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Report on the 26th International Congress of Vexillology

Sydney, Australia

Last modified: 2015-09-13 by rob raeside
Keywords: international congress of vexillology | sydney |
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Daily Reports on the ICV

31 August - Day 1

The ICV here yesterday in Sydney started with registration and drinks at the Grace Hotel. It was great to catch up with some people after quite a while, and also to see some faces for the first time.

Anyway, we got properly underway this morning at the Telstra auditorium. After a welcome from David from Telstra, Tony Burton acknowledged the Eora Nation and other indigenous peoples of Australia while explaining the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags. Ralph Bartlett (FSA president) and Michel Lupant (FIAV president) then spoke, and the congress was declared open.

The first presentation was from John Cartledge, a well put-together discussion on the Red Flag as a symbol of revolt. He traced use of the red flag in history, from the change from counter-revolutionary to revolutionary use in the 18th century, through the Mutiny of the Nore, a flag dipped in lamb's blood in the Merthyr rising, the events popularised in Les Miserables, the Year of Revolutions in Europe to May Day protests. He then showed many uses of red flag imagery in propaganda posters and socialist realist art, as well as national flags. It even serves as a name for things such as policies, canals and newspapers. It is quite common in Marxist-Leninist inspired flags, leading to some red flags being avoided during "red scare" periods in the West, but is also a common party colour of Social Democratic parties. We concluded with the story of anthem the "The Red Flag", still popular with parts of the British Labour Party.

John was followed by Stan Zamyatin from Ireland with a talk entitled "Flagscapes". Stan has compiled quite a collection of landscape images combined with national flags, and while he did touch on those (such as Ukraine) where the flag is obviously a celebration of nature, he more generally explored the parallels between flags and landscapes as part of national identities. Starting with the general place of landscape traditions in national identities in Romanticism, he touched on flags and paintings in Ancient China and the concurrent rise of landscape paintings and modern flags in the Netherlands, before illustrating the place of forests in German, Polish and Lithuanian national identities, and noting that the level of passion afforded to the national flags and landscapes varies across countries and time.

After morning tea, we were pleased to have a presentation from Malcolm Mulholland, a member of the New Zealand Flag Consideration Committee that is currently narrowing down the many submitted flag designs to a short list of 4 to go to a referendum later this year. He began with a history of flags of NZ, from the United Tribes flag required to do trade with the British, to the Union Jack after Waitangi and the defaced blue ensigns after the 1865 Colonial Naval Defence Act, and the enshrinement of the current flag in the patriotism of the early 1900s. He then covered the current flag consideration process, starting with Prime Minister John Key's expressed opinions on the flag and a silver fern alternative since the last election campaign, the cross-party process to set up the Committee and the make-up of the committee itself as broadly representative of the nation. The Committee has requested input from New Zealanders on what they stand for, received 10,292 designs and toured the country. They reduced this to 40, firstly by simply noting whether each member liked, dislike or was indifferent to each design. They are now looking for any impediments to the long list designs before announcing the final four in September. The four will then be voted on in Nov-Dec, with the winner up against the current flag in March. Unfortunately we didn't have anywhere near enough time for all the questions people wanted to ask Malcolm!

Next up was Ted Kaye, speaking about the process he has been part of as the Fiji government has decided to change their flag. Kaye is a member of a committee along with a broad cross-section of leaders of the Fijian community. They met for 2.5 days to learn about basic flag design principles, then narrow the 2,000 submission (not including 7,000 copies of the existing flag from the opposition party) down, first to 167, then to 47. At this point they settled on a field colour of "Fiji blue" (a banner blue features in the national anthem) and a 1:2 ratio. The committee then went down to 20, then 10 and finally presented 5 designs to the government for consideration. The government (with some consultation with committee members), then expanded this shortlist to 12, then 24, then with some changes released a shortlist of 23. The new flag was originally meant to be decided in July, but the public reactions to the shortlist have led the government to look for more designs before making the final decision on a flag. Ted ended with a plea for all Fijians to engage with the process seriously.

