Architecture, Basin Reserve, Beehive, Dominion Post, Kilbirnie Indoor Sports Centre, Taj Mahal toilets, The Cake Tin

The Evans Bay Turtle

What is it about Wellington and its circular landmarks with eccentric nicknames?

The under-50s won’t remember when the twin-domed Welsh Dragon Bar in the middle of Kent and Cambridge Terraces used to be a public toilet block, known by all as the Taj Mahal.

At the far end of the same dual-dragstrip is the Basin Reserve, so named after the 1855 earthquake turned Basin Lake into a swamp, which the council then turned into a sports reserve.

Over in Thorndon there’s the parliamentary Beehive, which Sir Basil Spence designed on the back of a serviette. And the Cake Tin, named by yours truly in response to a call for a nickname by the Evening Post’s Angus Morrison.

(Note: popular rumour has it that the Cake Tin was named by an Auckland talk show host, which is why it wasn’t popular for a long time with Wellingtonians. Still others say it was Andrew Mehrtens. Being a rather obvious name, it was probably all three of us.)

And now we have a new stadium to name: the Kilbirnie Indoor Sports Centre in Evans Bay. It’s not quite circular, but near enough.

The Dom Post’s Hank Schouten is calling for nicknames, so I sent in this letter:

Like the Cake Tin, the new Kilbirnie Indoor Sports Centre is a good example of smooth, single-minded design.

Now, what to call it?

I worry that the architects’ favourite, The Limpet, while anatomically accurate, might be a bit, well, limp to catch on.

So what about the Saucer (as in flying), the Clam, the Oyster, the Stingray, the Flounder, the Slater or the Frisbee?

(Had they built it where Councillor Andy Foster wanted, it could have been the Downtown Indoor Sports Centre — DISC.)

A friend of mine argues noisily for The Trilobite, a creature I had not heard of, but which it clearly resembles.

But the nickname with the best combination of stickability and seaside relevance would have to be the Turtle.

What do you think? Feel free to suggest a name of your own. I may run a poll of the best of them.

But to me, if I squint as I drive round the bays I see a beached, bleached white turtle shell whose occupant is wisely staying indoors.

(As well he might. When I drove past on Monday, there was thick snow just around the corner in Shelly Bay.)

Capitalism-optimism, Eco-pessimism, Global warming, Hans Rosling, Lord Monckton, Socialism-pessimism, Tim Lambert

To socialist-pessimists from capitalist-optimists: Cheer up!

A word to all you red-green (and, of late, yellow) malcontents who infest the comments section of this blog with your relentless nit-picking and overweaning planetary pessimism.

Whether you like it or not, guys, (and I know you don’t), you are members of a species with a stellar record of problem-solving.

I’m very sorry to have to say that, but the optimists among us (AKA capitalists) just keep dreaming up ways to make our lives better and better.

Including yours. Have you noticed? I guess not. It’s not really in your interests to look.

Despite the best efforts of communism and socialism (which I call Applied Pessimism), not to mention eco-pessimism (Applied Pessimism for Profit), things are getting better on this planet all the time.

If you think it’s not, ask yourself: which time and place in history would you like to be transported back to? (When some clever capitalist develops the inevitable time machine, I’m sure that can be arranged.)

When you’re back there in your colonial house or pre-colonial whare, liberated from annoyances like electricity and motor cars and vaccines and flush toilets — as you contemplate your new-found squalor and imminent demise — you may start to feel that life in the 21st century wasn’t so bad after all.

You may be forced to concede that all those gizmos you used to take for granted came to you via the evil capitalist Industrial Revolution and the fertile minds of geniuses with incentives.

As we speak, all over the Third World, that same reprehensible system of market capitalism is lifting millions out of poverty in former socialist-pessimist societies like China and India. 

Like it or not, capitalism has been doing this now for 200 years. Have a look at Hans Rosling’s beautiful moving graph of the Health and Wealth of Nations and you’ll see which nations have gone ahead the fastest — and which haven’t.

And you’ll see that all nations are healthier than they were in 1800. And all but a few corrupt African basket cases are wealthier.

You can’t stand the idea of that, can you? Especially as all your doomsday prophesies never quite complete the journey from wishful theory to reality.

The history of Western civilisation in recent times has been one of relentless, inspiring and beneficial progress.

Yet always you gloom-mongers would have us believe that all we hold dear is about to collapse.

Either it’s our economic system, or our health, or the computer system, or the climate and life as we know it.

The disgraceful thing is how you’re quite happy to frighten the children to further your goals.

