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An athlete holding up the Golden Wattle Flag.
An athlete holding up the Golden Wattle Flag. Photograph: The Golden Wattle Flag

With British success at the Olympics in Rio, so the procedural photos of medalling athletes holding aloft the Union Flag. But, with the growing likelihood of a second independence referendum in Scotland post-Brexit, this could be the last games contested under the Team GB banner.

Whether a diminished United Kingdom would need a new flag is open to debate. Given the current design represents the union of England, Scotland and Ireland–and makes no reference to Wales–you could argue it’s already an anachronism.

Golden Wattle Flag

While the Union Flag may see its life extended at home, as former colonies seek to develop their own identities, the defaced flags that have represented them since the days of empire are reaching their nadir.

That said, the people of New Zealand recently voted to keep their current Blue Ensign (arguably because the alternatives weren’t much better). Australia has yet to put the same question to a public vote, though not due to a shortage of proposed replacements.

Designing a flag to represent typically diverse and divided post-colonial countries like Australia is a tall order, but not impossible. The flags of Canada and South Africa are notable examples, and to my ignorant eyes, the Golden Wattle flag follows in their footsteps. Unique and distinctive while avoiding overt symbolism, look closely and you’ll spot the familiar seven-pointed Commonwealth Star:

The Golden Wattle Flag hanging from a tree branch.
The Golden Wattle Flag.

With a considered and attractive design, inspiration was primarily drawn from the official floral emblem of Australia:

Wattle as a symbol also holds meaning for Indigenous Australians because it is native to this place, rather than being a memorial of our ties with Great Britain. As a symbol of nature, it represents the depth of feeling and connection Aboriginal people have with their land.

You can read more about this proposal on its impressively detailed website.

Milwaukee’s Peoples Flag

Another proposal, this time for the city of Milwaukee. Robert Lenz’s design has already been adopted as its Peoples Flag, with a campaign to have it made official. Looking at the incumbent, this would be no bad thing. Like the Golden Wattle, its apparent simplicity reveals more on closer inspection:

The sun rising over Lake Michigan symbolizes a new day. The light blue bars in its reflection represent the city’s three rivers and founding towns. Gold symbolizes our brewing history and white represents the city united.

Milwaukee’s Peoples Flag.
Milwaukee’s Peoples Flag.

The People’s Flag of Milwaukee also has an impressive website, with plenty of photos showing the new flag in situ.

Flag for the Refugee Nation

Another feature of the Rio Olympics has been a team of ten refugees. Competing under the Olympic flag, an initiative supported by Amnesty International sought to create their own. Designer Yara Said, an artist and Syrian refugee now living in Amsterdam, produced a flag inspired by the colours of a life jacket:

Black and orange (colors of the life vests) is a symbol of solidarity for all those who crossed the sea in search of a new country. I myself wore one, which is why I so identify with these colors–and these people.

The Refugee Nation initiative also involved the creation of an anthem, and an image filter you can apply to your social media avatar, if that’s your thing.

Flag for the Refugee Nation.
Flag for the Refugee Nation.

Jà! (Now), a project from Thonik

Countries, cities or refugees, flags can represent any group of people. But they can represent individuals too. One of the more engaging talks at Brand Niewue Conference, which I attended earlier this year, was that by Nikki Gonnissen from Thonik.

During her talk about graphic empowerment, she spoke about collaborating with artist Pieke Bergmans to create a site-specific project for the 2015 Bienal Brasileira de Design in Florianópolis, Brazil. Here, they designed a flag for 28 of the towns vibrantly coloured houses, hoping to empower residents and give them a voice: one man, one house, one vote! Gonnissen:

As graphic designers we always use clear images and colours and bring back chaotic information into a clear symbol which is a starting point. From there we communicate through diverse media. In this instance the flag is the medium.

You can read more about this project over at Dezeen magazine. Looking for more flags? Flag Stories has you covered. Flags.