From NZ and Fiji, we moved to another part of the South Pacific with "plans" for a new flag. After some background on New Caledonia generally, Nicolas Hugot went through the French flags used through the French history of New Caledonia and then the appearance of a predecessor the FLNKS flag among the opposition to French rule. The 1988 agreements ending the troubles known as "The Events" included plans for a self-determination referendum in 1998, and also new symbols including a flag. We saw that the (rarely used?) provincial flags in the Kanak-dominated provinces feature Kanak symbolism, while in the South the flag contains the French colours. No unity flag has been adopted, instead in 2010 the congress decided to fly the FLNKS flag alongside the tricolore. We then saw some of the more popular proposals in contests held in 1999, 2004 and 2010, many combining the colours of the two flags.

After a break for lunch we had an Australian session. Stephen Szabo and Bruce Baskerville put forward and questioned the legend of the Bowman flag, long regarded as the oldest known Australian-designed flag, and first example of a kangaroo and emu as heraldic supporters. They described the growth of the legend of the flag's history from 1905 to the 1950s and so on, including the details that it was made from a wedding dress, painted by Bowman's daughter, and then pointed out some greater and smaller problems with these stories - that the artwork looks professional, not that of a 9 year old; the silk is from three identical pieces; and that the area was flooded at the time of the Trafalgar celebrations that supposedly prompted the making of the flag. Their conclusion is that the legend is definitely questionable and the flag need looking at with fresh eyes. While certainly associated with the Bowman family, it may have come into being (or at least been used) for other purposes, such as by settlers loyal to Governor Bligh when he was deposed, as an election banner at the time of the first Legislative Council elections in 1843, by a fraternal society such as the Independent Order of Oddfellows, or as the colours of a voluntary military unit. Records of events involving such groups in the area contain many references to 'Unity' and to England or Australia expecting every man will do their duty, as inscribed on the flag. The flag itself is unusually currently on display at the State Library, and I hope to get along sooner rather than later.

Tony Burton then colourfully discussed the use of the first royal visit of Queen Elizabeth II to Australia (and Fiji and NZ) to cement the use of the blue Australian flag, particularly by linking it with the monarchy. Acknowledging that this was only one part of the story of the flag in Australia, he gave a feeling of the sentiments at the time of the visit, with plenty of illustrations of the decorations set up for Her Majesty around the country.

We finished the presentations for the day with Ralph Bartlett displaying many versions of the Boxing Kangaroo flag first used by Australia II crew in the America's Cup. It was widely copied until the Bond Corporation asserted intellectual property rights, although by that point you could say that the design was widely seen as the belonging to all Australians. This was pointed out by the rival owner when Bond's syndicate lost the right to defend the Cup in 1987 to Kookaburra III, but Bond generally continued to enforce his rights (licensing the flag to a couple of manufacturers) until his bankruptcy. He then sold the rights to the Australian Olympic Committee, who have redesigned the kangaroo. Whatever the IP situation, it has only grown stronger in the public consciousness, with leading politicians defending its use at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics against the policies of the IOC. Ralph ended with an entertaining video of a suburban kangaroo boxing match!

We then adjourned for a sunset harbour cruise, a good way to see Sydney from a different angle. The Jerry Bailey was flying the Congress flag and a 'Congress red ensign' from along with the Australian red ensign, and the FIAV flag at the bow. It seemed quite a nice evening, although by the end I was noticing that it is still winter (just). More in the morning!
Jonathan Dixon, 31 August 2015

1 September - Day 2

Today at the ICV, we started off with Paul Lindsay from the FOTW Facebook group talking about vexillology and social media. He began by reflecting on the difficulties in finding flag information in the days of only books and snail mail, compared with the resources such as our website available today. In contrast, today there are the many spurious or fictional flags online that may mislead the unwary vexillologist. We went through some of the history and growth if the FOTW mailing list, website and now Facebook group and subsequent internet resources. Paul outlined the benefits of the Facebook group in that it reaches many people who might not otherwise see vexillology and had a mix of serious and just plain fun flag posts. He also noted the challenges of working better with the website and dealing with the many political arguments that flags and Facebook attract.

