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Thursday, August 19, 2004


A small contribution to what might one day become "a flag debate" in a society deeply suspect of change ....

Two nights ago watching the bloody equestrian events (see below) I inadvertently found myself cheering on an Australian, having mistaken the Australian flag for the New Zealand one. Which I found to be just another reason for changing the damn thing ... it really relates in no way to the New Zealand I know, from its oppressive Union Jack staring down at us colonials from the top corner, to its deeply boring deep blue background.

The current "leading candidate" for a replacement appears to be this version of the silver fern on a black background. Except the fern is highly stylized, and it's white not silver.

I can't say I care for it too much, in part because I find the black rather macabre, and also because my mate Bob informed me that traditionally flags have excluded black, because of its association with piracy. And indeed a white fern on a black background isn't too far removed from a white skull-&-crossbones on a black background. And although piracy might seem like good fun (think "Pirates of the Caribbean") let's not forget Peter Blake here.

I must say I prefer this design, which is altogether more colourful, optimistic, and evocative. Unfortunately it does seem to have slipped from public view of late. A slightly blander variation on its themes can be found here.

The pirate analogy explains why there are no black flags; I can understand that (although that's possibly a bit outdated now)

But can anyone tell me why there are no orange, or even orange-influenced flags around? India is the only one I can think of.

Why don't the Netherlands adopt it, for example?
Picking a flag is a tricky business. Canada tried to have a go at it in the 1960s and it nearly tore the country apart. One, of many, designs had a happy little beaver nibbling on some wood. Another looked just like the U.S. flag, but in place of 50 stars (I guess its 51 now including the state of Iraq) there were 12 little maple leafs.

Black is usaually a taboo in the langauge of flag making. Black backgrounds either mean piracy or death. It's not at all an outdated tradition. Even today every navy ship in the world raises a black flag if there is death on board. Also, the business of piracy is a growth industry in Belieze (and a few other places too). While these pirates may not raise black flags themselves, their methods are the same as Long John Silver, and Captain Morgan.

The only expection to this rule is in the pan-arabic or pan-african nations. In these countries black is quite prominent and important to have on a flag.

Since New Zealand doesn't belong to either pan-league, and doesn't want to get a reputation of hurting people on the high seas, then maybe it would be better to go with one of the more colourful designs? "Bah" to tradition you may say? Well, why bother having a flag at all? If you are going to play the game you better know the rules. You wouldn't want to design a flag that looks cool but has all of the colours of the axis-of-evil, or axis-of-not-quite-so-evil, and then some Texas blow-hard declares war on you!

Also, just from looking around the Olympic stadium, orange is indeed a used colour. Many countries use orange: Armenia, Belarus, Bhután, Côte d'Ivoire, Ethiopia, India, Ireland, Macedonia, Niger, and Sri Lanka.

The rareset colour is actually Purple. Likely because it is reserved for royalty. But Spain and Nicaragua put decided to overlook that tradition.

Good luck in finding your flag New Zealand!
I quite like the Maori flag. Yes, it has black in it. But so long as it isn't the dominant aspect that shouldn't be an issue. The problem would be people getting over whatever hang-ups they have about it. To be fair it could be seen as quite a peace offering to Maori if adopted, though I think I'm being a bit naive there. Beats ignoring any Maori contribution to our international identity as far as I'm concerned.

The flag debate in NZ seems to be led by a website - they are using their silver fern design to provoke debate, but also encouraging other designs . It seems pertinent for a country moving more to self determination and considering becoming a republic. Canada's maple leaf is stylised and while the debate was provocative, it was ultimately unifying (as much as a flag can be) and gave the country a strong visual identity

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