2004/2/16 Flags (3) on poles, polyester/ wood, used at Journey of a Nation Centenary of Federation parade, made in Australia, 2000
Since the Centenary of colonisation in 1888 there have been many parades and civic events that presented Australian identity and history in dramatic and symbolic fashion. Most recently parades organised and events for the Bicentennial in 1988, the Sydney Olympics in 2000 and the Centenary of Australian Federation in 2001 attempted to engage with complex debates about Australia's identity and history that focussed on issues of democracy, gender, reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians and established national mythologies.
To headline its year of events in 2001 the New South Wales Centenary of Federation Committee planned a parade and ceremony replicating and updating the parade of soldiers, dignitaries and community groups that took place in Sydney on January 1 1901 - culminating in the swearing in of the first Governor General and the inauguration of the Commonwealth of Australia in Centennial Park.
The 'Journey of a Nation' on January 1 2001 was the biggest street parade ever held in Australia intended to represent Australia's development since 1901 with a large array of thematic floats, 'push units', and 6 000 costumed performers and participants. Several leading designers were enlisted to create the floats and costumes which were organised within 11 sections.
After the success of the Olympic games ceremonies, the parade was an ambitious attempt to present a modern, inclusive version of the 1901 parade and ceremony which was marked by predominance of soldiers and dignitaries from across the British Empire, and the absence of women and Aborigines. Its reception however was mixed. Many appreciated the democratic sentiment of the event. Others thought the parade failed as a spectacle because it was simply too big and cumbersome.
These flags flew on the 'Reconciliation' float, which was was the feature of the parade's 'Who Are We' section which explored the historical changes that occurred in the 100 years since Federation. Taking the form of a ship, the float represented the movement towards reconciliation between Indigenous and non-indigenous Australians It was surrounded by the 'Sea of Hands' a motif of multiple plastic hands first used by the organisation Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation in 1997 in protest against the Howard government's moves to extinguish native title rights. On board the 'ship' were activist Lowitja O'Donoghue former Chairperson of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission; long-time Indigenous campaigner Faith Bandler; Margaret and Gough Whitlam who as Prime Minister in the 1970s had supported Aboriginal land rights; Al Grassby who as Minister for Immigration under Whitlam had promoted multiculturalism in Australia; renowned scientist Sir Gustav Nossal, then Chairman of the Centenary of Federation Victoria Committee and Deputy Chairman of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation; former New South Wales Liberal Premier Nick Greiner who was a vocal advocate of reconciliation from the conservative side of politics. Representing the conservative government of the day was National Party leader and Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer who, perhaps somewhat ironically, had vociferously supported the extinguishment of native land title over existing pastoral leases.
The significance of the Torres Strait Islands flag is perhaps less well known than the symbolism of the Australian and Aboriginal flags. The Torres Strait Islands flag is emblazoned with a white Dari (headdress) which is a symbol of Torres Strait Islanders. The white five pointed star beneath it symbolises the five major island groups and the navigational importance of stars to these seafaring people. The green stripes represent the islands, the black stripes represent the local Melanesian people, and the blue the sea. The flag as a whole symbolises the unity of all Torres Strait Islanders. As with the Aboriginal flag, the Torres Strait Islander flag is beginning to be flown more widely and gaining more recognition as Indigenous issues gain more prominence in Australia. The Federal Government initiated steps in 1994 to give the flag legal recognition. After a period of public consultation, the Government decided in July 1995 that the flag should be proclaimed a 'Flag of Australia' under section 5 of the Flags Act 1953. The flag was so proclaimed by the Governor General of Australia, William Hayden, on 14 July 1995.
Little survives of the original Federation events beyond printed invitations and photographs, many of which are held in the Powerhouse collection. This costume and other Centenary of Federation material also complements the Museum's large Bicentennial collection, its 2000 Olympics collection and Sydney Mardi Gras costumes.