Sekhar Chakrabarti led us to the contribution of an Irish lady to an early 20th century Indian flag by first reflecting on the women celebrated as first flag makers of national flags - in the USA, Philippines, Haiti and Cuba. In contrast, an early proposed Indian national flag was designed by Sister Nivedita. Born Margaret Noble, she was an Irish woman in India at a time when the 1905 partition of India prompted the beginning of the Swadeshi nationalist movement. She was one of the earliest to suggest that they needed a national flag, and designed a flash employing a yellow thunderbolt symbol, inspired by the Vedas, on a red field between 108 flames and Bengali text meaning "hail to the mother". This text also appears on later nationalist flags.

We then had a comprehensive tour of Japanese service ensigns from the 1870s to the present, with the guidance of Nozomi Kariyasu. The earliest customs ensign featured a blue saltire behind the red disc of the national flag, similar to other saltire based customs ensigns in the region. It was replaced with a plain red flag, then text on a white background, versions of the national flag (for western style ships only), before the current flag which is diagonally white over blue with a red disc in the centre. Obviously the idea of putting a white border on the national flag doesn't really work for Japan - the pilot ensign has gone from white with blue corners, through various combinations of white, red, text and blue borders to today's version based on the ICS H flag. The postal ensign went through a couple of changes before reaching its current form earlier than others, still in the 19th century. Quarantine ships first used a red H on white, before including yellow like many other quarantine flags. The 1913 version of the lighthouse ensign is one of the rare Japanese flags in the style of British ensigns. Also covered were versions of these flags in various Japanese-controlled territories, and the fisheries inspection ensign.

After morning tea, Fei Xing gave a presentation on flags in traditional Chinese architecture. His key point was that in traditional Chinese buildings flagpoles should not be constructed on the important central axis of the building. We saw quite a few interesting illustrations and photos of buildings with flagpoles, from 947 AD to the 20th century. There were usually 2 or 4 Chinese style poles on either side of the main axis. Western style poles became more prevalent, moving from the ports to the inland, more common in government use than among the people. Qing dynasty pictures show dragon flags on mixed poles. We saw an early change with the Palace Museum in 1929 having a single (too high) flagpole in the centre. These days, Chinese government buildings tend to have a central single pole, while elsewhere tradition is preserved with a flag on each side, or one to the building's right.

Aleksander Hribovšek questioned the common thought about the origins of the Slovenian national flag, which was derived from the arms of Carniola, a blue eagle on white with a red/white checked crescent. The field was changed to yellow, but contrary to common understanding, this was not done by Frederick III, who added a crown to the arms, after the field had already changed. As a result, the natural flag for the duchy was yellow over blue, perhaps sometimes yellow over blue over red. The field was changed back to white in 1836, and on 7 April 1848 the white-blue-red flag was first used as a national flag for Slovenians. It seems the choice of white rather than blue was based in ignorance of the 550 year old imperial document describing the arms, perhaps also motivated by the pan-Slavic movement.

From Slovenia to Brittany, where we explored the pardon flags - banners that pilgrims walk and pray behind in the pilgrimages around the parish every year. In Locranon, the Grande Tromenie (longer than the Petite Tromenie) occurs every six years. The banners, some over 400 years old, typically include a helmet and cross on the crossbar holding the flag, a monogram or similar above a saint, a motto often requesting the prayers of the saint, and various coats of arms (of the pope, bishop, etc). The design on the reverse may be a completely different saint. We saw many Breton examples, before moving on to similar style religious flags in France, Cornwall, Russian Orthodox processions, and the less similar context of Orange Orders in Northern Ireland. The banners are quite heavy, and the contest to choose the banner-bearers has become a popular Breton sport quite apart from the pardon tradition.

We then had a sandwich lunch on Observatory Hill under the restored signal flag mast. John Vaughan hoisted flags representing the congress and a range of his replica historic and other Australian flags, and spoke to us about the use of the flag mast in early Sydney. We had a group photo under the mast before returning to the theatre.

