The NSW Government has committed $25 million in the 2022–23 state budget to install a third flagpole on the Sydney Harbour Bridge, so the Aboriginal flag can fly permanently above one of the country’s most recognisable landmarks. Currently it’s flown there just 19 days a year (January 26, Sorry Day, Reconciliation Week and Naidoc Week), temporarily replacing the NSW state flag each time.
New South Wales premier Dominic Perrottet committed to raising the flag permanently back in February. The funding pledge is the result of years of campaigning, most notably by Kamilaroi woman Cheree Toka, who launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise the money for a flagpole, after the government cited costs as a reason not to install one.
According to a press release from the premier’s office, the $25 million price tag will cover installing the 20-metre-high flagpole (which stands about as tall as a six-storey building), as well as the nine-metre by 4.5-metre flag itself, with an attachment that can withstand various weather conditions. New South Wales treasurer Matt Kean told the Sydney Morning Herald that the other flagpoles also need replacing. (However, he has confirmed that Transport NSW, which will oversee the installation, has been instructed to revise the quote.)
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“You can’t put a price on equality,” Toka tells Broadsheet. “I don’t think the existing poles need to be replaced, only repositioned into a powerful trilogy to hopefully set the example of how Australia needs to unite as an equal nation.”
Some have suggested the flag replace the NSW flag that flies permanently on the bridge – but under federal flag protocols the national flag, then state or territory flags, take precedence over other Australian flags, including the Aboriginal flag.
“It’s good that the NSW Government has finally agreed to fly the Aboriginal flag over the Harbour Bridge, but there really is no need to spend $25 million on a flagpole,” said Inner West Council mayor Darcy Byrne in a statement. (The Inner West Council recently replaced the state flag with Aboriginal flag in four locations.)
“They could simply follow our inner west lead and change their protocol to prioritise the Aboriginal flag over the NSW flag. All Australian governments should do the same.”
Toka, however, says that is not an ideal solution.
“I never considered campaigning to replace the NSW flag, because should the next premier oppose the cause, the flag will be brought back down and replaced with the NSW flag, and we’ll be back at square one with another flag campaign.
“I would support replacing the NSW flag with the Aboriginal flag if there was a change in flag protocol to amend the order of precedence that the NSW flag has over the Aboriginal flag.”
Back when Toka launched her campaign, she told Broadsheet that while flying the flag on the Harbour Bridge is symbolic, it highlights the issues still faced by Indigenous people in the aftermath of colonisation.
“The Aboriginal flag reminds us that this country has history beyond European arrival,” she said. “For me and other Aboriginal people, as well as for non-Indigenous people, it can be used as an educational tool. Personally, it’s important to me so my children can grow up feeling safe and cultured in their own country, and for my family to be proud of who they are. And for the people of Australia to know about the true ancestral history of the country they call home.”