But you don’t frighten the grown-ups. That’s because people who’ve been round the clock a few times recognise your tactics. We’ve noticed how most of these scares can be avoided with the payment of a large amount of money to some socialist cause.

Meanwhile society, fueled by capitalism fueled by optimism, advances regardless of your wishes. The rich get richer. And so, as long as their governments aren’t corrupt, do the poor.

So how about dropping your absurd addiction to socialism-pessimism and drink to the good times (ie the last 200 years)?

Your latest crisis of convenience is global warming. Sadly for you, many, if not most, people now agree this is an eco-socialist-pessimist plot to transport us en-masse back to your colonial house.

That’s because, despite all the efforts of the socialist brainwashing factory that purports to be the state education system, these people have somehow retained the capacity for joined-up thinking. You should try it.

Instead of creating diversions and parroting the party line about whether Monckton is qualified to make the sense he makes, how about doing the unthinkable and thinking for yourselves?

Yes I know it sounds an odd thing to suggest.

But how about actually watching his debate with Tim Lambert and making up your own mind?

You can do it in the privacy of your own home, so the Church of Climate Scientology doesn’t have to know.

And you don’t have to worry that Tim doesn’t hold your end up, because he does. He argues his case well. You may even conclude that he won the debate. Or you may be persuaded by Monckton. That’s what an open mind is for.

So have a look. Assess them both on their merits. With your eyepatch off.

And afterwards, if you feel like it, tell me what you thought.

Meantime, I’m raising my glass (which is a lot more than half-full) to my ingenious species and the continued success of capitalism-optimism. 

Tip for right-wing political marketers everywhere:

Our philosophy of freedom and free markets is, above all, the philosophy of optimism. So: own it. Move voters 5% to the right by embracing optimism and optimists as the antidote to socialism and pessimists.

(Note to Nats: optimism does not mean managing socialism with a smile. :-))

Caricature, Grant McLachlan

I’ve been ‘Granted’

Seems Grant McLachlan thinks I’ve got big eyebrows.

Grant sent me this as a parting gift after we collaborated on a couple of projects.

I can’t remember meeting anyone with so many  talents packed into the one brain.

Can you believe that the guy who whipped up this caricature is also a lawyer, an architect, an historian, a screenwriter, a political campaign manager and an inventor?

(Is that the full list? Somehow I doubt it.)

Thanks Grant — fun working with you.

Porirua City Council, Te Rauparaha Arena statues

Political erectness in Porirua

This photo [blurred to conceal the boy’s identity after a complaint from his father] was taken at the 2008 opening of Porirua’s Te Rauparaha Arena [link to press article removed].

In front is [name removed], a descendant of the great chief.

Behind the 11 year old are two chaps who seem  unusually excited to see him. (I think the third one may be texting.)

In fairness to young [name removed], the tattooed flashers’  attentions are nothing personal.

I’ve noticed they’re just as excited to see thousands of other Porirua children.

The kids have to pass a lineup of these wooden woodies on the way to their swimming lessons and basketball games.

Am I the only parent to find this a bit off?

Oh I’m sure there’s a fascinating cultural reason why the Porirua City Council had to erect carvings of violent rapists outside a children’s recreation centre.

But does that mean they’re free to display images which, were they not Maori, would be classed as pornography?

Did the Ngati Toa carvers really have to go so far out of their way to offend?

UPDATE: 8  OCTOBER 2011: I’ve just received a phone call from this boy’s irate father accusing me of using his son’s image for depraved sexual purposes.

He wants to meet me to explain the depth of his offence in person. Otherwise he will go to the police.

I invited him to do just that, as I’m not convinced that a meeting with an enraged descendant of Te Rauparaha would be good for my health.

However, I’m always sorry when something I do creates unintended offence, and I’m sorry that he and his wife feel upset by this post. 

He asked me how I would feel if our positions were reversed. The answer is that they wouldn’t be. I simply would not allow a young son of mine to pose for a newspaper in front of statues of men with erect penises.

If I did, I could hardly claim to be offended by the predictable media reaction.

I had thought I would take the post down, but having looked it up and read the words the man objected to, I now have no intention of doing so.

I stand by every word I’ve written.

But out of respect for the father’s concern, I have now blurred the image, withheld the boy’s name, and deleted the link to the original article.

My verbal apology was not enough for this man. After continuing to berate me for some time, he asked me if I would furnish him with a written apology.

At that point, I lost it. I’ve just woken up after a long day farewelling my father and am in no mood for grovelling. I said, “No” and hung up. 

In case I haven’t made myself clear, I certainly am sorry for having caused him offence, but certainly am not sorry for highlighting yet another New Zealand cultural double standard.

