Recently, I had the opportunity to watch Valhalla Rising, a blood peppered, dirt-caked and wind lashed movie about a mute character, One-eye. Complementing the physical lack of his tongue appendage, One-eye is incomplete by human standards, in a spiritual, soul-driven way. He is more beast than man; a slave who is transported from one desolate location to another by a rope around his neck, removed only to fight other vagabonds for payment of coins, tainted with blood. One-eye eventually escapes his horrid lifestyle and the gravity of the story is pulled into a direction where the protagonist undergoes a transformation. This change is apparent by his final act of sacrifice. Unlike the brutal Cyclops-like being he was, One-eye gives his life for a boy who accompanied him on his journey from the beginning. Before this incident, One-eye and the Boy are led by a Christian group of crusaders, who take them to a strange land for the purposes of converting them and in particular, cleansing One-eyes abraded soul, while constantly being both in awe and terrified of this beastly man who becomes someone else – a man with a mind that is clear and true. The clear message in this atmospheric and moving movie is one of change. No longer taking life, One-eye makes the decision to save the Boy’s life by sacrificing himself when he is surrounded by a hostile group of inhabitants to the strange land. He changes and becomes greater than his twisted past.
What does this movie have to do with the issue of whether Australia should become a Republic or remain under the Commonwealth of the British Monarchy and Indigenous representation? Let me show you…
For the purposes of my argument, it should be made clear that One-eye will serve as a symbolic representation of Australia and for its past, present and future. He was once barbaric, untamed. So too was this land. One-eye renounced his ways of the sword and the axe and becomes a person who embraced the sanctity of human life. Likewise, Australia has moved on from her inhumane convict past to become a nation that is diverse of nationalities and which intersects our daily lives, making relationships richer in colour and in spirit. One has to keep in mind that Australia was already a place of prosperity before white man settled. Like One-eye’s own soul, I argue that there an essential truth to this soul of land which should be embraced and therefore, no matter how tangled it’s past was, straight lines can be drawn out and sense can be made.
Therefore, the main crux of my argument is on the need for change. I aim to break down this dilemma to its simplest components, to be as concise as possible to avoid arguments that shade this issue, such as the changes to the constitution that is needed or the exuberant costs needed to change monarchy to republic. After all, these arguments are merely road-blocks to the real issue. When the clock strikes the hour, the element that is left in this monarchist versus republican debate is simple. Thus, the decision as to whether Australia should remain under the Commonwealth or become a Republic is about CHANGE – whether to change our views or not to change them.
Why is this so important?
Changing the constitution to allow Australia to become a republic also calls for a change to the flag. Just like the tattoo’s present on One-eye’s once barbaric body, a new flag brings out a new symbolism for our future. In doing this, I argue it is necessary to include Indigenous heritage on the flag. I argue for an all encompassing flag, not a separate ‘us’ and ‘them’ piece of object filled by colour – I vouch for a flag that combines both. Throw in-group and out-group theory, ‘us’ and ‘them’ out the window with the bath water.
So why is it important to recognise Indigenous People’s within our flag and with our larger historical heritage?
Firstly, opponents of this will argue in zeal that no ethnic or racial minority should be given privilege over another, as this is unfair and confounds the principles of multiculturalism.
Let me remind you that archaeological confirms that presence of Indigenous Peoples in this land for over 40,000 years. A long time this is, indeed. No great cities were built. No pyramids to be found. Very little evidence of past civilisation can be found. However, sublime paintings that decorate the desert and inland landscape remain. The nature of Indigenous artwork dots the Australian landscape in the same way that the actual artwork is composed of such intricate dots. Spirits of Indigenous ancestors call out from the land in the form of the wind and the churning of the waves.
Therefore, remember this, fellow readers – and I hope it will make an impression. The same blood and bone as yours walked this land of ours and survived for eons. Ancient Indigenous footprints walked on the scorched sand of the beaches and deserts of this land we call Australia and not Terra Nullius. Families were raised in this land, not under a flag, but under a harsh sun that refused to provide respite. And yet they survived. Food and water were sparse. And yet they still survived. Calling for recognition of Indigenous heritage onto a new flag would be a better representation of our country, the spirit of this country than the Union Jack or any cross. Remember, this land was occupied for thousands of years before white man ever set foot. And yet Indigenous People survived and prospered.
But hold on! How can Australia move into the future and change by accepting its past, its true authentic past, grounded by thousands of years of the same culture?
Australia was occupied and claimed by British rule in 1788 by Captain Cook and his motley crew of merry man. One must keep in mind that not all were merry. Convicts were brought ashore and put to hard labour. Those early settlers and convicts were wrought out of English desire to expand their horizons, to conquer and pierce their flag into foreign soil. I ask you this; why are we so intent on keeping this imperialistic heritage? Outdated is an appropriate word.
I sternly argue what sort of history is this to be proud of? A Monarch-lead nation that exiles its own unwanted citizens and plants them in a dry and arid land, not full of milk and honey, but of such perceived harshness, no name other than Terra Nullius could warrant its magnificent physical and spiritual milieu. A heritage that does not recognise the true legacy of this land seems illogical and unnatural.
Tradition, a word that is closely held in the hearts of Monarch contemporaries defines a large component of their justification that Australian should remain under this blue blood link. Keep in mind that this link to the United Kingdom is neither a politically active one – it is merely a symbolic representation of the past, a past in which the soil of this country was toiled by the blood and sweat of convicts. Sure, one can be proud of our convict past, but they were not free men, all were forced to work and the lines of their faces became more prominent as the sun beat down. Even the rich landowners who arrived had to suffer and build their estates. This artificial environment is in stark contrast to the natural way of life embodied by the Indigenous Peoples, whose presence stretches thousands of years, where an intimate relationship with nature was developed peacefully.
So I ask you, reader, to abandon the image of John Kerr and his top-hat. It should be kept in the distance. Instead, I ask you to replace this with Gough Whitlam and remember the poignant image of him as he drained the earth from his hands into those of an elder as a sign of recognition of Indigenous heritage. This should be remembered. In my mind, this is more valuable and more important than any crown and robe the Monarch has to offer. This is the most logical and natural way Australia should have been founded upon, but man decided to raise the flag in the name of a foreign family.
In the end, if Australia is to become a Republic, I foresee it could be a bloody battle. Words will be spat from the mouths of politicians on a spectrum of acceptance to disgust; just as the swords clashed and blood was spilt in Valhalla Rising. Like any battle that is fought, there will be a winner. I hope that for the future of Australia, this fight will not be in the name of the Queen. Let us embrace a change from a past, that although considered necessary in an establishment sense circa 1788, no longer applies today and no longer represents the people of Australia today, in all of her diversity. Let us be remembered just like One-eye was, changing from beast to man. Let us get rid of the chains that bind us to a monarchist past.