NEW ZEALAND FLAG DEBATE
The Prime Minister of New Zealand, John Key, has said he wants to change the flag of New Zealand. The country needs a new flag to “acknowledge our independence”, and to represent modern New Zealand, rather than the current flag which, he says, “symbolises a colonial and post-colonial era whose time has now passed”. He calls for a flag that represents New Zealand as “it is now” rather than as it “once was”. He feels so strongly about it that he’s just announced that he’ll call a referendum on the issue within the next three years.
Of course, unless you’re totally ignorant, you’ll know what he’s talking about; the New Zealand flag, in a potentially twee and amusing manner, still has the British Union Jack stapled in the corner. This was standard across the Empire.
All the Colonies had a similar flag design: in the top left-hand corner (technically, the “canton”), the Union Flag; the rest, a field (usually red or blue) with some kind of coat of arms standing for the colony in question. Here are some examples.
Bermuda, Falklands, the British Indian Ocean Territory, and Canada. Wait, what? Yes, Canada’s flag looks a little different here. It was only in 1965 that the flag was changed to its current maple leaf design. There was an outcry for a new flag to show that Canada is its own country, no longer a colony of the “mother country”.
And similar voices can be heard in Australia and New Zealand, two countries which periodically consider ditching their colonial-style flags. I’m not going to weigh in on whether they should ditch their flags — but to say that a mere 28% of New Zealanders currently want to change the flag — I’m only going to make some suggestions for what they might want to change their flags to if they decide to change their flags at all.
But before I go on, it’s worth noting that out of New Zealand and Australia, NZL might have more cause to change; people often mistake their flag for the Australian one, but nobody ever mistakes the Aussie flag for the kiwi one! Poor New Zealanders. And so this article will only concern itself with the New Zealand flag.
What Makes a Good Flag?
A good flag should be iconic, recognisable, unmistakable, and should resonate with what the nations stands for and its heritage; yet, equally, it should be simple. So, here’s some criteria:
- Reflect nation’s culture and/or history in a non-partisan way
- Simple, powerful design
- Sounds obvious, but: should be well-designed and look like it could actually be a real flag
Canada’s maple leaf flag, as well as the flags of other ex-colonies such as Papua New Guinea, provide good models for what is possible.
Depicting an Entire Culture in a flag
A New Zealand flag should probably represent both European and Maori heritage. But it shouldn’t imply the two are distinct or cannot co-exist. Indeed, it should show the oneness of the nation without implying homogeneity. Tricky. I think that, instead of European symbols or Maori iconography, a safer model is that followed by Canada and Papua New Guinea: let’s look to nature, something all Kiwis can get behind. It seems to me that New Zealand has three widely recognised emblems, two of which are unmistakably only New Zealand, all three of which are nature motifs. They are:
- The Southern Cross (with red stars): a symbol shared with other Pacific nations
- The Silver Fern
- The Kiwi bird
Note also that the widely-recognised de facto New Zealand colours are black and white.
I suggest that any flag worthy of our four design goals and worthy of the Kiwi people, regardless of their ancestry, would incorporate one or more of these three symbols plus the black-white colour scheme.
Therefore, I humbly make the following suggestions.
Flag Idea 1: “Swiss Style”
I call this the “Swiss Style” Flag. It’s a square, like the Swiss flag, which along with the Vatican flag is one of only two square flags in the world. A square flag: now that’s distinctive. It also features the black and white New Zealand colours. And the current red-starred Southern Cross. The red of the stars also echo British and Maori colours. And I think that the use of arguably the most powerful colour combination ever — red, white, black — is another plus.
It ticks all four of our criteria. A great flag if I do say so myself.
Flag Idea 2
This flag is most obviously inspired by the Papua New Guinea example due to its bird motif: a Kiwi-style Southern Cross in the Kiwi colour scheme with the most Kiwi of all Kiwi things: a Kiwi. The PNG flag of course features the national bird of PNG. Exactly the same as the Flag Idea 1 above but expanded to include the bird.
Two variants: one all black, one with a black kiwi on a white field. Proportion is 1:2, the same as the present New Zealand flag. But we might decide to opt for, say, 3:5; certainly the all black version looks better to me as 3:5. Why? Because there is a more aesthetically pleasing gap between the kiwi and the Southern Cross (the split white/black version does not seem to have as large a gap due to the wonders of optical illusion).
Again, ticks all four criteria.
Flag Idea 3
This flag is the same as Flag 2 but goes in the Canadian direction of opting for plant life. Yes, that other NZL symbol: the silver fern. Again, two variants: one all black, and one with a white half.
Another design which fits our four criteria.
Flag 2 + 3
Basically a combination of Flag Ideas 2 & 3. I like that this one incorporates all three of the Kiwi symbols in one flag. It’s somewhat busier, of course, but I think it works very nicely. This could also work with a white kiwi and fern.
This tries to be more conservative by essentially leaving the flag as it is but for the removal of the Union Jack on the left-hand side and its replacement by the fern. It also happens to be my least favourite one — mainly because of the colour scheme, but also because I feel putting the cross to the right of the fern looks a bit clumsy (to me). I think both that the Southern Cross is a must, and that it must replace the Union Flag on the left-hand side (the “hoist”) of the flag.
Flags 5 & 6
Couple more variations on the above.
So there we are. Whether New Zealand ever changes its flag or not, and I express no opinion either way, I believe my designs are pretty fricking awesome. What do you think? (if you disagree, you’re wrong)
*I came up with all flag designs on this page. However, whilst that therefore includes Flag Design 4, I genuinely don’t remember if the flag 4 herein used was physically designed by me, or whether I saw that someone else had come up with the same design and so decided to borrow their construction.
“New Zealand to hold referendum on new, ‘post-colonial’ flag” by Toby Manhire (11th March 2014)
© 2013 – 2014 Bryan A J Parry