The Southern Cross: Crux of Australian Nationalism

Discovered by a Portuguese astronomer on a voyage to Brazil in 1500 the Southern Cross constellation, the Crux, is now included as a national symbol of many nations featuring on many flags and emblems, including the flags of Brazil, Papua New Guinea, Samoa and the flags of other states of nations including provinces of Argentina and Australia. The Crux is also featured on patches of several U.S. infantry divisions, the logos of mercantile organisations and sporting teams of Brazil. The constellation is mentioned in the Brazilian national anthem and features on all of their coins, the Brazilian Real.

Indeed it is possible that the Crux constellation was likely spotted much earlier by Greek, French, Venetian, and Hindu observers and could have spread much further as a symbol of the Southern hemisphere. Many nations and cultures that see the Southern Cross as significant in myths, legends and traditions, however in the Southern hemisphere, particularly in Australia, the Crux has emerged as a token not adopted by others familiar with the constellation.

The question is why has the Southern Cross become the Swastika of white pride and so called patriotic nationalistic Australians? A symbol that is revered by all nations in the Southern hemisphere, from Brazil to New Zealand, that could be used to unite humanity is being used by right-wing nationalists as a symbol to display their white identity and to deny the rights of others in society.

It was a symbol used potently in Cronulla in the racially motivated riots that occurred on Sydney’s southern beach in 2005. It continues to be used as a silent symbol of racism; the wearer (often in the form of a tattoo) doesn’t need to ‘speak’ racism, the symbol does it for them. Collectivised, wearers of the symbol (again often in the form of a tattoo or even as stickers on the windscreen of a car, truck, or ute, are providing what may be referred to as a ‘space for racism’ – that is a place were racism is unspoken yet being spoken loudly. In both individual and collective representations of the Southern Cross – the tattoo or the car sticker of flag – it legitimises racism. Researchers have linked public representations of the Southern Cross with expressions of right-wing nationalism and fears of Australian multiculturalism.

For Australian’s, the appropriation of the Sothern Cross by the far-right nationalist minority has become a very powerful symbol of not only racism but also fear and ultimately exclusion. The misuse of racial symbols when intertwined with issues of belonging or not belonging run to the core of issues of national identity. The use of the Southern Cross as a symbol of exclusion during the period of the 2005 Cronulla riots and beyond was clearly one to express sentiments of who was identified as Australia and who was not in a cultural if not legal way.

When symbols are appropriated in way that attach meanings of identity and belonging, and are not disavowed by governments or politicians then it consolidates a pro-white, right-wing nationalism that instills fear and validates violence. It becomes the ‘mainstream’ and once symbolic appropriation and meaning achieve this status, it becomes something very dangerous.

It is time that white nationalists stopped misusing the symbol of the Southern Cross and that governments and politicians dismissed the racist appropriation of an aspect of the Australian flag as acceptable. The Southern Cross can be a source of pride of living for those living in the Southern hemisphere and even a pride of living in Australia, but it must no longer be used as an Australian swastika. If Australian nationalists want such a symbol, they should acquire such a symbol, or just use the swastika, its ready-made.

Dr Jo Coghlan lectures in Australian and international politics at the School of Social Sciences at the University of New South Wales. She has published in the areas of Australian and Indonesian politics and on national and human rights issues. Jordan Stanley is a postgraduate student at the University of Western Sydney. His academic interests are focused on equity issues. Read other articles by Jo Coghlan and Jordan Stanley, or visit Jo Coghlan and Jordan Stanley's website.