended sometimes to her grin, were installed decoratively about church walls, like stations of the cross.

These stones, called sheilagh na geeks, or sheelanagigs, gave Australia sheila, its colloquial term for females.

It was amusing to hear feminists decry this patois as sexist in the 'seventies - it's really a term of deep adoration and reverence.

While the pious St. Patrick had these images removed from the church walls, thousands of them miraculously survived, and still lie in the basements of the museum in Dublin, and in other places around the British Isles. These generally take the vague form of two saltires, with the vagina in the middle, where the saviour should hang.

It's obviously from whence he came.  Given its marketing, the mixed-up pagans of the day must have wondered at that vagina being ideally virginal.

 Patrick, by the way, was never crucified. He died of long life in Armagh in 463AD.

The Irish used the golden harp or the shamrock as their emblem, and we don’t know precisely how the red saltire on the white ground ended up representing them on the Union Flag, although it seems to have been convenient to the graphic artists of the time - its red saltire fitted neatly within the white of saltire of St. Andrew.

But it also has to do with the fact that this saltire (right), finally named after St. Patrick, was in fact the flag of the Fitzgeralds, who’d been sent by the leonine Henry II, father of Richard I, to bash the Irish into submission in 1169.

The English cross of St. George, a ‘cross throughout’ in heraldic terms - in this case a vertical red cross on a white ground - came from France. French warriors fought beneath it in their invasion of the Islamic east in the Third Crusade (1189-1192). Their English mates carried the opposite: a white cross on a red ground. But by the Seventh Crusade (1248-1254) the English had adopted the French version and sometime thereabouts also adopted St. George as the patron of England.

There’s a serious move afoot to have St. George’s Day (April 23rd.) made a public holiday in England. It's years back but still perfect pondering that in its St. George’s Day Special Issue of 19th. April 2008, The Spectator Diary was written by that venerable British scholar, Beryl Bainridge, who called St. George a scroundrel. “Why on Earth [he] was made our patron saint is a mystery”, she wrote.

Born in 303AD, George was a soldier in the time of the Emperor Diocletian. He made a great deal of money selling pig meat to his fellow troops before he was ordained Archbishop of Alexandria, a position from which he gorged his coffers by taxing the bejeesus out of the Christians while he gave everyone else, like the Jews, the horrors, by pillaging their places of worship.

Eventually he was imprisoned, but a mob broke into the jail, dragged him about the streets and chopped him into bits which were chucked into the ocean. Call that a matyrdom if you must; it seems highly unlikely that he died on a cross, although in its early determined efforts in brand reinforcement, much Roman catholic history insists he was first tortured on one form of cross or another; perhaps a wheel.

George's spirit was believed to have miraculously assisted the English by visitation to battles fought centuries later by the terrible warriors Richard I, Lionheart, (who was tough on Jews, Moslems and the Pope), and Edward I, Longshanks, (who was tough on the Scots, the Welsh and the Moslems).

The bit about the dragon seems to have been invented by an Italian biographer of saints, Jacobus de Voragine. George killed many pigs, but a dragon? Uh-huh.

Bainbridge recounts asking her grandson whether they’d taught him anything about St. George at school. “No”, he said, he hadn’t, “apart from the fact that George had a friend who was a dragon.”

That accounts for three crosses. The Union flag clearly has four. But the fourth is a phantom: it’s not really there. Then, you could say it was always there.

When the first Union Flag, named after Queen Anne, was designed in 1606 to symbolise the union of Scotland and England, the creative types down at heraldry found they had to retain some of the white background of England’s flag (St. George's cross), to avoid breaking the heraldic law ruling that blue and red should not touch. At the same time, had they not retained its blue background, the white saltire of St. Andrew would have disappeared into the white ground of George’s cross. And the English cross, of course, had to lie atop the Sottish one, lest the Scots dream of dominance. So the fourth cross, the narrow white outline around the cross of St. George, represents nothing more than the English presumption of superiority.

