“Let’s fly our fern over the Harbour Bridge on Waitangi Day.”

Update: this is the flag we want to fly: The Black & Silver

“Good idea, Kenneth.”

Kenneth Wang doesn’t think small. I guess if Mao Zedong’s army commander was my grandpa, I’d be fairly bold too.

So don’t be surprised if on Waitangi Day – one month from today – you see more than two flags flying above the Auckland Harbour Bridge.

And we hope you don’t mind if one of those flags is a little bigger than the other two.

10,000 square feet bigger, to be exact.

You heard it here first. 

If we can raise $20,000 by 20 January, Skybanners are going to make us a gigantic fern flag and chopper it all over Auckland.

If that doesn’t getting Kiwis talking about a new flag, we don’t know what will.

There are two pressing issues:

  1. Where to find $20,000. 
  2. Which design to use for the giant flag. 

If you can help with the funds – or know anyone who can – email john@johnansell.co.nz ASAP. (Needless to say, if we don’t raise enough, you’ll get your money back.)

If you can’t send money but want to give us your view on which fern flag to fly, comment below.

I’ve had some other design thoughts since my poll and subsequent posts…

Both Kenneth and I feel there’s not much point in a new flag that keeps bits of the old one as a bob each way. A proud nation doesn’t make a Declaration of Semi-Dependence.

We say we need to Think Bigger – like Canada did in 1965.

In previous posts, I’ve done my best to do justice to my red-stars-on-blue and red-stars-on-black options. Let’s know if you still prefer one of those.

But in this post, I want to try to make the black option work for those of you who think a black flag is too sombre.

What about if we add some white or silver… 

Variant 1: two white vertical panels

Unashamedly based on the Canadian flag, the world’s best.

Before Canadian PM Lester Pearson led the charge for this beautiful maple leaf flag, former PM John Diefenbaker had this to say about it:

“The Pearson flag is a meaningless flag. There is no recognition of history; no indication of the existence of French and English Canada; the partnership of the races; no acknowledgement of history. It is a flag without a past, without history, without honour and without pride.”

Sound familiar?

As Canadians now know, if you’ve got the courage to make history, honour and pride follow in spades.

There are so many parallels between the Canadian and New Zealand situations. Especially when it comes to rivalry between the national leaf and the national mammal.

Just as some New Zealanders would sooner see a kiwi on our flag than a silver fern, plenty of Canadians wanted to bypass the maple leaf for a beaver!

(Let’s just hope taste prevails here too.)

Variant 2: one white vertical panel

A good way to keep the fern big and still have some light relief.

Variant 3: two white horizontal bars

Variant 4: two silver horizontal bars

Variant 5: a silver silver fern

After all, in its natural state it is a silver fern, not a white fern. (Even the white fern is still called silver.) 

White can make foreigners think ‘white feather’. But silver would be unique in the world of flags – a bold statement of a confident young nation.

I’ve had a shirt made with a silver silver fern on black, and it does look smart.

OK, do any of these options change your mind about a black flag?

Now a little about the heritage.


Good question.

The silver fern is the native ponga. It was chosen as an emblem in its white form by Joe Warbrick, captain and organiser of  the New Zealand Natives (Maori plus five pakeha) rugby team of 1888.

Warbrick, now a subject of a short film, was inspired by two Maori proverbs: 

Mate atu he toa ara mai he toa.” 
“When one warrior dies, another arises.”

“Mate atu he tetakura ara mai he tetakura.”
“When one fern dies, another arises.”

Which does seem most apt for a game based on men supporting each other – not to mention an excellent  justification for a national emblem.

But why the black jersey?

The answer comes from All Black Tamati Ellison’s family, whose ancestor Tom was a star of  that Natives team.

More to the point, it was Tom Ellison’s idea in 1893 to make the  black jersey with silver fern the official New Zealand team uniform.

According to the Ellisons, Joe and Tom just thought black was the colour that would provide the best contrast with the white fern.

I can guess why Warbrick would have felt that way. You see, in 1884 he’d been in the first-ever New Zealand rugby team. 

And that team played in blue jerseys with a gold fern.

We know that, because last year the one below (right) was loaned to the New Zealand Rugby Museum by the family of the team’s first try-scorer.

But you’d never know looking at the official team photo that there was a gold fern on the jersey, would you? 

The 1884 rugby team in blue jerseys and (invisible?) gold fern.

Were these players having their ferns drycleaned that day? Or did the dark gold simply not show up against the blue?

Could it be that Warbrick wanted a colour contrast that would let his emblem be seen in black and white photos, and so chose, um… black and white?

The photo of the 1888 team below suggests he succeeded – and a tradition was born.

The 1888 Native team, now in black jerseys with white fern.

In the 121 years since, the silver fern has been ‘our maple leaf’, representing New Zealand in sporting and non-sporting fields alike.

It would be a shame if the anti-sport brigade were to veto its use on a flag solely on the grounds that it started life on the Natives’ rugby jersey.

Because, of course, it didn’t.

It started life in the ground – as a native of the New Zealand bush.

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16 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Variant 2 is better than variant 1 because while the maple is symmetrical, the silver fern is not. Therefore 2 has more aesthetically pleasing balance.

    Good point Lindsay. I see you know a thing or two about aesthetics – brilliant paintings. http://mitchelllindsayartist.blogspot.com/

  2. G’day John,
    Great news about flying a huge fern flag on Waitangi Day. I will forward some cash towards the objective.
    It is inconcievable that our national flag has no fern
    upon it as this icon defacto emblem is now on all nz
    postage stamps, bank notes, dollar coins and new rego
    plates and passports Etc,Etc,Etc.
    Now is the hour
    Mike Rodwell

    Thanks a lot Mike. Yes, we need to strike while flags are on people’s minds.

