There is no image more important to sailing in Australia than the Boxing Kangaroo Flag. The green and gold battle flag with the red gloves is both etched into the minds of all, and imbued into the very spirit with which Australians race all over the world, from Olympics to America’s Cup, SailGP to Round The World events, as well as adventurers chasing records or doing it because no one else has. In fact it is now the ‘battle flag’ for Australia’s entire Olympic team.
The origins of the famous flag go back to the last century where it certainly was a real battle flag for Royal Australian Air Force and Royal Australian Navy servicemen. The colourful one we know today, with the prominent red gloves and eyes, came about as a result of it being displayed at O’Briens bar in Thames Street in Newport.
The Skipper of Australia II happened to see it, and immediately commissioned a large one for the forestay of the 12m. It, and the Men At Work tune, ‘Land Down Under’, would unite the country like never before. This was all paid for by the soon-to-be famous crew, for the General Manager of the campaign had no time for such frivolous expenditure. Subsequently, all Australians thank them eternally for that marvellous gesture.
So whilst the concept was not originated in Newport in 1983, this current version commissioned by Warren Jones, and then enhanced by the brilliant sail makers of that campaign, Rhode Island is certainly where the ‘BKF’ came to prominence. It is now synonymous with winning, from the Olympics to seemingly every sporting endeavour that Australians are involved in.
Interestingly, one of Australia II’s crew, John Longley AM, visited Newport in 2010 and went to O’Briens. The original ‘BKF’ made by Australia II’s sail makers with off cuts from the green and gold of the boat’s spinnakers was still up in the rafters. Longley met up with Tom, who was still running the bar, and persuaded him to swap it for a new BKF signed by all the crew. The original, which is now very frail, was packed up and brought back to Fremantle, and donated to the Western Australian Maritime Museum. This is where the fully rigged Australia II is displayed in perpetuity.