Marcel van Westerhoven started the afternoon session with a survey of regional identity in the Netherlands in terms of flags. Regional flags were adopted between 1947 and 1959, often unreliably tied back to symbols of the Friesian and Saxon tribes of the 8th century. A 2014 survey revealed that the regional flags are much more recognised by locals in the north and south of the country. This may be partly to do with the flag designs themselves, but mostly to do with regional v national identity. North and South Holland and Utrecht, linguistically speaking closest to standard Dutch and generally tied to the national identity rather than a local one, use the provincial flag only for administrative situations. Provincial identity in the eastern provinces is weaker than both national identity and sub-regional provinces, while in the north and south there are strong identities. We saw some use of regional flags in Friesland, where it the flag is ubiquitous, Groningen, where its popularity has increased with local protests against central government regarding gas extraction, Limburg and Nord-Brabant, before moving on to examples of popular city and municipal flags.

Michel Lupant closed off the lecture for the day with Belgian Royal Flags since independence. Leopold I and II has a shield and crown in the yellow stripe of the national tricolor. An early example was found in 1909, with earlier sources varying greatly in terms of how much of the arms were shown. By the time of Leopold III, the standards settled down to a red flag with shield and crown, with monograms in the corners. We saw several examples for each of the kings since then, with variations in the size of the shield, the letters in the monograms, and even colour, with some more violet than red. Interestingly, Prince Phillippe/Filip used a 'P' monogram as crown prince, but changed to 'FP' using both languages as King. We finished with an overview of flags marking his coronation, as well as royal-related military flags such as those of the Royal Escort.

A relatively uneventful session of the FIAV general assembly followed afternoon tea. London 2017 and San Antonio 2019 reported on the progress of their plans, while there were expressions of interest in hosting ICVs in Dublin and Ljubljana (2021) and Paris (2025). The FIAV board proposes to move in London that the commission into a vexillological description code be ended, and improvements to the Flag Information Code be done 'in the wild'.

In the evening, we enjoyed a meeting of FOTW members and other interested parties in a nearby club, thanks to Ralph Kelly.
Jonathan Dixon, 1 September 2015

FOTW meeting

Last night we had 24 people at our FOTW meeting organised by Ralph Kelly. After some general chat about ourselves and how we found an interest in flags and came to FOTW, we had a lively discussion. The was a lot of talk about the Facebook group, particularly how we can have a more symbiotic relationship between the list and the Facebook group, and also the age old question of moving to a more convenient system for editing.

We all agreed that it would be good to capture more of the parts from Facebook that contain new info on flags. Paul agreed to speak to the admin team about collecting informative posts while they are monitoring the group for trouble, and having someone forward them to the list. We also agreed that we should think about more actively sharing information that is currently in the list with the Facebook group, possibly starting with the weekly last of updates to the website. It might also work to use the Facebook group to solicit GIFs where they are missing and/or need improvement, as the group is not short on people who enjoy making flag images. Doing things like this might mean the group better attracts interested people to more focused vexillological activity, while maintaining the informal environment of a Facebook group.

On the topic of how well editors are coping with the workload, we once again considered the benefits of a CMS system which would allow a better distribution of work. The hardest part of employing a wiki or other system is migrating the current website, a task which is possibly beyond the capability of our current personnel in any reasonable time. Some suggestions were that we could look at involving university IT departments to make some of it a student project, or finding how much it would cost were we to pay for a solution, to consider whether fundraising is feasible.

One important part of the website that was noted as needing an overhaul is the bibliography section. Annie Platoff noted that at some point it may be worth combining efforts with her vexillological index project and making use of that.
Jonathan Dixon, 3 September 2015

2 September - Day 3

Today was a very long day with our day trip to Australia's capital, Canberra. We picked up for breakfast on our buses at 7 a.m. sharp, and headed down to Canberra with a morning tea stop at Marulan. Our first destination was the Annex of the Australian War Memorial, where we viewed a selection of flags and related items from the 19th century, the Boer War and the two world wars. A conservator spoke to us about the six year long process of restoring and researching the colour of a 19th century volunteer unit.

Lunch was then provided at the Australian War Memorial proper, followed by the chance to explore the displayed collection. I hope everyone found a few interesting flags - I was surprised by a couple that were reported as Boer flags.

