Australia: Respect, Rubbish Bins and Underwear

Anzac Rubbish BinI was astonished. There have been so many complaints about the branding of Anzac and Gallipoli but I never expected to see a rubbish bin adorned with the official logo of the centenary of the landing at Gallipoli.

There it was on Glenferrie Road. I was walking to the hairdresser, minding my own business, and the anniversary was thrust in front of me, unasked, via a rubbish bin!

I took a photo and showed it to a local resident. They took it in their stride. “I think they put Christmas banners on the rubbish bins in Hawthorn too”, they said. I vaguely recall seeing Christmas bells on the rubbish bins. It makes them look pretty and we don’t seem to mind trashy (pardon the pun) promotion of Christmas do we? Anzac is also sacred so if it works for Christmas it must be fine for Anzac.

The Anzac rubbish bin actually says a lot about us. We have a rather haphazard sense of respect. To my knowledge no-one else has raised an eyebrow about these bins and the fact that the logo of a supposedly revered anniversary is a wrapper for a rubbish receptacle.

The banner on the bin highlights the official government logo for the centenary. The Australian government’s Anzac Centenary website stipulates that permission must be sought for any use of the logo, so I presume that the Department of Veteran Affairs has approved the Boroondara Council’s use of the logo on rubbish bins. There is no controversy about these bins in the local area so if they have been noticed, which we can’t assume in a country that plasters logos on everything, people have thought the bins are fine.  

It makes me think of our use of the Australian flag. A nation’s flag is also supposed to be respected. In fact we have protocols governing its use. This is one of those protocols:

The flag should not fall or lie on the ground or be used as a cover (although it can be used to cover a coffin at a funeral).

Australian National Flag

The way I read it, using the Australian flag as a cover for a rubbish bin is definitely out.

It also should not fall or lie on the ground. So why do so many people buy Australia flag beach towels and then lie on them at the beach?

Man lying on his stomach at the beach on an Australian flag beach towel and wearing Australian flag swimmers

And take a closer look at this photo. The Australian flag is used unashamedly as swimmers, which leads me to a related use of the Australian flag:

Australian flag boxer shortsUnderwear!

Try googling ‘Australian flag, underwear’. There is a lot on offer out there, particularly male underwear (and that is another story). Is sitting on the Australian flag and using it as underwear a respectful use of it?

We can castigate the businesses who have made these products, but there have been a lot of Australians over many years who have happily bought and used these flag products.

We have a strange notion of respect.

13 thoughts on “Australia: Respect, Rubbish Bins and Underwear

  1. What can we do but shrug? Successive governments have marketed Anzac as a ‘join in to belong’ product, and there are people who are buying it. Literally.


    • Yes, Anzac has always been a brand. I struggled to find any photos of commemorative rubbish bins online which suggests to me that no-one notices. Such bins are just visual noise to us and we block them out.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Anzac is palatable history-lite that IMO John Howard promoted to distract attention from Australia’s Black History, to exclude non-Anglo Australians and ‘put them in their place’ as people who could never really belong, to shore up affection for that irrelevant old flag that’s an insult to indigenous Australians, and to deflect interest in our pre WW1 progressive history so that we would lose interest in the Republic. By the time Rudd came to power it was all sacrosanct and of course they joined in. But all the old men are dead now, and those still living from our other wars – who could put a human face on the sadness of war – have been sidelined so long now that IMO Anzac in its present incarnation has probably run its course.


      • The promotion of the Anzac myth goes a long way prior to John Howard. Some of the soldiers themselves had a part to play in promoting it (others disagreed with that stance), lots of politicians during and since WWI played an important part but we shouldn’t forget the contribution of ordinary Australians to the way we commemorate Anzac Day – particularly the younger generations who rescued Anzac Day from its quiet demise. Paul Daley has touched on some of this in his article today.


      • True, it does go a long way back though as you say there were Anzacs who objected to it. But Marilyn Lake and Henry Reynolds in What’s Wrong with Anzac? make the argument that conservative politics beefed up the nascent resurgence and a lot of what we see in the media confirms their assertion that for many people family history has become military history. Just this week I’ve seen people on TV sobbing over ancestors they’ve never met and knew nothing about until they discovered them at the AWM.
        Anyway, I’ve had enough of it for 2015, that’s for sure.


