Anthony Hubbard, Flag, Kenneth Wang, Sunday Star-Times

Let’s fly this fern

In the 21st century, the New Zealand flag should not be a British flag, or a Maori flag, or an Australasian flag. 

It should be a New Zealand flag – for all New Zealand, and only New Zealand.

The symbol that best unites us is surely the ponga or silver fern, first worn  by the NZ Native Rugby Team of 1888.

The silver fern says nature. It says Maori. It says New Zealand. 

It’s ‘us’.

But which silver fern is fit to grace our flag?

I believe the leaf must have a simple, timeless elegance. If I could draw, it wouldn’t have taken me 23 years to show you what I mean.

But only this year did I find a designer who could translate my vision of the perfect fern.

His name is Kenneth Wang, former ACT MP and owner of BrandWorks. 

Twenty  years ago, Kenneth designed the winning poster for the Auckland Commonwealth Games. He was a joy to work with.

I told him I needed a smooth, flowing, classical fern. A few emails later, he’d produced exactly the design I’d had in my mind for 23 years. 

Then, thanks to the miracle of PowerPoint, I set our fern against 141 different backgrounds.

I tried black and white, every shade of blue and green and teal and red – and every combination of stars, bars, panels and stripes I could think of. 

I tried silver ferns and gold ferns and black ferns and white ferns, before confirming  that white looked best. 

Among my six finalists below, I’ve tried to cater to every flag faction, from  sports buffs and nature lovers to traditionalists and Maori.

So now, please tell me which one you’d fly from your flag pole. Then vote in my flag poll.


A. Classic black

B. Clean green

C. Stars on blue

D. Silver lining

E. Maori colours

F. Land and sea

Thanks to Anthony Hubbard from the Sunday Star-Times for sparking this post by asking if I had any views on the flag.

It’s fair to say he did not expect the reply, “I’ll send you 141 designs!”

Thanks also to David Farrar, who has said he’ll link to it. I’d assumed my right-of-centre mates would be hostile to this idea, and didn’t know David was a republican and big flag-change fan. 

56 thoughts on “Let’s fly this fern

  1. We need ONE flag that represents New Zealand. Not a sports flag (A), or a Green party flag (B) or a semi-colonial flag (C), or a wide-screen sports flag (D) or a Maori flag (E).

    But a NZ flag. Thus I vote for (F): the Land and Sea flag.

    (Note: it is not necessary to represent all the different people in a flag. Eg Canada’s maple leaf does not pander to French and English and native people groups. The Swiss white cross on red does not pander to German, French, Italian and Romansch factions — it is just Swiss. Both are excellent flags. Similarly, we need a NEW ZEALAND flag.)

  2. Thanks for the welcome back, homepaddock.

    I promise to keep blogging this time. (Wifey is not happy that I do all my talking on Kiwiblog – and besides I’ve been working up a few things that I’m nearly ready to circulate).

  3. I’m hoping the voting process will accelerate once David Farrar links in.

    Once some clear favourites emerge, I’ll reveal some of the other options from the favoured categories – just to make sure I haven’t rejected a popular design.

    Each of these six is the tip of an iceberg of variants.

  4. So where is the Kiwi?
    We are not known overseas as a plant (though many of you smoke the shit), but we are known as Kwiwi’s.

  5. The kiwi is doing what kiwis do at this time of the day – sleeping.

    I’m happy that we’re known as Kiwis. We’re the only people with an animal nickname apart from the Frogs. (Maybe the French should put that on their flag.)

    But as Austin Mitchell said, we have a national bird that can’t run, can’t fly and is bloody near extinct.

    With the Kiwi as the symbol of the Air Force, it’s appropriate that our strike force is grounded and our Hercules always break down.

    If we put it on our flag, it would never make it up the pole.

  6. It’s not surprising that Wang’s last big hit was twenty years ago. This looks like a generic clipart fern pasted up against some tacky backgrounds in Paint, not a serious flag.

  7. I like C because it incorporates the Southern Cross (OK it is more an Australian icon than a NZ one) however it might look stunning on a black background. It is bringing together part of the history of the country (why get rid of the SC – it is the Union Jack that everyone doesn’t like).
    You could also look at taking the current flag, replacing the UJ with the fern, and making the whole background black, with white and red stars in the same place.

  8. I’d keep the Southern Cross for the new Aussie flag – together with the Federation Star.

    Green, gold and white are the obvious colours. I’ll be posting my Australian flag designs soon.

