Gallery puts ACT flag under the spotlight

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Sharon Bulkeley with flag designs, top right, the current flag, designed by Ivo Ostyn

“THERE’S a lot more going on behind-the-scenes that you would imagine,” social history curator at the Canberra Museum and Gallery, Sharon Bulkeley, told “CityNews” today (February 8) as she walked us through an exhibition opening tomorrow, “A Flag of our Own”.

The brainchild of CMAG director Shane Breynard, the exhibition features, among documents, voting forms, designs and historical material the for the city of Canberra featuring the city’s rather Victorian-looking coat of arms shield on a background of red.

While agitation in the Canberra community, Bulkeley told us, began in the 1960s, the search for a new flag for the ACT really only commenced seriously after self-government in 1989.

“Although the movement had been in train for 40 years,” she said, ”it took about six months for it to happen.”  Artist Ian Sharpe was commissioned to create a series of options. Another flag design, favoured by then chief minister Trevor Kaine, had been commissioned the year before from Ivo Ostyn. Even cartoonist Geoff Pryor had a design.

It was Ostyn’s flag eventually that came out on top with 54 per cent after 30,000 Canberrans filled out voting forms. About 10 per cent had been discounted as protest votes and the election commissioner also discounted some because of obvious vote-stacking.

The new flag was unveiled in March, 1993, after a public vote. In the years since, it has been lauded, ridiculed and occasionally ignored.

The idea of the show, Bulkeley said, was for visitors to discover the history, controversy and humour of our current flag and why there are calls for it to be changed. To that end, they’ll even be able to design their own flag.

“A Flag of Our Own”, Canberra Museum and Gallery, London Circuit, Civic, until May 4.

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Helen Musa
“CityNews” arts editor

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