"Britain at night." We have the American comedian Jerry Seinfeld to thank for what is perhaps the most humorous description of the Australian flag. But the continued presence of the Union Flag in its upper quarter is no laughing matter for a number of Australian patriots who think it is time for a rethink.
Australia Day has become a time to ponder these kind of national identity issues, and this year it was one of the country's most highly-respected journalists, the former Channel Nine presenter, Ray Martin, who grabbed a few headlines. Since Ray has been a welcome guest in the lounge rooms of millions of Australians for decades, his comments were loaded with extra meaning.
"I object to having the British flag in the corner of our flag," the popular former anchorman told Melbourne's Herald Sun newspaper. "We have well and truly reached the point where we should have our own flag. I think we have to grow up and move on to the next stage."
The debate comes at a time when the flag has rarely been more prominent. Indeed, Australia Day was something of a flagfest, with the flag painted on peoples' faces, flying from their cars, emblazoned across their bikinis and budgie smugglers [swimming trunks], thongs [flip-flops] and towels. In Sydney, the climax of Australia Day came when a military helicopter dragged a giant flag high above the harbour.
Doubtless, it was the centerpiece of other celebrations around the country. A number of older Australians told me that the glorification of the flag, and the face-paint nationalism which goes along with it, is relatively new. Certainly, Australia Day reminded me a bit of 4 July in its flag-centrism - again, a new departure according to most Aussies I spoke to.
The Rudd government's stance is that the Australia flag should stay. The Liberal Party shares that position. On the eve of Australia Day, the Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard had this to say: "It's part of our history. I believe it should be part of our future....It's become our flag, our national symbol."
One poll that I've seen suggests a large majority in favour of keeping the present design. Veterans groups would fiercely oppose any change and on radio over the past few days I heard a number of sons of veterans arguing, with great passion, that their ancestors fought under the present-day flag and it would therefore be sacrilege to change it.
Certainly, it seems something of a backburner issue, with no popular clamour for change - even if it does provoke the occasional friendly jibe from a visiting American comedian.