The Fitzgerald's saltire, meanwhile, masquerading as the cross of Ireland, fitted quite neatly within the white saltire of St Andrew.

On the Australian flag, we have a fifth, even more ethereal cross.

To somehow imagine a group of stars was put there by God to remind us of his son’s forthcoming crucifixion is well, stretching it. Why didn’t he stand it up the right way? What does it look like from below? Did he deliberately tilt it, like a saltire? It stands up as straight as a Roman Catholic cross on our flag, but never does in the heavens. And why is there the annoying fifth interlopering star near the centre? Is that the original Crux, the middle star, slipping down to the right?


It’s too late now to ask Augustin Royer, the French astronomer who first named it Crux Australis in 1679 ... in the days when austral meant something grave, sober, harsh, stern, austere, dry, windy, threatening, astringent and tannic in the great southern unknown.

On the 1901 version of the Australian flag, the five stars in the group each had a different number of points, indicating its magnitude of brightness in the heavens. Poor old Epsilon, the stray one fleeing the centre, rarely visible these days from our cities, scored only five. Which it still has. For ease of manufacture, the rest had officially settled at seven points by 1908.

The seven was convenient for flagmakers in that the large Federation Star, aka the Commonwealth Star, below the Union Jack, has seven points, indicating the six states and Papua New Guinea.

Yep. Papua New Guinea.

No wonder troubled souls from the bordering waters between here and there say they have a right to come here to live, as they were never consulted about being cut off our country. We opened their batting for them, by taking their country and putting them on our flag. Now we leave them on our flag but burn their boats and ship them home.

If the Gaelic states, Ireland and Wales, had united and colonised Australia, we could have a flag bearing a sheila, playing a harp and cavorting amongst the shamrocks.

Which reminds me of South Australia’s first official state badge, or cartouche (left), of which many variations survive.

These display a helmeted Britannia standing coolly on a beach, surrounded by cliffs like those at Rapid Bay. Her blowing, flowing robe looks as loose and casual as hippy cheesecloth in some versions. She has casually put her shield on the sand, resting it against her right hip, and extends her left hand to a naked original bloke who’s sitting on a rock, holding a spear.

Maybe it’s her spear. They’re obviously having a chat. Might just as well chat about spears. Within a few years the English had destroyed all the native yakka spear wood and axe glue on the Fleurieu Peninsula, adjacent to that beach, to export glue and stain for British cabinetmakers.

Just what the Australian flag represents to our original people gives me the horrors. There are many indigenous words for bits of the Crux Australis; of course many tribes had their version of how those stars got into the sky, or who, or what they are, but they never, of course, saw a cross in it, preceding, as they did, the invention of God and crucifixions by tens of thousands of years.

Pretty hard, too, to imagine what a God-fearing Islamist sees in our flag. Unless, of course, it’s wrapped around the shoulders of the white crusaders of Cronulla, where it makes absolutely perfect sense.

The Australian flag was best summarised by Seinfeld during his visit to Adelaide. Having spotted the huge bugger flapping in Victoria Square outside the Hilton, he said “I love your flag. It’s like England at night.”

He had no idea what the adjacent flag, same size, same height, on a matching pole, was about. Here it is:

The Australian Aboriginal Flag (above) was first raised on 12 July 1971 at Victoria Square in Adelaide. It was also used at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra in 1972. The top half of the flag is black to symbolise Indigenous people. The red in the lower half stands for the earth and the colour of ochre, which has ceremonial significance. The circle of yellow in the centre of the flag represents the sun. The Australian Aboriginal Flag is displayed at Aboriginal centres and is well recognised as the flag of Aboriginal peoples of Australia. It is flown during NAIDOC Week to celebrate and promote greater understanding of Indigenous peoples and culture and during National Reconciliation Week in recognition of 27 May as the anniversary of the 1967 Referendum which removed from the Constitution clauses that discriminated against indigenous Australians and 3 June as the anniversary of the High Court decision in the Eddie Mabo land rights case of 1992. Mr Harold Thomas from Northern Australia designed the flag. The Australian Aboriginal Flag was proclaimed on 14 July 1995. Permission is not required to fly the Australian Aboriginal Flag. The Australian Aboriginal Flag is protected by copyright and may only be reproduced in accordance with the provisions of the Copyright Act 1968 or with the permission of Mr Harold Thomas. Contact details are: Mr Harold Thomas, PO Box 41807, CASUARINA NT 0810 [!].

