If you're hip with the vexillological news, or you've noticed me being a wag about it on twitter of late, then you'll know that our antipodean neighbours, New Zealand, are in the process of narrowing down a field of 10,292(!) proposed flags to 4, in order to hold a series of referenda about replacing their current National Flag with a brand-spanking new one. This is of great interest to me not only because I'm a sucker for a good flag, but also because the NZ flag is quite similar to our own, and changes to their flag will certainly reignite the debate here about updating the national banner.
The issues facing our flags are similar. They both fly the Union Jack in canton, and these days we treasure our independence from the Mother Country, so they look pretty dated. To the indigenous groups of both countries, these flags represent a long history the subjugation and repression at the hands of white settlers and governments. And of course, people keep confusing the two with each other. There's a lot of support for the current flags too, especially amongst veterans groups, so it won't be an easy process, but nevertheless, NZ is going down the path of selecting a candidate and running a public vote.
An independent panel has been made responsible to setting the criteria for a flag based on the values of the people of New Zealand. This process produced some handy statements: "A great flag should be distinctive and so simple it can be drawn by a child from memory. A great flag is timeless and communicates swiftly and potently the essence of the country it represents. A flag should carry sufficient dignity to be appropriate for all situations in which New Zealanders might be represented. It should speak to all Kiwis. Our hope is that New Zealanders will see themselves reflected in these flags’ symbols, colour and stories." and "The message was clear, and the Panel agreed. A potential new flag should unmistakably be from New Zealand and celebrate us as a progressive, inclusive nation that is connected to its environment, and has a sense of its past and a vision for its future."
As an Australian, I might have some difficulty judging what speaks to New Zealanders, but from those statements, here's a list of criteria that I think you can actually just a flag on:
1) Symbolic - The symbols and colours used should be meaningful.
2) Identifiable - It should scream New Zealand.
3) Inclusive - It shouldn't use exclusively either British or Maori symbols.
4) Distinctive - It can't look like any other national flag.
5) Simple - It must pass the Betsy Ross test.
6) Timeless - It shouldn't feature the 2015 All-Blacks.
7) Dignified - It shouldn't look like a brand, and should be attractive in and of itself.
Of these, most are pretty self-explanatory, but I thought we'd dwell on the symbols for a moment. The symbols that I recognise as representative of NZ are:
1) The Southern Cross - Yeah, NZ is in the South. This recognises their colonial past without being the Union Jack itself. The NZ cross has only four stars, unlike the Australian one which has five.
2) The Koru - A symbol from Maori art, the Koru (a fern bud) represents life, peace and strength and the Maori people generally. It may be opposed by non-Maori conservatives.
3) The Silver Fern - The fern (generally silver on black) is used by NZ sporting teams, and widely recognised as a symbol of NZ and its environment and a compromise between the Koru and the cross.
4) Red/White/Black - These are NZ's long-standing official colours. They're represented on the nations awards, and in the Tino Rangatiratanga, the country's generally-accepted Maori flag.
5) Red/White/Blue - Colours on the current flag.
Added bonus: For all you stats nerds out there, the panel has helpfully produced these graphs and tables detailing the usage of these and other ideas in the 10,292 proposed flags. Which is most awesome, in this stats nerd's opinion.
The expert panel has whittled these 10,000 entries to 40, which have been roundly panned by everybody, of course. All that remains now is for us to turn our unschooled, culturally insensitive eye to the 40 flags on the long-list and make our calls. I hope you'll disagree vehemently with my choices and that we'll have it out in the comments section. I'm going to attempt to rate with reference to the above criteria, but let my gut drive the overall numbers, as always.
Black & White Fern7. This is very familiar to us as similar to the straight silver fern on black used by many NZ sporting teams. But more complex and thus less attractive. If people don't want to use the sporting flag then they won't want this.
Koru (Black)7. Attractive and simple, but I don't think there's enough here to make it look like a flag instead of a corporate symbol. I also think the Koru by itself won't win out with non-Maori voters.
NZ One5. I think this is a less attractive, less 'flaggy' version of the previous flag.
Tukutuku5. It's distinctive with its weaving motif, but the colours don't really work and it doesn't feel like a flag one could go to war under.
Fern (Green, Black & White)6. See comments on the first fern, except that the colours aren't very attractive.
Inclusive5. It's unattractive design-wise, feels too unbalanced.
Raranga7. For me, this is a much sexier version of Tukutuku above. The designer's gone with a weaving motif rather than a more common one, but it combines Maori and Western culture in one distinctive design. I don't know that it shouts NZ, and I'd make the Southern Cross bigger, but this is my favourite so far.
Unity Koru (Red & Blue)4. I don't like this at all. It's not recognisably a Koru to me, so it doesn't say NZ. And this colour scheme and division had ben hijacked by the NBA too much for it to not feel like a brand. Symbolic, but not the flag for me.