    It’s an emotive issue, but Canada is our role model. Many of the arguments are the same. Theirs was a bitter debate, but they came out of it with a world class flag and so can we.

    Yes, their colour is warmer and their leaf is more symmetrical, but few countries have symbols as distinctive as ours. I’m sure we can make the black and silver fern work just as well.

  3. G’day John,
    I reckon varient 2 making it all black with our red &
    white stars in place of the ‘Union Jack’
    Now is the hour to flythefern
    Mike Rodwell

    Those interested should check out Mike’s site http://flythefern.co.nz

  4. […] is the flag I’d like to see us fly over the Auckland Harbour Bridge on Waitangi Day, and be adopted as the new New Zealand […]

  5. […] John Ansell and Kenneth Wang are thinking big. They want to fly the silver fern flag over the Auckland Harbour Bridge on Waitangi Day. […]

  6. Hello ” down there ” . I live in French Flanders by Belgium. Too many cemeteries from WW1 around here, so many lives lost… Your boys’tumbstones do bear the fern, and that’s how most of Europe recognizes NZ at first sight. Harldy anyone can identify your present Jack & Stars. Stand up and fly the fern proudly !

    Merci beaucoup!

  7. Just mind that the new flag doesn’t have too much white on it. Without sufficient ventilation (like when hung against a wall) and in a damp climate (like Canada’s) the white gets discoloured very quickly with mildew as well as air pollution. Darker colours hide dirt and mould a lot better than does white. Canada’s former, beautiful Red Ensign holds up better in bad conditions. The new flag, not so much. The fact that it’s invariably screen-printed on cheap, flimsy nylon fabric doesn’t help.

    Thanks Tony. So many things to consider. I’m guessing you prefer the old Canadian flag to the new.

    Another people who must have a hard time keeping their flag clean is the Cypriots, whose flag is almost entirely white.

  8. 1) You’ve provided a nice story about where the silver fern comes from. So is that all we are to you? some team in a sport almost all of the world has no knowledge of nor any desire to discover? Just some small aspect of NZ that’s been successful (thanks in part to its anonymity) and that’s all we’ll showcase?
    Think about this; are you SURE this is a good idea?

    2) The Canadian flag is bloody ugly. It’s an international laughing stock. Many Cannucks I’ve met loathe it and wish they’d never changed it.

    OK, how might we prove your theory that the Canadian flag is a laughing stock?

    If I could think of some way to enforce the result, I’d gladly bet you $100 that the Canadian flag would emerge in the top 5 (more likely number 1) of any international poll of most admired flags.

    Which flags do you admire?

    In fact, do you admire anything at all? (I ask since all your comments on my blog have been relentlessly negative.)

  9. As a Canadian, I HATE the flag. It represents nothing just like the current state at the moment. If anything it shows a dying maple leaf that ignores it culture, past and heritage. The red and blue ensigns signify our common links and sacrifices whether in the northern hemisphere or down under at your end. It’s one thing to change your team’s logo, quite another to disregard all that went before in one’s country’s history for a moment’s fancy. Check it out: http://www.imperialflags.blogspot.com

  10. Rugby represents physical violence, booze, grovelling in mud and immature men who have not developed mentally and socially beyond age ten. No flag can represent N.Z better than the one we already proudly display. Black is a non-colour.

  11. Peter, that’s an astonishing indictment of men like Sir Wilson Whineray and Sir Brian Lochore. The blurtings of a ten year old, you might even say.:-)

  12. The comments on Canada and the Canadian flag are way off the mark. I have Canadian relatives and they hate it and believe most Canadians do. It suggests a dying/dead Maple leaf, hardly the inspiration a nation aspires to. The flag of the USA by comparison means something (the stars = number of states, stripes = original colonies) and most Americans love ‘The Stars and Stripes’, what do Canadians call their flag ‘ The Dead Maple leaf’!
    The way Canada has gone with the whole PC thing is also noting to be proud of or aspire to but thats another story.
    My choice for our flag would be to have the four red stars with white border on blue background, ie just remove the union jack.

  13. Mike, I’d bet reasonable money with you that Canadians love their flag more than the residents of most other countries.

    This person agrees at least: http://correresmidestino.com/stuffs-canadians-like/

  14. Any flag belittling the NZ flag would be welcome in the PC world of today.

    If any flag be flown it aught to be our national flag, representing “all the people of NZ”.

    The maple leaf is Canada’s national flag, not a sporting one.

    Do Canadian sport teams look like they are chosen on merit or by race.

    The fern has been appearing on all Government documents and stamps for some years now, softening us up for the flag change. Looks like it has worked.

    I consider this change a good kick up the backside to those who died for their flag, their country and you, whoever you may be!


  15. As with other constitutional matters, Rangi, I would only want a flag change if it was agreed to by over 50% of voters in a referendum.

    I happen to believe it is possible to be deeply grateful to the British for founding this country, but also to realise that we have reached maturity as an independent nation and deserve our own flag.

    But I realise this sends out a mixed message when combined with my anti-Treaty campaign, which is why I haven’t mentioned it for a year or more. This is a very old post.

    If anyone died for our flag, they must have been mad.

    I suggest they did not die for the flag. I suggest they died for their country, and the democratic right for the people in that country to decide things by majority vote.

    They did not die so that that country could remain locked in a time warp, nor did they volunteer to fight on the condition that everything must remain the same, or to their liking, in perpetuity.

    That would have been the very opposite of the freedom those soldiers were fighting for.

  16. Instead of a solid black background, any chance of a solid dark green background? The distinctive dark green of the NZ forests and ferns always makes me remember home.

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