The Boxing Kangaroo has long been accepted as a symbol of Australia, certainly by the Australians if not the rest of the world. The design is attributed, by official RAAF history, to Warrant Officer Gus Bluett and is based on a 19th century travelling side-show entertainment, when the sport of boxing contests between men and kangaroos were a reality.
The idea of a boxing kangaroo originates from the animal’s defensive behaviour, in which it will use its smaller forelegs (its “arms”) to hold an attacker in place while using the claws on its larger hind legs to try to kick, slash or disembowel them. This stance gives the impression that the kangaroo appears to be “boxing” with its attacker.
It was in 1941 during World War II that the Boxing Kangaroo flag design first found national acceptance when RAAF pilots based at Sembawang Station in Singapore, had a stencilled boxing kangaroo painted on the side of their fighter planes, to identify themselves to the Japanese as Australian and not British.
In 1983 the boxing kangaroo received national and international prominence when it served as the symbol for the successful Australian challenge for the America’s Cup, where the boxing kangaroo flag, a red-gloved golden kangaroo on a green background, was flown from the yacht Australia II. The image was later used as a mascot to represent the Australian Olympic team and to promote sport and fair play in schools.
On a funny note leading up to the 2010 Winter games, the IOC ordered the removal of a two-story high Australian boxing kangaroo flag which had been draped over a balcony in the athletes’ village by Australian athletes. The IOC ordered the flag to be taken down as they believed the symbol to be “too commercial” as it is a registered trademark (albeit of the Australain Olympic committee, a non-profit organization) The IOC subsequently drew widespread criticism for its request, including from then Deputy Prime minster Julia Gillard who came out in support of the athletes, declaring that the IOC made a ridiculous decision by ordering the flag’s removal. The Australian team later decided they would only take down the flag upon receiving a formal written request for its removal. On 8 February 2010, after a meeting between IOC and Australian Olympic Committee, it was agreed the green and gold flag featuring a kangaroo wearing boxing gloves could stay.