HECKLER

<em>Illustration: Simon Letch</em>

Illustration: Simon Letch

THE latest round of do-we-change, don't-we-change letters to the Herald about the Australian flag has got me wondering why we even need a flag in the first place. Honestly, what use is the bloody thing? Initially flags were used in battle to identify different groups of combatants among their own soldiers, or were simply a brightly-coloured target for the other side's rocks, arrows, spears or whatever. Not a very admirable pedigree.

Later they were used in navigation, to identify where ships came from or to communicate between vessels or fortresses. They probably should have been pensioned off when radio arrived, and are even more useless these days with satellite phones, sat-nav and even the humble mobile phone.

Then, once the concept of a national flag was developed, what happened? Nations went to war to ''defend the flag'', so all the wonderful work done by ye olde worlde graphic designers simply resulted in centuries of death and destruction.

These days we have a national flag that some love and some hate, but back to my original question - what use is it? It features a Union Jack which, depending on your viewpoint, either symbolises an outdated subjugation of Australia by Britain, or simply reflects the historical development of white Australia - both are about the past, not the present. In any case, it doesn't even feature either of our official national colours of green and gold! As a national flag, ours doesn't even have a catchy nickname like ''The Star Spangled Banner'', ''Old Glory'' or simply the ''Union Jack''. As far as I know (and vexillologists, feel free to correct me) it's simply referred to as ''The Australian Flag''. Wow.

National flags can be misused. Remember when Neil Armstrong raised the American flag on the moon after claiming ''One giant leap for mankind'' when he actually meant ''One giant leap for the US of A, who are better than the Commo Russkies at launching great big rockets''? And those Cronulla rioters, who succeeded in forever associating the red, white and blue with racism and mindless violence, reducing our national flag to the same status as the rednecks' Confederate flag. Some people suggest that we use the Eureka flag instead - sure, I'd love to see a flag that is cherished by outlaw bikies all over the country flying over Parliament House.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if, at our next Olympic victory, instead of raising a technologically irrelevant, divisive and sometimes confusing piece of cloth, there was simply a great big sign that said ''AUSTRALIA''. I reckon everyone would get the message.

Matt Petersen