Flag: The Spirit of Ballarat, used with kind permission of the artist, Peter Clarke, of Ballarat. "Of course you can use it," he said. "That's the people's flag.  That's what it is!"  Mr Clarke's flag combines Harold Thomas's Aboriginal flag with the Eureka flag first raised by  downtrodden gold miners at the Eureka Stockade Rebellion at Ballarat in 1854. "The cross is important," Mr Clarke said. "The cross is us - our spirit."  He told The Courier that the Aboriginal flag's yellow circle was also reminiscent of the hub cap he used for gold panning as he grew up in St Joseph's Home orphanage.  "It pretty much represents what we're all about - black and white. The early days of Ballarat, the goldmining, and the Irish and Chinese which came here seeking their fortune, this made the place such a multi-cultural city. The Spirit of Ballarat is a symbol of hope and one of spirit. I painted it as me."  The Spirit of Ballarat hangs in the Trades Hall in Camp Street.

STOP PRESS: [10 MAR 2014]

As Scotland's independence looms, St Andrew's flag will lose its right to stay on the Union Flag. Presumably, Australia will have to adjust its own strange flag accordingly. This is one suggested design for the new "Jack":

For other possibilities, all of which will be deliciously contentious, check this piece from The Atlantic.


AUSTRALIA comes from the Greek αυστηρός, through the Latin austerus, which means severe, and gave itself to the Middle English auster, or austere, meaning the south wind and its source. By 1541, austere was also used to mean sour, or bitter and astringent, and harsh to the taste. This gradually came to cover anything that was harsh to the feelings generally; stern; rigorous; judicially severe; grim in warfare; severe in self-discipline; strict and abstinent. In 1597 it meant severely simple; without any luxury. By 1667 austere also meant grave and sober. The Latin austeritas became the Old French austerite, which, by 1590, as the English austerity, meant severe self-discipline, abstinence and asceticism. In 1634 austerity also meant harsh to the taste, or astringent sourness. This soon also covered general harshness to the feelings; judicial severity, or stern or severe treatment or demeanour. By 1713 it meant rugged sternness, and by 1875 austerity also meant severe simplicity or lack of luxury. The Latin australis became austral by the time of Middle English, and was used to indicate something that was belonging to the south. Or was southern. It also came not only to mean influenced by the south wind, but also warm and moist. This Latin australis gave its name to the great continent rumoured to lie in the south, Terra Australis. The French were the first to use Australien, meaning of Terra Australis. By 1693, the English language included the word Australian, also meaning of Terra Australis. The Terra was leaving Australis by 1814, in which time the English-speaking world had begun to use Captain Matthew Flinders’ suggested name for this huge southern beach-fringed slab of sand, dust, and stone, Australia. Now. About those original inhabitants …


Salman Rushdie writing about his visit to Writers' Week in Adelaide in the Tatler, London, October 1984:

‘Don’t you find,’ Angela Carter said one evening, ‘that there’s something a little exhausted about the place names around here? I mean, Mount Lofty. Windy Point.’ On another occasion, Bruce Chatwin said something similar: ‘It’s a tired country, not young at all. It tires its inhabitants. It’s too ancient, too old.’



You should get back to making wood, peckerhead. Australia rocks. And dusts. And blazes. And waves. And we love it, austerity and everything. Stay away! But if you change your mind, we'd handle that, too. Easy come, easy go. And vice versa.


