The signal flag on the reverse side of the map of Sally is the letter ‘x’. It can also have the meaning ‘stop carrying out your intentions and watch for my signals’. This signal is like a message to Australia from John Bingle. John Bingle is attributed with the first attempt to design a flag for Australia, called the National Colonial Flag of Australia. It was a white ensign emblazoned with St George’s cross, and four stars signifying the Southern Cross.
An examination of the Australian flag in the light of Bingle’s life adds four elements that are regularly overlooked in Australian flag commentary. These elements are:
- The flag of Bingle’s employer, the East India Company
- The evolution of the blue ensign, used by Flinders in 1803
- The number of stars representing Mirabooka (the Southern Cross)
- The publication of the International Code of Signals in 1857
Mirabooka (a.k.a. the Southern Cross)
Biami gave Mirabooka lights for his hands and his feet and stretched him across the sky, so that he could watch for ever over the tribes he loved…When in later times the white invaders came from across the sea and stole the tribal lands, they did not know that this group of stars across the southern sky was Mirabooka, and they renamed them. They called Mirabooka by the name of the Southern Cross. And the eyes of Mirabooka they called the Pointers.
Bingle identified ‘The Great Southern Cross’ as the emblem of the hemisphere, and angrily drew attention to the appearance of the fifth star in the representation of the Southern Cross, saying
“The flag has lately been disfigured by adding another star in the centre of the Cross by some one not comprehending the original intention and embodying American Nations.”
The Blue Ensign
After the Porpoise was wrecked in 1803, Flinders hoisted the blue ensign, first as a symbol of distress, and then as a symbol of hope. At this time, the blue ensign was a flag signifying one of the three squadrons of the British navy.
The Blue ensign evolved further with the passing of the Colonial Defence Act of 1865, which allowed “all vessels belonging to, or permanently in, the service of the Colonies” to use this ensign, “with the Seal or Badge of the Colony in the Fly thereof”. Flags such as the Australian Flag and the Queensland flag were known as ‘defaced’ ensigns.
International Code of Signals
The British Board of Trade published the International Code of Signals in 1857. This was just before my ancestors began to come to Australia. I am beginning to learn this language, which I see as the formalization of a language that enabled the European population to travel to Australia in large numbers. This exhibition highlights some of the signals from that language and suggests that these simplified signals have remained powerfully residual in our national conversation.
 from “Flags through the Ages
 Oodgerooa Noonuccal ‘Stradbroke Dreamtime’, p.67
BINGLE was “commissioned by the Governor (Sir Thomas Brisbane) to take command of HMS cutter SALLY, and… to look for a large river believed to exist north of Port Macquarie” [Brisbane Courier, 26 Dec 1921]
A ‘grey-headed and bearded man’, who tried on BINGLE’s old Calcutta hat, began BINGLE’s happy experience with the people of the Quandamooka.
“the difficulty to be solved, was my footprints in the sand, not being a foot like their own, so when most of them were assembled around me, I took off my shoe and stocking …” (John Bingle)