Cyathea dealbata, also known as the 'silver tree fern' or simply as 'silver fern'...
...and a 'koru', an unfolding frond

It was exactly two years ago today that I caught my first sight of New Zealand; my flight from Sydney descended slowly and gently over the Southern Alps, which seemed to extend infinitely in all directions as far as the eye could see.  Young, jagged snow-lidded peaks cut by steep-sided gorges and valleys.  The sight of the mountains and fjords - and the thought that they were going to be my adventure playground for the next 15 days - quite took my breath away.

I didn’t know it at the time, but the best two weeks of my adult life were about to begin.  But that’s another story...

The following day, as I set off to explore the wonders of this amazing country in my campervan, I quickly realised that a parliamentary election was underway.  There as here, big ugly hoardings adorned with oversized photoshopped pictures of middle-aged politicians proclaiming empty slogans lined the roadsides and gratuitously blocked far too many of the views from my campervan windows as I drove along.

And there as here (again), there were endless vapid interviews on New Zealand radio with would-be MPs promising the Earth in return for the power to make decisions and control other people’s lives - ever the goal for such weasel-worded tributes to vanity.

As I listened - and chatted to the people I met - one subject seemed to crop up time and again.  The identity of New Zealand itself.  How best (they were debating) should a young and vigorous nation - which had long outgrown its dependence on the ‘Mother Country’ and had demonstrated its muscular individuality many times - represent itself to its own citizens, as well as to the rest of the world?

And now, two years later - and as you may have heard - one of the debating points I remember hearing about has surfaced.  What’s to become of the National Flag?

Just to remind you - here’s what it looks like now...
Many New Zealanders have problems with this design.  The inclusion of the British Union Flag seems outdated and inappropriate for a country that 'flew the nest' decades ago - and which, coincidentally, lies about as far away from Britain as it's possible to get.

The four stars of the Southern Cross are acceptable enough - except that, with the 'union jack' in the corner, they make the flag difficult to distinguish from that of Australia.  This fact alone is enough to give New Zealanders nationalistic palpitations, such is the (often unfriendly) rivalry between them.

All of which has prompted the new government to fulfill one of its electoral pledges; to invite New Zealanders to submit designs for a new National Flag.

And they have - with a vengeance.  After all, how often do a country’s citizens get the opportunity to take part in something as momentous as this?

Hundreds of designs have been submitted; and they’ve featured everything from laser-eyed kiwis to cartoon rugby balls - rugby being the official state religion in those parts, of course.  In due course, the inevitable government committee whittled them down to a long-list of 39.  Namely...

If you’re lucky, you should be able to see that certain ‘themes’ predominate in the chosen designs - specially the Silver Tree Fern frond which New Zealand has adopted as its (so far) unofficial logo.  It’s good to see quite a few korus there as well.  The ferns themselves are unique to the country and some of its surrounding islands and grow everywhere - and to spectacular, tree-like proportions.

The most impressive use of the frond design I saw when I was there was on an Air New Zealand aircraft, which was painted black end-to-end with a Silver Fern frond painted white along the side.  It looked very, very lovely.

So...the government’s flag committee got to work and whittled their long list down to four contenders.  Which means they rejected a couple of my favourites...

Although it's far too similar to the current flag, I think this design is terrific.  If they don't want it, I'll have it...
Here are the final four...

In common with most New Zealanders, I was a bit disappointed by the selection on offer.  They’re all perfectly acceptable, of course - but a bit ‘dull’ compared with many of the rejected designs.  Such has been the outcry there that the Prime Minister has agreed to add another design to the shortlist:  the so-called Red Peak....

And there you have it.  What do you think?

If all goes according to plan next May, the people of New Zealand will vote in a referendum to decide which flag to adopt and - so far, at least - they’ve been assured that the vote will be binding and final.  Whichever flag wins will be formally adopted as the symbol of New Zealand to the world outside.

As liberating and as democratically inclusive as this process is, though, I have one minor regret about it all.

While I was there, I saw this flag flying in many places - specially on North Island...

But it can’t be used as the country’s new flag - because it’s already been ‘taken’ (as it were).  This striking and evocative design is the National Flag of New Zealand’s Maori people.  And I reckon it's the best of the lot.
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Keith Johnson said...

How about a hobbit footprint with rhe frond about it?

Or even a golden ring with the frond in the middle!!!

Ian Robinson said...

You 'avin' a larf?

Natasha said...

Hi Ian - Fascinating reading as always, I would vote for any of the fern ones. And I loved my time in NZ as well and made life-long friends on my trip. Ahh the heady days of hiking along deserted beaches and mountains for weeks on end with not a care in the world! Back to reality with a bump - if you are at a loose end at 8.00pm on Sunday please watch Antiques Roadshow from Durham Cathedral, you will find lots of locally made antiques brought along and discussed. I will be very interested to hear what you make of it.

BTW it's a come down from the Blue Bus show, but if you watch closely you might also see my name on the credits... ;o)
Natasha x