Why does the state flag of Tasmania have a red lion on it?

Tasmania state flag
The short answer is: no one knows.

All of Australia’s state flags follow the same basic pattern (the territories are a whole different thing): they are Blue Ensigns, as is the national flag, defaced with a state badge. (Important! “Defaced” in flag-speak means a different thing from “defaced” in regular-speak; just that the flag has been decorated with some other business and not, you know, permanently spoiled.)

So the flag of Tasmania, which was rolled out in 1876, is a Blue Ensign defaced with Tasmania’s state badge: a white disc with a red lion passant (heraldry-speak for “facing left”) in the middle. Why a red lion? Shrug. The Tasmanian government notes that “no official record of the reason for using the lion” exists, though it was probably put there so the early Tasmanian colony could suck up to Blighty. For the record, the lion was originally gold, which at least matches the colour on the United Kingdom’s royal coat of arms.

New South Wales state flag
The flag of New South Wales also has a lion passant, whose origin is vastly less mysterious: perched amid a St George’s Cross (chosen for the state badge because of its British naval associations), the so-called “Lion of the South” is straight-up pinched from the Royal Arms of England. The four stars represent the Southern Cross (which, I didn’t know till I wrote this, is properly known as Crux; that’s Latin for “cross”, don’tchaknow).

Extra fact: the St George’s Cross was supposedly adopted on the NSW coat of arms because, when it was proclaimed in 1906, the then-state premier hailed from the electorate St George (which no longer exists). Heraldry aficionados are such jokesters.

Victoria state flag
The flag of Victoria was, according to the Victorian state government, the first flag flown by any of the Australian colonies. This is pretty much the most interesting thing about it: it’s pretty much identical to the Australian national flag, minus a big star and plus a St Edward’s Crown. I don’t know why a St Edward’s Crown was specifically chosen, though it’s too common a symbol to be much of exciting mystery.

Queensland state flag
The flag of Queensland originally had Queen Victoria’s head on it – because it’s not enough to simply name a state after Her Majesty, you have to put her on your flag, too. Anyway, Queenslanders are lazy and it’s super hot up there so everyone decided it was too hard to draw Vicky’s head all the damn time (more or less), so in 1876 she was replaced by a Maltese Cross with a crown in the crux. Why a Maltese Cross? That’s another mystery, though it’s believed that it’s because a Maltese Cross kind of looks like a Victoria Cross. Kind of. But not really.

(Interestingly, a Victoria Cross isn’t quite the shape of a Maltese Cross, but it was supposed to be; it’s one of those mistakes that’s just never been corrected.)

South Australian state flag
The flag of South Australia carries the state disc: a gold disc with a bird showing off its wings in the middle. The bird, which pops up in dozens of SA emblems, is formally described as “an Australian piping shrike” – which is interesting because there is no such bird. Good one, South Australia! There is some debate over whether the bird is actually supposed to be a common Australian magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen) or a magpie-lark (Grallina cyanoleuca, aka the Murray magpie), though the former seems to be the more popular choice.

Western Australia state flag
The flag of Western Australia is even less creative than Victoria’s: it’s a Blue Ensign with a black swan on it. There are quite a lot of black swans in WA, so it’s not like Sherlock Holmes has to be called in to solve this one. Two notes about the swan: First, it apparently originally faced rampant (to the right), not passant, but was flipped because flag-lovers insist that animals on flags face towards the pole. Second, it looks kind of awesomely creepy close up.

As mentioned earlier, the territory flags follow a whole different pattern from the state flags, though both share the same layout and the Southern Cross.

Australian Capital Territory state flag
The blue, white and gold colours of the flag of the Australian Capital Territory were reportedly “chosen for good reasons”. How sensible! To quote: “Blue and white are the livery colours of [Canberra] … while blue and gold … were taken from the national blue and gold appearing on the wreath of the Australian Coat of Arms.” Good reasons indeed. The rest of the flag’s look is lifted from Canberra’s coat of arms (the ACT itself has no coat of arms, FYI): the black swan and the white swan symbolise Australia’s Aboriginal and European people (burn on all the other races, I guess), while you can read what its other features symbolise here.

