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Ron Strachan - Flag maker, National Flags, Darwin

Ron Strachan
'I'm busy 365 days a year. There are 193 countries with national days scattered throughout the year, which means there's always a demand for flags.'

With Anzac Day just around the corner on April 25, Ron is busy designing and creating flags for the celebration.

Ron says he's extremely patriotic and staunchly opposed to any suggestion that the Australian flag should change. With 25 years experience as a flag maker for countries around the world, Ron knows the significance of having a good flag. He personally designs and sews each flag, unlike the new generation of flag-makers who mainly use screen-printing to copy a generic design onto material.

What are you currently working on?

I'm making 100 flags for the Royal Australian Air Force and a number of totem flags for some local Aboriginal communities.

FYI Totem flags have a design in the middle and are usually known as symbol flags. A well-known symbol flag is the flag of peace.

My work is absolutely fascinating because each flag I make has a different model and process. For example, there is one set of standards for flags that are made for the army, navy and air force because they know what they want in colour and design. On the other hand, Aboriginal communities are often still fishing for colour and design so I have to work out what dye and colours they want and help them with the layout of the flag.

How long does it take to make a flag?

Being a small industry I'm always working on more than one job. For example, some jobs might take three weeks to complete because I'm working on a number of other orders at the same time. Once I have received the final design, I then pass the material construction and the pattern to my four employees and away they go from there. One flag may take 20 hours overall to make.

When is your busiest period?

I'm busy 365 days a year. There are 193 countries with national days scattered throughout the year, which means there's always a demand for flags. This month I'm flat-out with Anzac day and last month I had a lot of work for St Patrick's Day. The only problem is that there are about 68 000 flag images around. It's impossible to keep designs of them all, so thank god for the Internet!

What is the biggest project you have done?

My biggest project was when the international community recognised East Timor's independence from Indonesia in 2002. I was the chief flag maker for the new country. Afterwards there was a follow-up order for the headquarters of the United Nations.

Who do you work with to make a flag?

It depends. Sometimes I work with very senior people such as government officials, the heads of sporting associations and church groups. But sometimes people from the general community come into the showroom with a design as well. Recently someone from country Victoria turned up with a business card and I had to design a flag from it.

Are you satisfied with your career?

I enjoy the orders that come my way. This is a very small industry and the work can be laborious. But flag makers around the world work to a very high standard and I've had the great fortune of attending the last 12 overseas flag conferences. At these events we discuss everything from new flags, designs and materials to what problems flag makers are facing around the globe.

How did you get into flag making?

It was a hobby of mine when I was a boy but it didn't initially take over my life. I got a job working for a multinational company and went overseas, but when I returned to Australia I got into flag making again and started my own business.

What qualities do you need to be a flag maker?

It turns out that I'm incredibly perceptive when it comes to flag knowledge, layout, designs and customer needs, and from that my business just evolved. I'd say being a good listener and going with your gut feeling is crucial. You also need to be a good salesman and have the know-how to satisfy your customers.

What is the best thing about your job?

It's customer satisfaction. Most people freak out with excitement when they get their flag! They may have only seen the design in business card size and then all of a sudden it's a huge flag that becomes the emblem for their town, community or association.

Is there a demand for flag makers?

Definitely! Someone with patience and perseverance should be right at my shoulder to take over my business. I'm ready to retire.

What is your work life balance like?

I'm always working. If you enjoy your work and have a passion for it, you just keep going. I've slowed down a bit, but before that I was working every day of the week.

What does the future hold for flag makers?

There is growth in the industry because someone always wants a one-off flag with an unusual coat of arms or emblem. But screen-printing flags is cheaper for customers that order in bulk and it's starting to erode the market for traditional sewers like myself.

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