We then left for Parliament House, stopping first at Mt Ainslie lookout to get a great view of the capital in its bushland setting. At the parliament, we were shown an early copy of the Magna Carta, a suffragette banner and a painting of the first opening of federal parliament before going up to the flagpole which is the centerpiece of the building. The flags are 6.4m high and 25kg. We also visited the House of Representatives, where the speaker once decided there should be a flag in each corner of the room, and so there is.

We had afternoon tea at the avenue of flags - one for each country with diplomatic relations with Australia - and the headed home, stopping for dinner in Mittagong. I for one need some sleep!
Jonathan Dixon, 2 September 2015

3 September - Day 4

I was grateful that today was planned to start half an hour later than other days, after our long day yesterday. Scot Gunter started the day discussing a survey of US college students regarding flag recognition and responses evoked by the Australian national flag. He first conducted the survey in 1988, and repeated it this year. He commented on the need to ensure the validity of a survey like this, and also the checks made by his review board beforehand. The results showed recognition of all flags in the survey increasing since 1988. For Australia, 23% increased to 46%, with another 37.5% saying it was British. Mexico was the biggest change (25.5% to 84%), although that is partly explained by the different locations of the respondents in the two surveys (mainly eastern US v California). Japan is the most recognised (73.5% and 91%), while Iraq was interestingly low (1% then 16%). The thoughts evoked by the Australian flag were most often Britishness (seeing the canton rather than the whole flag as a syntam), then "penal colony" and "kangaroo". Scot also noted that the later survey had many more responses commenting on modern Australian society. This is probably down to the effect of the internet and globalisation generally, which also is part of generally better recognition of other nations' flags.

We then took our minds to Tasmania for a couple of lectures. Jon Addison from the Queen Victoria Museum & Art Gallery led us to the Australasian Anti-Transportation League flag, beginning with a great outline of historical transportation of convicts to Van Diemen's Land. The colony grappled with the question of how to deal with the convicts (at one point virtually slave labour, and generally seen as depraved), and not really finding a solution, a movement began opposing any further transportation. John West, a non-conformist minister in Launceston, was a major part of the movement, not always under his own name. He was one of the Tasmanians who took a flag to the meeting in Melbourne where the ATL was formed - a British blue ensign (the UJ to show loyalty even in opposing imperial policy), with a white border bearing text (white for purity), and 4 yellow stars of the southern cross (a reference to heaven). This flag was copied at least a few times, possibly quite widely, but the only remaining flag is one (with five stars) made in Victoria while West toured, and taken back to Tasmania where it is now in Jon's museum. The flag is quite significant as the earliest known use of the southern cross in a realistic layout, probably the inspiration for the Victorian and ultimately the Australian flag. [I would say NZ, too.] At the conclusion of the lecture, we displayed a full size "replica" of the remaining flag brought up by George Burrows.

After a break, Mark Risby of the Maritime Museum of Tasmania took us through the flag charts designed by a convict guard named Murphy in Hobart. 11 charts have been discovered drawn in impressive detail in pen and ink with water colour. The earliest prominently feature Murphy's name, with later ones made on commission to various
individuals. Common components were flags of individual Merchant Ships, Port signal flags, semaphore arms and decoders and signal mats with decoders. Over time, the charts bore larger flag images and were generally more pictorial, with the decoders shrunk. Some otherwise less known flags that appear are an early Victorian ensign with stars as badge, and a white border as in the ATL flag, and the Van Diemen's Land ensign - a British White Ensign with blue bars. The blue bars are sometimes two in the top and two in the bottom, three each, or four and three. It's not clear whether this reflects variation in the flags, or simply in Murphy's representations.

At this point, we headed down to Martin Place to join in the National Flag Day ceremony hosted by ANFA. Each country present at the congress was represented by a participant bearing the national flag, and as an early part of the ceremony these flags were paraded onto the stage and FIAV president Michel Lupant gave a brief speech. The guest speaker from Hunters Hill Council spoke of the meaning of the flag to Australians and made it clear what he thought of those who wish to change it. A new book on Australian flags with a military bent by Major General Maitland was launched, and John Vaughan lead the crowd in three cheers after breaking the flag. He then unfolded the large Centenary Flag, and there was another colourful photo opp as it was surrounded by the national flags of ICV participants.

