What does ‘the flag’ mean?

It is quite a small flagpole. Once, it stood proudly and alone along the surf-facing side of Mountjoy Parade, small but quite unchallenged by other catchers-of-the-eye. Now, it is harder to see. It stands as the odd flag out among the many curvilinear banners that announce the next cycling or arts ‘event’ or, between events, that remind us each day that we should ‘Love Lorne’.

Love Lorne?  I do – I think we all do – but our long-term residents have long loved their uniquely ‘town’ flagpole, too.

Many may be unaware of its literal ‘life and death’ significance to the town.  For as long as I care to remember, it has signified life – and death.

A blue flag at ‘full mast’ – proud and out [as they now say] – at the top of the pole … and we have added a brand-new citizen: a new baby boy; a new enrolment at the P-12 school of which we are all so justly proud; another little nipper a decade on, another surfer at ‘Cathedral’.

A pink flag, waving with unrequited joy in the south-easterly breeze… and a new baby girl has joined our magnificent town; a new character to watch as she learns and grows; a new smile at the pre-school; a future candidate for Carly’s netball team; someone new to keep the boys in line.

Sadly, if the Australian flag flies half-mast, another Lorne soul has passed us by. Another star to join our incomparable southern sky; another whisper in our wind; another sadness, tinged with smiles and fond memories, to remember with gratitude for the contribution they made. In the last couple of weeks, the flag flew low.

Someone asked: “… what does that flag mean  has it slipped down its pole?”

While perhaps a wee bit naive, this question does offer us the chance to think more deeply about the significance of this ‘Community Alert’, no matter whether it signifies a birth or a death. It gives us the chance to pause and wonder how better we might manage the ‘messages’ our flag sends and their major significance for the Lorne community.

Certainly, if used, it must be with sensitivity and tact. Some, especially those bereaved, may not wish to have their grief announced to the community at large. Permission to fly – whether in joy or sadness – must be obtained, quietly, tactfully, respectfully, and should preferably be offered, not sought. With that in mind …

  • Is the flagpole tall enough?… Yes, I think so. For those who live in Lorne, who travel up back and forth along the main drag on most days, they know the pole is there, so that’s enough. As it stands, flag-free, most days of the year, it catches the eye when a flag flutters, pink or blue, high or low.
  • Is the pole in the right place?… Yes, I think so. It is centrally placed in the middle of town, and for those who understand its meaning, it is easy to find and notice. It is hard to think of a better place – except, possibly, on the newly renovated space at the cenotaph. So, possible, but a fifty-fifty argument.

In my view – are two shortcomings and a conundrum. The shortcomings are:

  • That the significance of the pole is under-appreciated. Truthfully, that is the main thrust of this article – to alert, advise, inform the significance of that small, often forlorn, pole in the centre of town.
  • That those who are born, or arguably more importantly, those who have died, are not identified, though this second issue is a moot point, particularly if the flag marks a death, as there may be some who may not wish all to know.

This latter point raises the conundrum. For those who are born, the joy is an undoubted community joy. Knowing the answer to the question: ‘Did you hear that …. & …. have had a new boy/girl?’  ‘Does he/she have a name yet?’  ‘I must buy booties, a bib, a surfboard, something …’. Or simply, ‘How cool is that’. Think of the community benefits: Dee Stewart would sell more ‘stork’ cards; Rob would stock more Moet at Cellarbrations; even the ‘Canapes Cabinet’ at Foodworks would empty – while it lasts!

For those who have died, many in the community may wish to know who has left us, who they were, what they contributed, how they will be missed, and above all, whom to comfort and to take special care of in coming weeks and months.

Randall and his team at the Lorne Pharmacy have taken on the task of raising the flag, be it in joy or sadness, when they are given next-of-kin approval. For this community task, we owe Team Pharmacy a debt of thanks. Further, the staff are always willing to answer the “Who is the flag for today?” question if you pop your head around their door. Again, Team Pharmacy, the community is grateful for this additional service.

But in my view, one thing is missing… particularly if the flag is half-mast and a community soul has joined the sunrise. There is currently no mechanism to acknowledge birth or death, and in death, for friend, family, or service group to pen a short obituary. A perspex-fronted box on the wall space between the Pharmacy and the Great Ocean Road Real Estate Agency next door might prove to be a suitable space to site a short notice of the birth, or, with approval of and vetting by the next of kin, a short obituary or notice of passing could be placed.

If a birth – to whom, his/her name, and what footy team they intend to support! If a death – a short summary of the life and contribution lost to Lorne.

Not all may agree with this suggestion, but if the feedback is positive – perhaps through comments, for or against, on the Committee for Lorne Facebook Page – a community view could evolve in the months ahead. Unfortunately, as the Lorne Independent is a monthly paper, the moment may have long passed before any notice published in the Independent is circulated.

Perhaps this is a small but useful issue about which to seek community discussion.

John Agar