Wattle Day Address – 1 September 2007
Lachlan’s Restaurant – Old Government House Parramatta
by Geoffrey Coulin
Designer – Wattle Day Flag
From Sporting Flag of Australia to Wattle Day Flag…
(a short recollection)
In 1984 I was visiting Switzerland. As I travelled around that land-locked, neutral, middle European country I noticed that each Canton had its own flag. Sure, all six States of Australia and the two Territories have their own flags (the latter two do not have the dominance of the Union Jack in them). But it got me thinking, for the first time, about appropriate symbols in my homeland and I set my mind to work.
When the Ausflag organization announced a $100,000 New Flag competition in 1988, the Bicentenary year, I made a design and filed a submission as did hundreds of other fellow-Australians. The winning design, to my way of thinking, did not really produce anything special. Indeed, it was too much like the existing Australian flag – with not very much imagination. It was no surprise to me that the winning design vanished without a trace in the months that followed.
I could not remove from my mind the impression created by the Australian women’s contingent at the Rome Olympic Games in 1960. Our women’s team had white skirts with sprigs of wattle on them, as I recall, and they looked absolutely stunning.
Going much further back in our history, I remembered that by some means or other the Australian soldiers fighting in Palestine in World War I were sent a batch of Sydney wattle sprigs and they were shown off by the soldiers on furlough for the official war photographers of the day.
Now, Wattle Day used to be “celebrated” on 1st August. But that had to change because, as most people know, 1st August is, uniformly, the official Australian thoroughbred horses’ birthday. Many people from many quarters of the nation lobbied the Bob Hawke Labor Government to make the uniform change to 1st September and this became a reality in Hawke’s time at the helm. Special mention should be given to the NSW Premier of the Day, Nick Greiner, and Armidale-based high school teacher, Maria Hitchcock, who both made what I think were important and eventually influential representations to Prime Minster Hawke.
I was so convinced that the Australian flag needed to feature our national floral emblem that I decided to go into business full-time reviving my Novocastrian grandfather’s business name, Coulin Brothers. I registered my design in July of 1988 and launched right into it. I had hundreds of t-shirts, windcheaters, flags and banners locally manufactured and ten thousand promotional flyers printed. But, like Alan Bond and his “Boxing Kangaroo Flag of Australia” from earlier on in the 1980s I, too, struck difficulties with Canberra bureaucrats administering the 1953 Flag Act and hostile defenders of the status quo.
I settled on calling my design: “The Sporting Flag of Australia”. My initial capital investment amounted to well over $45,000, which seemed to be a smart move given the celebratory times. However, I struggled for most of the four years until the end of June, 1993 to keep the business viable.
I employed three full-time staff and had an amazing amount of early interest – I even got my flag placed on a flag pole high above the Newcastle Brewery and Restaurant in the docks area of my home City of Newcastle where it stayed until, inevitably, with a change of ownership, it was removed.
Shortly before the end of the Coulin Brothers enterprise I met Peter Consandine from The Republican Party of Australia. One thing led to another and I soon joined his Federally-registered political Party. In turn, I agreed with Peter that my flag design needed a fillip – a new lease of life. In effect, my flag design has “morphed” into what Peter now calls, with my permission, of course, “The Wattle Day Flag”.
I’m happy with this development. I’m also pleased that Peter is now promoting my design as part of our Party’s symbolic and cultural values reform and change agenda.