  2. I don’t find it offensive. Society is more and more using rubbish bins, because of their location and visibility to spruik a variety of causes. I see it as opportunistic advertising more than anything and think “go for it”. At least some in our community are talking about Anzac Day.
    As for the Aussie flag used on towels and underwear, again I see it as our larrikin spirit coming to the fore. Australians are known for not taking things too seriously. Wearing the flag as boxer shorts, in our own Aussie way, is a term of endearment. I don’t see enough Aussie patriotism so I say flags and Anzac commemoration in any form is a positive.


    • I reckon that a lot of Australians have the same attitude as you do Tahirih which is why no-one has questioned the rubbish bins (or even photographed them). This attitude to respect could be claimed as uniquely Australian. However, the use of Australian flag beach towels is definitely at odds with the Australian government’s protocols. Should the government change their protocols to follow the practices of Australian beach goers?


    • Tahirih

      I am with you about our larrikin, boyish spirit coming to the fore. We have never taken formal and traditional rituals too seriously.

      But you lost me on the not enough Australian patriotism issue. Patriotism, at least in its extreme form, is the last refuge of a scoundrel. National flags on homes and businesses are offensive. “My nation right or wrong” is even more offensive.


      • There are a wide range of views on this. I don’t find the use of Australian flags at businesses offensive and am bemused by the plethora of flags now adorning Australian homes. The flag on the outside of the home is a recent occurrence, an act that I think makes us look American wearing our patriotism on the sleeve rather than the traditionally more quiet patriotism of Australia during the twentieth century (sport excepted!). I don’t have a problem with gentle patriotism – there is plenty in Australia to feel proud of. However, I do have a problem with patriotism that oversteps the bounds of moderation. Our patriotism should be able to recognise that other nations have plenty of good that we can admire. Our patriotism should be comfortable with searching critique of our nation, as it is through constant self-examination and striving to do better that makes a nation worthy.


  3. Well, using the drug ICE is supposedly illegal but almost nobody goes to jail over its use, so I can’t see the govt changing their protocols over the beach towel issue. I’m sure there’s a heap of draconian out of touch protocols and rules that we aren’t even aware of. I think someone choosing an Aussie flag as their beach towel shows their love for the flag – ie: it’s a positive expression, it’s not like they’re using it as toilet paper.


  4. Yvonne, I have never seen one of your blog attract so much attention. It has obviously hit a nerve. I think the issue which Tahirih responded to is a question of ethics rather than a matter of law.

    It is the ethical question which people are overlooking in the ANZAC centenary and its abuse of history. This thought came to me reading a report on Stanford historian J.P. Daughton’s current book project, Cover Not My Blood: Humanitarianism, Brutality, Disease and Denial in the Building of a French Colonial Railroad in the Congo. “We tend to see humanitarian impulses as being simple, apolitical and kind acts,” says Daughton. “But my research makes plain that humanitarianism has always been closely allied to ideologies and power. And humanitarian projects that aren’t thought through and carried out with oversight can actually have really devastating effects.”

    That insight shows why the idea of “sacrifice” in the ANZAC myth does not work. As with the ANZAC commemoration and the case of 19th century imperialism, the problem is not humanitarianism, nor is it really a Kantian sense of duty (although it contributes to the problem). The villain in this drama is the utilitarian ethics of political leaders. It is their utilitarian decisions where there is satisfaction to justify the unjustifiable, and to sell the nation a “noble lie” for the comfort of the bereaved.

    [please excuse the cross-posting of this re-edited item]



    • I agree that we are missing a discussion about the ethical dimension of the Gallipoli campaign. Law is supposed to reflect ethical standards of our society but in so many cases does not. The Australian flag towel issue and Tahirih’s comment indicates that this is another case where it does not reflect it.

      Thanks for the link re the humanitarian impulse which led to the construction of the railway in the Congo and huge number of deaths. There are numerous examples of this type of humanitarianism causing suffering of indigenous people around the world.


  5. There have been so many complaints about the branding of Anzac and Gallipoli but I never expected to see a rubbish bin adorned with the official logo of the centenary of the landing at Gallipoli. Great article, very informative.


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