Northern Territory flag
The flag of the Northern Territory is black, white and ochre, the three official colours of the territory. The flower in the centre, designed by Victorian artist Robert Ingpen, is a stylised Sturt’s desert rose (the territory’s floral emblem) with a seven-pointed star at its centre symbolising the six Australian states and the NT.

And no red mystery lions.


Halloween is too an American thing

Jack O'Lanterns
So every year Halloween kicks off a round of hand-wringing cultural-identity paranoia in This Dumb Country – Australia I mean, obviously – where people decide they’re going to do the whole costumes-and-candy thing (Halloween is always about “candy”, not “lollies”), then a second group of people predictably starts carping that Halloween mustn’t be celebrated in This Dumb Country because it’s an American thing, and then the first group even-more-predictably fires back that actually Halloween has been around for centuries and actually it’s an ancient pagan or Celtic or whatever thing or whatever and actually it’s not American at all.

Yes, it’s true Halloween was not invented by Americans, and nor were yearly customs that soon became annual traditions like trick-or-treating or dressing in spooky costumes. However. Claiming that Halloween as it’s celebrated today is “not an American thing” is a bit like claiming Christmas is not a Christian thing because pagans (or Celts, or whatever) were throwing winter festivals way before Jesus ever rolled up. Whatever Halloween used to be, it’s been swallowed up by a cultural tradition popularised by America which is profoundly American.

This is not in itself a bad thing! If you’re an Australian and you want to celebrate Halloween, go right ahead. Costumes and candy are fun! But please be prepared to admit that you’re borrowing the modern phenomenon of Halloween from American TV shows and movies and pop culture. You just are.

(Also, please be prepared to admit a lot of Australians still don’t care much for Halloween, so if you’re out collecting candies, take the hint and bypass the undecorated houses.)


How Australia’s online media is reacting to the Rudd leadership spill

As I write this (timely!) Australia is going nutso over the possibility that Prime Minister Kevin Rudd will get the boot in favour of his deputy PM Julia Gillard. How responsive are (some of) Australia’s leading online media outlets to a breaking story that may emerge as one of the biggest political stories of the year?

ABC news: It’s their lead story!

The Australian: The lead (ie, the image slot) is the Afghan war. Rudd doesn’t even get his picture! Predictably dry of the Oz.

News.com.au: Top story – Photoshopped World Cup malarkey. (Of course that is their top story.) Rudd has an image, at least.

Ninemsn news: “CEO’s sticky fingers” wins the lead spot, but Gillard has her picture up there.

SBS World News: It’s the lead story, natch.

SMH.com.au: Seinfeld vs. Gaga is deemed the most important story (to be fair, SMH has five rotating “lead” spots, though none of them is devoted to Rudd/Gillard). The Rudd leadership threat is right up there, though.


Observations on New Zealand

If you look really hard, you can spot an Orc in this photo!

Here are some things I noticed during my recent stay in New Zealand:

1. It is fucking beautiful. Like, there is a reason that Lord of the Rings and several other fantasy movies have been shot there.

2. Kiwis are super-nice. (Either that, or Kiwis are just a regular level of nice, and everyone in Sydney is a super-jerk. This is a distinct possibility.) Everyone I encountered was unfailingly polite and friendly, even people who didn’t work in the tourism industry. The only rude minge I encountered (who wasn’t even Kiwi – I think she was German or something) was a waitress at a restaurant in Christchurch, who snapped that we couldn’t eat dinner there because she was expecting two large groups, which I guess was my fault or something.

3. The accent… um. I will say this: New Zealanders are very well-spoken. For example. Where an Australian will say something that sounds like “bedda siddy” for “better city”, a Kiwi will actually pronounce the Ts. Unfortunately the vowels will be rendered into something like “butter sitty”, which is hilarious. New Zealand, I hereby offer an apology for my constant stifled sniggers at your amusing ickcent.


Australian publishing industry win!

Image: failblog.org

Image: failblog.org

Good news, everyone:

The federal government announced on Wednesday morning that it will not change how books are bought and sold in Australia, despite a recommendation by the productivity commission to scrap parallel importation restrictions on books.

Adds Sydney agent blogger Call My Agent:

Parallel importation regulations will notbe changed. That’s correct: NOT be changed. Which means Australian copyright still exists and Australian authors have the same fair shot at getting published that they had a couple of years ago (the industry has been understandably nervous the last year and a bit).