As a soldier who has "served under" that flag I do not share the sentiments of so many of those, who in resisting change to a more appropriate bunting, always use the defence that the flag is somehow sacred because so many have "died under it".

From my experience that is a load of codswallop. Certainly, in Vietnam there was no such flag sentiment that I ever noticed. Unit logos, badges and other less formal signs, usually of black humour, dotted the unit lines at Nui Dat. I don't recall seeing too many Australian flags flying although there may have been at Task Force HQ. Vehicles carried stenciled red kangaroo logos to identify us as Australians and there were no Australian flags on our uniforms (I do note that our modern day diggers in Iraq and Afghanistan have Australian flag badges on their uniforms and fly Australian flags on their vehicles but I presume this is because they operate in multi-national forces and they do it to be recognised as Australians). It is always a good idea to ensure that you cannot be mistaken for an American.

I reckon soldiers, particularly those in war zones, are not very flag conscious at all. Not in my day anyway. Everyone was too busy getting the job done and getting home in one piece to be that patriotic - although scratch a digger not very deeply and patriotism will gush forth.

In 1967 if you had asked an Australian digger in Vietnam what the Australian flag should be he probably would have said it should depict a can of VB with two Melbourne Cup winners rampant.


A few years back, on a rare visit to the old country, I was driving a carload of Scottish rellies to a wake (my mum's, it was a good one). We passed a church flying the Union Flag - not sure why they do that since it was the Church of England - and I said: "Oh look, there's a large corner of our flag." Much mirth.

More seriously, I have long thought the Australian flag would look much better without the mishmash of Christian mythology in its top left quarter and a proportionately enlarged Commonwealth Star centred in the left field. We'd lose a bit of red - but I reckon it would look bloody lovely. Comments?


Get your shit stars, get your shit stars, get your shit stars off our flag.


Whoever that Barmy bugger is, he/she should be given an Order of Australia. That's true republicanism!


Imagine if we lived in a cross-free world! I like your way of thinking.


they never taught any opf that in school.




euclid said...

should be taught in schools


let's just use the balckfellas flag!

Texas John said...

hopefully all the "christian" people will read this and stop saying "stop putting the x in christmas"...

John Tucker said...

Nobody in Australia knows anything about their flag or the meaning of the name of their country. Why is this?

Lynnette said...

Nobody is likely to learn when you take such an over-the-top stance.

Philip White said...

Crucifixion is an over-the-top sort of thing, Lynnette. That's my point. I know of no pleasant crucifixions.

Beryl B said...

I like this piece. The further down you go, the more placid and sensible it becomes. I like the early South Australian cartouche, and the Aboriginal Flag.

Dane Husker said...

I never read a wine story like that before.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting post. Not wine related, but why should everything on the blog be wine related if it is interesting! :-) The flag debate has been opened up again by the ALP and lobby groups - lets see what designs are offered up.

Philip White said...

Jesus is the world's most famous winemaker. He seemes to have taken over from Bacchus. Like Bangla Desh, a country named after bang, whose capital is Dacca, Australia seems to be named after a flavour and taste spectrum, if not you actual intoxicant. No?

PJ Harvey said...

Are you suggesting that the Australian word "sheila" is not the derogatory term the feminists decried in the 60s and 70s? Surely it's a term of worship and respect?

the mad gyppo said...

Good work Drinkster. Hosni Mubarak looks like going the same way as St George!

Nick said...

phillip[, you are a grossly stupid 2 dimensional dumb ugly c**t, I have not forgotton

Digger Bloke said...

Never knew any of that! Ta mate!

LIFE of BRIAN said...

Crucifixion's a dawdle ... at least you're out in the fresh air

bucartio said...

Si this an official Australian government site?

Athens Envoy said...

Needs correction:


AUSTRALIA comes from the Greek αυδτηος (should be αυστηρός)

Leslie Lim said...

Thank you for posting some kind of information. It was really helpful since I am doing some research now.