  9. This right winger is a republican too, with a proviso, no bloody Helen Clark as President.

    My prefered one is the Red/Black Fern

  10. First off, New Zealanders are not known as kiwis overseas – most people overseas think “kiwis” are fruit and have no idea that it has any relation to New Zealand. Typically New Zealanders have an overblown sense of themselves and think the world reveres us as much as we do; they don’t.

    Secondly, the last flag looks like something produced by a government department of the 90s. The one with the stars is the best except I would prefer to see the stars and fern in separate spots – not mixed together. Perhaps the fern could replace the Union flag and the stars could remain as they are in the current New Zealand flag.

  11. Using the silver fern on the flag has always struck me as a bit tacky. It’s one of our national logo’s (along with the kiwi), and logo’s don’t belong on flags. We shouldn’t do a ‘Canada’.

    This one:

  12. As soon as i see the term ‘brand’ and national flag in the same sentence I shudder. A flag is a national symbol and treasure that should last for centuries, not a fuckin brand. The current flag should not be changed until our last WW2 veteran pasess. out of respect for what they did for our fighting for our ‘brand’…

  13. The black and silver fern are great. Another option for this design would be like Brazil which has a emblem inside a lozenge. This balances the fern better I think, as well you could introduce a red stripe in this lozenge to give more differentiation to the black sliver colours

  14. I cautiously like the silver fern, as long as it doesn’t look too much like the All Blacks logo.

    Unlike a lot of Pakeha commenting here and on other forums, I think some Maori designs could be used to good effect – I find them quite beautiful, although no doubt some would say this is due to my “liberal guilt” or some such rubbish.


    or with a southern cross:

  15. I think if the fern was too much like the All Blacks logo it would be a) illegal and b) horrible. I still think it looks like a set of steak knives.

    To me, the goal is for New Zealand to have one of the world’s best flags.

    A great flag doubles as a national logo – think Canada, Japan and Switzerland. Very few flags are in that league, but why shouldn’t ours be?

    If we put too many designs on the flag in order to appease every interest group, it will have no show of standing out or of doing New Zealand justice.

    An overtly Maori motif would work if we were a Maori country. But we’re clearly not. 85% of us are non-Maori and 100% of the other 15% are part-Maori.

    The Union Jack has links to maybe 70% of us, but I don’t favour that either.

    But here’s a suggestion from a friend…

    How about we combine the best of options A and C (our two front-runners) and put the fern and red stars on a BLACK background instead of blue.

    That was one of the 135 designs I filtered out to come up with my six, but maybe I’ll bring it back into the mix.

    A red-stars-on-black flag would tick four boxes: the three Maori colours; the unique national colour black (which a Maori team wore 19 years before our present flag was first flown); the Southern Cross; and the silver fern (a natural icon from the New Zealand bush).

  16. Have you thought about having the fern vertical, in the centre, to maybe give the thing a bit more formality?

  17. Yes I have RRM. I’ve done versions with the fern in the middle of three panels, but I don’t like a vertical fern.

    I’ve been studying fern designs for ages and most, to me, look ugly.

    But some I do find beautiful. In that category I’d put the fern on the old one cent piece – a detailed leaf that curved in a circle around the 1.

    And of the sporting ferns, I like the All Blacks fern of the 1970s and early 80s best. It’s a classic.

    The downside of this traditional depiction of the fern is that it looks to people overseas like a white feather.

    But I think local meaning trumps foreign interpretation.

    (Also, I doubt whether foreigners would truly believe that the most successful team in the history of one of the world’s most violent sports would wear the symbol of cowardice.)

  18. Where is the option to vote for the current flag?

    I seriously think that there is nothing wrong with our current flag, ANZAC debates aside I think it is important to have the union jack on board, not as a signal of ethnic origin or culture but as a symbol of our British Constitutional and legal heritage that is embodied in today’s constitutional system. People who come to NZ should simply accept that there moving to a different system and if they don’t think that reflects them tough bickies, the flag was there before them and will stay after them.

    Finally including the green would be a ghastly error as our ‘clean green image’ is pretty much a marketing ploy for confused german backpackers.

    Im not opposed to gradual evolution of the flag (ie a change in colour etc) A flag should evolve over time and not be chucked out in its entirety as soon as it become unpopular with some smarmy self proclaimed elite because they think it doesnt reflect them. I tell you this much these right wing self important wind bags (keith quinn looking at you) don’t reflect me and never will

  19. None of them are right because the fern symbol as depicted is too soft. I used to work (in advertising) with Dick Frizel, get him to design something, a ‘something’ perhaps that is derived from a fern but is simplified and stylised.

