Poetry

Australian Flag Centenary Celebrations

A sudden sea of flags and faces.

Who called out and dressed these ranks

of every age and income, it appears,

gathered before relic guns and tanks?

They fill the parade ground, waving the flag,

singing and cheering, this Sunday afternoon.

Something I hope good may have retrieved

patriotism from the dark side of the moon.   

The flags are suddenly brilliant, swirling here

above the harbour, the portent of ships’ hulls.

Introduced fireworks, rainbow lorikeets blaze

in the green palms above stark crows and gulls.

A crash from the muskets of whisker-waffling

red-coated or kilted colonial volunteers

bedizened with medals, including Vietnam,

and again from all three rousing cheers.

I dislike those who dislike it, so I’m here,

but it’s hard to know this Century’s new dreams.

I know all the history and economics that I want.

I hope, I hope, that this is what it seems.

I don’t question it, and we enjoy the show,

take in the galleries: Kokoda, Flanders mud.

Questioning belief and enthusiasm now

is a bit like playing a fire-hose on a flood.

At times, flags and marchers could be fearful,

I don’t need telling. But be that as it may

it’s hard to see more than innocence and joy

among the company gathered here today.

And anyway, I like the teenage marchers,

the red-coat re-enactors and the crowd,

who have come to this instead of something else,

happy to sing, wave flags and cheer aloud.

Cadets and pipers and their earnest officers,

grandfatherly RSL men, parents beaming down

at flag-bedecked infants, a happy panorama

of decent people in a memory-peopled town.

Ten years ago the Cold War ended.

We have peace now. We’ve all been slow

to take that in. Yet now it’s happened,

here in this world with its nine days to go.

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