Once we'd had some lunch, we returned to the Telstra Theatre for a presentation from Stephen Berry which focused on the copyright issues he came up against in the promotion of his "Sunburnt Flag" national flag proposal. Inspired by the incident when athlete Cathy Freeman ran with both the national flag and Aboriginal flag after winning at the Commonwealth Games, if combines the "place elements" of the two flags to form one flag with southern cross, red earth and rising sun - "what happens when the Union Jack is in the sun too long and melts". It's not clear whether it infringes the copyright in the Aboriginal flag design. When Stephen tried to enter it in an Ausflag competition, they insisted on being given the copyright, even if it didn't win. When Stephen did produce flags with this design labelled as being his IP, Ausflag objected saying it was too similar to another entry. He has since decided not to claim copyright, saying a flag design is about what we stand for, and that belongs to the people.

Tracey Kim Mee then spoke about her PhD topic, Indigenous Australian flags challenging the expression of national identity in British-origin flags. Eastern Australia was claimed by Cook and Phillip in 1770 and 1788 by the planting of the Union Jack without any negotiation with the inhabitants (against instructions), highlighted by Burnum Burnum's 1988 flag planting at Dover, accompanied by a poignant statement claiming England. Tracey then commented on Australian flag use in early 20th century and now, suggesting that the common use of the national flag alongside Aboriginal and TSI flags reflects the fact that the national flag is exclusionary in itself. The idea of flags in Aboriginal activism was partly inspired by the Garvey flag in the US. In fact, the first tent embassy (a protest for indigenous rights) in Canberra flew a flag with Garvey colours along with another flag with a spear. Now, there are many flags including those representing individual nations. As for the original Harold Thomas flag, an early photo shows a version with the black much thinner than the red, and offcuts preserved in Adelaide seem consistent with this, raising the question of whether the equal width stripes that became widespread were the original design.

Our focused broadened a bit as Annie Platoff presented a paper co-authored with Steven A Knowlton on "Old Flags, New Meanings". Observing that meaning depends on context and flags are polysemitic, they gave examples of once-official flags that lived on with slightly different uses, or became associated with fringe groups. The South Vietnamese and old Iranian flags are still used as ethnic flags by migrants. The Ethiopian mark with imperial emblem now symbolises Rastafarianism; in Libya and Syria old flags were resurrected by protesters and so on. In the states, the Texan Revolutionary Flag and Gadsden Flag are used by the Open Carry Movement and Tea Party groups respectively. in Russia and the Ukraine, old flags take on nationalist associations. The English flag of St George was left to the nationalists until it enjoyed a resurgence in sporting contexts in the 1990s. Topically, the Confederate Battle Flag is associated with the KKK and similar ideology, while others see it appropriate as a regional symbol. In Australia, the Eureka flag has been used by many groups across the political spectrum, and its association with extremes sometimes counts against it. The authors propose the principle that where flags are used across a spectrum, it becomes associated with the extremes.

This was a good time to display another full size replica, this time the Eureka flag. After a coffee break, Ralph Kelly led us through evidence of flag use by the Australian military, concluding that there are no simple answers to the question of which flags Australians fought under up to WW2. For one thing, very few national rather than functional flags were actually taken onto battlefields, to the extent that there was a need to improvise a cardboard red ensign for a planned visit by the prime minister (one of several flags in the talk that we had seen for ourselves yesterday). Where they did show up they could be Union Jacks, red ensigns or blue, with blue less common in WWI and more common in WWII, consistent with prime minister Menzies' encouragement of the blue ensign at home at that time. One interesting story was that of a contemporary painting of a flag raising purportedly at Polygon Wood, showing a decent size blue ensign, while the records tell us that it was actually a matchbox sized red flag provided by the Comforts League. Ralph decried the use of cherry picking and misleading on these topics by both sides of the flag change debate in Australia, and objected in general to the idea that servicemen fight for a flag rather than what it represents.