    And red white and blue colours would at least pay lip service to the culture that created modern New Zealand.

  20. Just keep the flag we’ve got! there’s nothing wrong with it, and unlike these ferns it’s a design of good aesthetic taste.

    Don’t you have better things to worry about? what would be the outcome of changing the flag? people might see it and say; “what country’s flag is that?” “New Zealands” “where’s that again?” “South pacific or near Australia I think” “looks like a bit of a joke, that’s probably why I know nothing about the place”

  21. I voted for C,
    Just got back from a 38yr OE in Canada, if you put a Kiwi on there, the rest of the world would wonder what that was, as they only know Kiwi’s as Fruit. that was some good marketing eh!

  22. If we must concede to a questionable majority in wishing to drop our historic past and change the flag our fathers and grandfathers fought and died under, then C would be my choice.

    Those people wanting to use black should know that black does not weather well, the practicality of which is something we don’t always consider when getting carried away with fanciful flag designs.

  23. Leave the flag alone. It has served NZ well in war, peace and commerce. I am utterly opposed to taking another large step further from our important European heritage and one closer to Maorification. Leave it alone.

  24. Hello John, how are you doing?
    I was in your country 3 years ago and when come back to my country, Brasil, lovesick about his country, mainly by people, natural beauty and more. So, in end of this year, i will do a new tatto, and i would like your opinion about main symbols of NZ to create a special design!

    Thank you so much!

    See you,

    Amauri Junior

  25. Obviously I prefer the silver fern Amauri. A beautiful symbol from the NZ bush that has stood the test of time. Hopefully you’ll see it many times at the Rio Olympics, and maybe even the World Cup. (We were the only unbeaten team last time, you know.)

  26. Poor old hypocritical New Zealand. Still trying to find an identity after 150 plus years!!
    Boohoo!! As though a bloody flag is going to make a difference.
    It was once a British Colony . . . get over it! You can’t change history, although Maori are doing a good job of twisting it.
    We need something with a centrally situated giant sun with “E” for Equality within it and like the suns rays, colours of all kinds emanating from it. This just might send the message that this is after all ONE country made up of many cultures and not a racist “Bi-cultural” one.

    Ken R Taylor

  27. Yes, it includes nearly everything and every colour imaginable. As a work of art it has its charm – as a serious flag it would make NZ a laughing stock, and I hope it is no more than a jest. I am more firmly than ever before of the view that we must leave the flag alone – to do otherwise we would lose a lot more than we could possibly gain.

  28. My instinct is to go for the simple, obvious solution: black flag with the white/silver fern. This is NOT the All Blacks flag as some people argue. Black with the fern is New Zealand – Tourism NZ use it in all their branding overseas, our passports are black with a fern embossed on the front cover and even Air NZ is now using black and the fern in its livery. Why are we complicating when the solution is so obvious? However, I also don’t mind the fern on a red and black flag as it is the colours of the Maori flag. You would expect the majority of New Zealanders to be proud of the country’s Maori heritage. And it was a Maori who designed the original fern insignia for the first rugby team that toured overseas in the 1880s – so it has history, it’s not some new sporting thing. Who cares if others don’t know what the fern is, or think it’s a feather – what is important is that New Zealanders know what it is. And apparently black won’t work as our national flag because other countries don’t use black – so what, we do! Put cultural cringe to one side and adopt a flag that is so obviously ours.

  29. if you go with the fern make your flag square like the swiss did. it doesn’t look right on a long banner-like flag. another option is to go with the 5:3 flag split diagonally from bottom left to top right corner and have the left triangle white or silver and the right triangle black. additionally you can add the fern on both triangles, something similar to the flag of panama.

  30. I agree wholeheartedly with the 61% who voted AGAINST any change on the poll on Campbell Live this week. I baffles me why anyone would want to scrap yet another link with our British Commonwealth past. Britain – not Maoris – made this country great. We seem to be in the grip of those who believe that all change is good. The simplest knowledge of history shows that has never been true.

    If any change were to be made, the design should be done by a professional flag and heraldry designer. NOT politicians, or advertising agencies, or the general public. Black is unacceptable on a flag, and why on earth would you not want to retain the Southern Cross ? And even worse, replace it with a fern, which is no more than a logo.

    Then there is the cost. Estimated at $10million just to run a referendum; untold more millions to actually make the change. A ridiculous waste of money.

  31. Oh Yes! Brilliant! A flag like Panama would be a good comparison, putting us where we belong as another tribal “Banana republic”!

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