Our Flag Competition

Why did I run the competition?

It was clear from the public’s response that the understanding of what the current flag represents is minimal. It’s a defaced British naval ensign, modified first in 1867 as required by the British Colonial Navy Defence Act, so that the activities of the colonial government could be differentiated from those of the British. Otherwise under international law Britain could be liable for those acts. Two things about that;

  1. The Treaty is our founding document not the unilateral declaration of colonisation made in May 1840 by Hobson. Indeed the colonisation could well be unlawful given it was a breach of that Treaty. The Ngapuhi recommendation has backed that interpretation.
  2. It is a flag of convenience invented by the colonising power, a flag to enable it to avoid liability for the Maori or NZ Wars of the 1860’s – and put that liability to the government of New Zealand.

So given that history – not dissimilar to the activities of the British in Canada and South Africa say – it is long overdue that we establish our own flag – one that has nothing to do with those unlawful colonial acts.

A flag is not just a pretty pattern or a symbol of familiarity – it has to have relevance and meaning to the people of Aotearoa New Zealand – and our current flag fails on that count. It is an artefact of the colonising era that is recognised now as a breach of the treaty – our founding document as a nation.

The Story

So my view of the flag change is that the story behind any design is of foremost importance. I’m no artist or company logo designer or design aficionado – I find much of that stuff hugely subjective and in the eye of the beholder. But for other people form is what counts, not substance so much.

I’m supportive very much of the need to change the flag, to bury this artefact that tells a lie and is an insult to Maoridom, and for that matter all other immigrants to NZ, such as the Chinese who came just as early in the piece as the British settlers.

But we must first get the story right. So as I’ve read through all the entries the government’s Flag Consideration Panel was getting it became obvious very quickly that most entries had notsubstantive story behind them. So without even looking at the design I was able to exclude 99% of them on those grounds.

Hence I decided to try and get people to submit a design that actually had a story – I did that by telling them in the terms of reference what the story actually is and asking them to submit a design that reflects it. We got some great entries in that regard – and so I knew we were on track.

Deciding the Winner

As I say my input was to check that the story behind any design considered was accurate and a balanced reflection of who we, as New Zealanders, are. We enlisted the help of design experts Mark Pennington, Catherine Griffiths and Desna Whaanga-Schollum to make their recommendations. Broadly speaking there are two approaches it seems to me – (a) to build a visual that takes well-known elements of the identity of Aotearoa New Zealand & tries to blend them in a considered and fair way (Southern Cross, Koru, Silver Fern for instance) and then there’s (b) the approach the design community prefers – not to be literally constrained by that, but rather to produce a concept that tells the story fairly and can use whatever mix of colour, shapes, asymmetry & symmetry that the author wants.

Both approaches must meet the demands of vexillology – the fundamentals of flag design. These cover simplicity and colour use so flags can be recognised at a distance and during wind or calm.

Process

We had just under 1,000 entries – not bad. The design panel went through them all and came up with a preferred list. You can view their deliberations here. I then checked each one with respect to the story the flag told – I have no view on the picture itself really.

I must admit my predilection (like many Kiwis) is to defer to the well known symbols like koru, southern cross, silver fern etc; simply because I know what they represent. But for the design and vexillology communities it is form, impact and uniqueness that take precedence. As with any robust process, this naturally created some tension between the panel and myself.

But ultimately for me it’s all about the story being told. After all you want all New Zealanders represented, not just one ethnic group, and we want a story we can pass on down through the generations with pride.

For me there were just 2 candidates that told the story properly. They were ‘One Land Many People’ by Timo Rannali and ‘Wā kāinga’ / Home by Studio Alexander. One was a more traditional design and the other a new one. The latter wins because it meets both criteria or substance as well as flag design requirements. In other words it was the only flag that was on my short list as well as that of the judges.

A third design worth mentioning was submitted by Kyle Lockwood who has made a large number of entries into both our competition and the government process. While his design ‘Colours of Aotearoa’ is in the genre of a modern, abstract interpetation of the relevant themes, his accompanying story wasn’t sufficiently strong for me to pick up on my survey of flag stories.

But what about those of us who don’t want to change?

I’ve already written extensively on this. There are many reasons put forward but I have yet to find one that’s actually credible – mainly they reflect inertia and political agendas. My piece “The Six Dumbest Arguments Against Changing the Flag” sums them up.

At the end of the day the public will decide. Educating and informing the public so it can make a knowledgeable decision is the phase we are now in. I have huge confidence that a well-informed public makes rational choices, but I’m sure we’re all aware of what happens when a vacuum of knowledge persists, the public opinion can be very lowbrow, driven by the noise of extremes. This is precisely why we did our competition – to help the official process reach more people. As you know they haven’t been wildly successful with their town hall tour.