We finished the day with the story of the South African flag's journey from zero to hero with Bruce Berry. Despite the very mixed reactions to the flag when it was announced (including a colourful column likening it to Y-front underpants), beginning with the Mandela inauguration, the flag played a great role in nation building. We saw how it was taken up in logos for government departments and agencies, military ensigns, advertising, sports emblems, city emblems, clothing (even Y-fronts) and cartoons, both positive and negative about the country's journey. (I was quite taken by the flag maths kit distributed to schools.) The flag really has become the premier symbol of the country - a fact which may be relevant to new proposals currently under criticism.

Lastly, Graham Bartram gave us a taste of the attractions of London's museum district (around Imperial College) and a Thames day trip to Greenwich for the 27th ICV, to be held on 7-11 August 2017.
Jonathan Dixon, 3 September 2015

4 September - Day 5

Our final day at the ICV began with flags from the Sydney Olympics in 2000. Colin Randall displayed both the logo flags of both the Sydney bid for the games and the games themselves. The bid flag was an original from the night the games were awarded. Colin was very happy when he discovered his (now deceased) wife had been there and had a flag, never mind the hole punched in it with a nail file to hang it from a balcony.

Starting with the Olympic theme, Zhao Xinfeng outlined his experience in Olympic games flag raising. He was once a soldier in the guard of honour that had raised flags daily at Tian'anmen Square since 1976, and since then had been involved in training young flag-raisers and building flagpoles, which are "the root and soul of the flag". He told us about the strict sex, age and height requirements for flag raisers at the Beijing Olympics, and about some of the electric poles which allowed the raised to be timed to fit anthems of different lengths. The poles at the tennis center were also on a moving frame that allowed the piles to be moved in and erected in a few minutes.

Jan Henrik Munksgaard gave an introduction to a book of flags apparently dating from 1803-1808 found in the maritime museum in Denmark. It was owned by Rear Admiral Hesselberg, and claimed it was drawn by him, although he was still a teenager in 1808. It contains illustrations of 248 flags, all with flagpole at right and with comments on the opposite page. Reliable flag depictions are marked with an asterisk and some comments detail known occasions when the flag was used. Jan Henrik showed several pages, with some flags of note being a 'Danish Blue ensign' in Danish West Indies, flags from 1797 Mysore and Marratha, and Berber flags, probably sourced from Danish naval officers.

After morning tea, Manuela Schmöger outlined some results from an ongoing project to map how flags are actually used in Munich, noting all flags visible along transects of the city defined by tramlines. These include official use (from state offices flown continuously since 2011, consulates, etc), private use of official flags (state flag in windows or gardens, national more often commercial or during football matches), commercial flags (for local businesses, larger companies or generic advertising) religious flags, sometimes political flags and sports team flags. In terms of shape, horizontal flags are rare and usually official, vertical flags (three types) are more common, and teardrop flags only for commercial uses. Quantitatively, more than 3/4 of flag displays were commercial, more than half company flags or generic advertising, about 1/5 Bavarian or German flags and more than half vertical. She also noted the temporal aspect of flag flying, with more flags out for events such as the Christopher Street parade, and new flagpoles being constructed. See

Gwen Spicer then spoke to us about preserving and displaying flags - not the common approach of mounting and framing select flags from a collection, but a holistic approach to whole collections of military flags held by US states. She began by giving us a welcome background on the halls of flags in State Houses, where from the Civil War onwards military flags have been collected and displayed in various ways. Deterioration of the flags depends on the materials - in silk, the white stripes go first, in cotton, then red. Woollen flags attract insects, while painted flags are often brittle and display leaching. We heard about early conservators Amelia Fowler and her daughter, and Josephine Roser, with approaches changing from a patented stitch attaching flags to linen, to adding a nylon net. Flags were often broken up, restitched and returned to the staff, where now that doesn't happen. Instead they are encapsulated, with stitching only done where material is lost, or in areas that are stronger. Gwen gave examples of three states where collections have been largely or completely removed and treated, depending on the size of collection, before turning to Maine as a particular example. There, flags are now stored flag in storage racks, while display cases in the State House also contain storage for another 8(?) flags, making rotating the display easy. We also heard of the New Hampshire collection, where there are 107 flags which have possibly not yet ever been treated or even researched at all.