The Seven Stars of Matariki6. Hrmm... a Southern Cross that feels distinctly New Zealand when compared to other constellations, but I don't think a constellation by itself is enough to identify a nation. I like it, but I'd like it a lot more if there was a nod to history and the stars were coloured-in red like the current flag.
Curly Koru7. See, this is nice, there's a nod to history in the colours but it's dominated by the Koru, but the NBA problem rears its ugly head again. I suspect that this will be a common problem, and this copes better than any of the other examples I've seen.
White & Black Fern7. See "Black & White Fern". I think this one is very slightly superior.
Silver Fern (Black & Silver)4. Yuck Yuck Yuck. Take a good symbol and make it look bad.
New Southern Cross4. One for the traditionalists, there's not any nod to the indigenous culture here, and it's just really boring.
Silver Fern (Black,White & Blue)6. Aswap-out of the Union Jack for the silver fern. I don't think it's timeless, as aesthetically it would be better if they chose either black or blue, but this will be popular.
Unity Fern (Red & Blue)7. I really like this. Largely white flags look a little strange, though.
Manawa (Black & Green)8. See, I don't get the fascination with green. This is a really, really sexy modern design, but it would be so much better with red. Maybe that would be TOO Maori, though, so maybe swap the black with blue as well.
Land Of The Long White Cloud (Traditional Blue)6. I like the balance, but the swipe feels too much like a Nike swoosh to me.
Silver Fern (Black,White & Red)10. Yes. This should be the new flag, you Kiwi dudes. History, native culture, identifiability, design. This is it!
Black Jack8. When I first saw this, I threw it out immediately as too British, and I still think it is, but I also really admire the effort to merge the Maori culture into the current flag rather than elements of the current flag into a new symbol. Those Koru's as part of the Jack, they are amazing. I could live with this being my flag.
Land Of The Long White Cloud (Ocean Blue)5. Too 'Pacific Island' for me. Yes, I know where NZ is, but you know what I mean.
Southern Cross Horizon6. Clever. But too corporate. More boring than the world's most boring flags.
Silver Fern (Red, White & Blue)7. I suspect this is more popular than the black version, but it just shouldn't be. It has NBA problems again, and we all associate black with NZ so much more than blue.
Koru and Stars6. See, I like the idea of this better than the version with the fern, but the execution is just not as good.
Silver Fern (Black & White)9. This is widely used already and very popular. I don't think it's as good at the black and red version, but it has history on its side and if people can get over the fact that in the past it's mostly been used for sport, this will win. People that think it's like the ISIS flag are a little misguided.
Southern Koru5. See, this is really similar to the Manawa one that I love, but this doesn't work for me. I think it's the white. Lots of white on flags just looks weird.
Silver Fern (Black with Red Stars)7. Either pick the plain silver fern or do something a little more different. This is boring.
Moving Forward5. This is ugly design-wise. As I now that I've seen the Manawa flags I can't prefer a Koru flag to them.
Huihui/Together5. Old world countries have tricolours. We should leave them well alone. Looks like a school logo or similar.
Wa kainga/Home4. This is probably very symbolic and all, but it doesn't say anything to me.
Silver Fern (Green)7. I just don't get the green thing. NZ is a very green country, don't get me wrong, but it's just a colour I don't associate with their flags.
Embrace (Red & Blue)
7. I really like this combination treatment of the fern and koru. It seems so intuitive and totally works. This one has NBA problems, but if it were in black...maybe a little too Papua New Guinea?
New Zealand Matariki7. I like the green thing on this. That's clearly the land under the long white cloud, and there's the sky. I really like this design, but I don't think it works when hanging vertically, which I think is an important element.
Unity Koru7. This is really well balanced. So well balanced that I think people will struggle to tell it apart from France.
Finding Unity in Community7. I like the asymettry of this one, but the blue and black thing still doesn't work for me. It feels very New Zealand, but I can't see it beating some of the other candidates with similar themes.
Koru Fin6. It's not this flag's fault, but I'm over Koru and stars motifs now. This one doesn't speak to me.
Koru (Blue)6. Sister to Koru (Black) but with an inferior palette.
Manawa (Blue & Green)
7. This isn't as nice as the other Manawa design. It's...just kinda weird.
Red Peak4. Nope.
Pikopiko5. The colours remind me a lot of my time in New Zealand, but they're just not... flaggy.
Modern Hundertwasser8. This is actually really good. It feels like a flag. If it were red it would have scraped into the top four.
The TL:DR version?
The New Zealanders should pick between these four flags, but decide on the last one to duke it out with the current flag.
Good luck with the choices, my New Zealand brethren, and congratulations for having the debate. You're so far ahead of us in so many ways that if you're not careful all the Australians are going to move over there.