New Zealand to Vote on Removing British Tramp Stamp

Words by: Sam Herriman

After sorting over 10,000 entries, New Zealand’s unimaginatively named Flag Consideration Project yesterday released the 40 long-listed finalists of potential new national flags. New Zealanders will have the opportunity to send in a postal vote on which design they prefer before a referendum in March 2016 will pit the current New Zealand flag against the winning design from the nominated entries.

For flag enthusiasts like me this is welcome news. The national flag is arguably the most significant identifier of its country, with emblems and coat of arms often relegated to official or traditional use only. Flags represent their country on the most basic level, and to that end should endeavour to be visually distinct, inspire patriotism amongst the entire populace and also remain representative and symbolic of that country.

As this humorously accented promotional video articulates, flags thrive on simplicity. I heard somewhere from someone that flags should be simple enough for primary school children to draw, and it’s a good rule of thumb even if there are several exceptions to this rule. Flags should avoid complex emblems (looking at you Mexico), text (come on Saudi Arabia) or pictographs (Cambodia, please).

Possibly the best example of a successful national flag is the Stars and Stripes. Instantly recognisable and distinctly American, the flag is steeped (yet not drowned) in history, beloved by the public and consisting of several notable symbols – the 50 stars, 13 strips and the famous red, white and blue. If you are ever lucky enough to visit the small half-island nation of Timor L’este you will notice their relatively new flag proudly displayed on shop windows and houses all across the country. Adopted in 2002, the flag is markedly Timorese, born out of a decades-long struggle for independence and recognition. Other countries with successful flags include the Scandinavian nations, South Africa, Japan, South Korea and of course the United Kingdom – in the form of the once ubiquitous Union Jack.

If a flag has the ability to define a country, the Australian flag currently identifies Australia as a British Colony in the Southern Hemisphere. That’s technically accurate, but hardly unique, representative or inspiring. New Zealand’s flag on the other hand….well it’s almost exactly the same, which is possibly why after over a century there is a vote to finally emerge from the suffocating shadow of ‘big brother’ Australia, and the even bigger shadow of ‘grandpa’ Great Britain.

There are still sixteen sovereign nations considered part of the Commonwealth realm (with Queen Elizabeth II as the Head of State), yet only three of those sovereign states still fly the Union Jack – Australia, New Zealand and a tiny Pacific island nation called Tuvalu. Despite declaring themselves a republic in 1987, Fiji also still fly the Union Jack, as well as a multitude of other territories, dependencies  and associated states. The other element of the New Zealand flag is the Southern Cross which finds itself on no less than five national flags – Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Samoa and – oddly enough – Brazil.

Many of the nations still within the Commonwealth realm changed their flag many years ago, with the most high profile case being that of Canada. After flying a union flag for almost a century after independence, in 1964 the Prime Minister formed a committee to select a new national flag from submitted entries, in a very similar process to modern day New Zealand. The winning design was the now instantly recognisable Maple Leaf design.

Contrast the current New Zealand flag with many of the designs selected by the Flag Consideration Project and it is already evident that the population is ready for something identifiably New Zealand. Just as the submissions for the Canadian flag featured a majority of Maple Leaf designs, the 40 selected flags have a number of common elements. The Southern Cross, Silver Fern and Koru (an unfurling Silver Fern) feature in a number of the designs, with the colours Black and White (the national sporting colours of New Zealand), Red, Blue and Grey also strongly represented.

My personal preference would be a flag that incorporates the koru as a national, unifying but also distinctly unique and identifying symbol. The Silver Fern is a little too pictographic for my tastes, although I understand why it is receiving significant support with its ties to many of New Zealand’s achievements on the international stage. If incorporated correctly, the Southern Cross is also a strong design element with links to the current flag to appease the no doubt numerous traditionalists.

If I were lucky enough to be voting in an optional preferential ballot these would be my top 5.

  1. Koru (Black) by Andrew Fyfe
  2. Land of the Long White Could (Trad. Blue) by Mike Archer
  3. Pikopiko by Grant Pascoe
  4. NZ One by Travis Cunningham
  5. Southern Cross Horizon by Sven Baker

With New Zealand once again showing leadership in promoting acceptance and unity on an international scale, look for Australia to follow suit in 2043 after the coalition finally allow a conscience vote and only after the United Kingdom has officially disassembled. Maybe then we’ll have a flag that can be proudly displayed somewhere other than the bumper of a ute accompanied by the words ‘if you don’t love it leave.’