The next presenter was Željko Heimer, on the familiar topic of the Dictionary of Vexillology. Željko gave an outline of other vexillological dictionaries form the Flag Institute's Dictionary of Flag Terms and Smith's glossary in FTTAAATW onwards. He compared them statistically, observing that the DoV includes many more terms than others, with more illustrations and even more words per entry than average (noting that quantity is not quality). He explained the creation of the original DoV by Southworth, Martin and Burgers, and that since then it has been continuously updated. At one point the editors saw a need for more heraldic terms, and also made an effort to balance this by searching out new more flag related terms and inventing English equivalents for concepts that were only found in the literature in other languages. Some questions about the future of the DoV include whether the editors should be more selective and remove some of the less used (or obsolete) terms, and whether it is worth publishing a static version in hard copy.

The final session of the congress began with flags in video games, as Edwin Crump explored the themes of the game Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag. In the game, flags are part of the "performance of self" in the game, as the player plays the character of a Welsh pirate turned assassin fighting the "Templars" in the Caribbean. Flags are used to demarcate space and establish European control over areas. They appear oversize (and with more realistic physics than games of years ago), enhancing their role in identification. The Black Flag of the assassins/pirates challenge the monopoly on legitimate violence of the established states, and establishes it's own island of sovereignty (and influence of the native inhabitants). The flags divide and unite just as in the real world. A viewpoint scan in the game mimics the use of flags in establishing control, and while doing so the player looks down on conflicting flags to supersede them. Flags are also important in naval combat, both in establishing identity, but also with taking the flag from the main mast as the determinative act in capturing a ship. The sequel, set in the French Revolution, notably cause scandal over its depiction of history, and Edwin notes that flags used in games generally are now a very important part of how many people interact with flags.

Mike Thomas then presented his flag identification project. He first compared flag identifiers such as those by Mooney and Sarajčic linked from our front page, in terms of number of flags included, search options, etc. His proposal is an identifier with search options provided on a single page, ability to refine a search, look up similar flags, and link to the FOTW website. The current version (not yet online) allows you to search by pattern and colours, by colour percentage and so on, and has allowance for flags with different reverses [the Paraguay example prompted much discussion]. Search results can be followed to an individual page for each flag. This currently includes analysis of the flag image giving the average colour. The future plans are for the analysis to extend to identifying tricolours automatically from an image and even further, making it possible to add an image database as large as FOTW without an unreasonable level of manual data entry.

We finished with Thomas le Bas, the creator of Flagpost, ' a place for New Zealanders to re-imagine their flag together'. He is writing a thesis on the flag change process in NZ, and is bothered by the low level of public involvement in the process. One public input was the "I stand for..." campaign, which attracted a lot of less than serious responses, but also was interpreted by the panel simply through word clouds of key words where phrases like "no change" contribute to the keyword "change". More fundamentally, this public discussion of meaning was considered completely separately from the question of visual identity (that is, the flag proposals), making it an "illusion of inclusion" in the selection of the 4 finalists. Le Bas created Flagpost as a platform for actual dialogue. Proposals were tagged with tags for both elements and the meanings they are intended to represent. The platform allows voting, bookmarking designs, and comments facilitating the design process, and also incorporates 'flagtest', which displays a flag design as though it were flying on a pole with and without wind. Based on flagspot voting, the top 70 compared with the submissions overall were more black, less blue; more koru, less southern cross. The southern cross was not particularly linked with one meaning more than others, while the fern was linked with sport and peace, the koru with growth and strength, and UJ design with biculturalism.

The final congress event was the closing dinner at the Royal Automobile Club of Australia. It was a pleasant evening, during which Annie Platoff was awarded the best paper award and quite a few people were made Fellows of FIAV. The doctorates of Željko Heimer and Fred Brownell were acknowledge, and with Fred on the phone from South Africa, he was awarded the Vexillon for best vexillological work in the last two years, and made a Laureate of the Federation.

Eventually we had to say our goodbyes, and I'm hoping to see everyone there (and a few more!) again as soon as possible!
Jonathan Dixon, 4 September 2015

Group photo

ICV group photo
image by Stan Zamyatin at Sydney Observatory