UPDATE : 8 NOVEMBER 2011: Here’s a short testimonial to the character of Te Rauparaha from A Mission of Honour by John McLean:

“The demon devoured all his prisoners, himself tearing open the living mother and holding the half-formed embryo upon a pointed stick in the flames to be afterwards devoured.”

That was from the diary of the ship Acheron, after her Captain Stokes had returned from Te Rauparaha’s killing fields at Kaiapoi.

For the Porirua City Council to honour this monster with his own stadium is akin to the Germans building an Adolf Hitler Gasworks or Phnom Penh opening a Pol Pot Ping Pong Palace.

Lindsay Mitchell painting

Lindsay Mitchell’s fine art

I’ve always thought Lindsay Mitchell was one of our braver  commentators, tackling as she does the thankless subject of welfare.

Lindsay’s not a naturally rambunctious person like many political types.

But those who’ve met her cannot fail to be impressed by her warmth and sincerity.

She’s a volunteer, with great empathy for the women whose lives she seeks to improve.

And she makes sense.

A fan of her letters, Sir Robert Jones came out to launch her ACT campaign in 2008.

(Sadly, Lindsay was insulted with a demoralisingly low list ranking by the local MP and is now lost to the party.)

But as you can see here, there’s another side to Lindsay Mitchell. She’s a magnificent portrait painter, inspired by C F Goldie.

Her deep affection for Maori women may surprise those who equate a hard line on welfare with being anti-Maori.

Until Sunday, a selection of her paintings are on sale as part of an exhibition at the Academy of Fine Arts on Queen’s Wharf.

I went last Sunday and think it’s well worth a visit.

Design, Poetry, Sodden Art, Turner Prize

Owed to installation art

 Talk of the Turner Prize in my last post reminded me of a little poem I wrote about the 2001 prizewinning ‘installation’ below.

Actually, installation is a slight misnomer, since clearly not a lot of installing went on.

The ‘work’, if we can call it that, had the refreshingly self-explanatory title The Lights Going On and Off.

And by all accounts, it delivered on its promise with metronomic efficiency.

And no, in case you’re wondering, that geometrically-appealing ceiling was not part of the exhibit. That’s the aircon. Everything below that is the art con.

This decidedly spare room won British so-called artist Martin Creed the Turner Prize of £20,000. (It’s now £40,000.)  

Before I present my own version of the empty room, you must  read this majestically pompous official justification of the fraud from the Turner Prize website: 

For the Turner Prize exhibition, Creed has decided to show Work # 227: The lights going on and off.

Nothing is added to the space and nothing is taken away, but at intervals of five seconds the gallery is filled with light and then subsequently thrown into darkness.

Realising the premise set out in Work # 232, Creed celebrates the mechanics of the everyday, and in manipulating the gallery’s existing light fittings he creates a new and unexpected effect.

In the context of Tate Britain, an institution displaying a huge variety of objects, this work challenges the traditional methods of museum display and thus the encounter one would normally expect to have in a gallery.

Disrupting the norm, allowing and then denying the lights their function, Creed plays with the viewer’s sense of space and time.

Our negotiation of the gallery is impeded, yet we become more aware of our own visual sensitivity, the actuality of the space and our own actions within it.

We are invited to re-evaluate our relationship to our immediate surroundings, to look again and to question what we are presented with.

Responding to the actual condition in which he has been asked to exhibit, Creed exposes rules, conventions and opportunities that are usually overlooked, and in so doing implicates and empowers the viewer.

‘Allowing and denying the lights their function’ – I love that.

The more cynical media were predictably underwhelmed. Tom Parry from The Mirror wrote:

‘Take a bare white room with a light switching on and off and what have you got? A Turner Prize winner.’

Just as predictably, the artistic mafia leapt to the fraudster’s defence. This from Germaine Greer in the Newsnight Review:

‘He wanted to get the biggest effect with the least effort. It’s the dis-proportion between the effort and the effect.’

No argument there.

But when the Chairman of the British Council for Contemporary Art objected to the awarding of so much financial effect for so little artistic effort, he was rewarded with what an art critic might call the hessian receptacle – but which you and I would call the sack.

In his honour, I penned the following:

SODDEN ART

The exhibit resembles
A large empty room
With a solitary cupboard
Marked TOWELS,
As through the front door
The sophisticates pour,
Oozing glamour
And elegant vowels.

To a volley of cheers
The artist appears!
He’s applauded
And generally fêted,
But no one’s quite sure
What the towels are for;
Then the sprinklers come on
And they get it.

(c) J Ansell 2003

ArcelorMittal Orbit, Architecture

London’s Awful Tower


No contest, is it?

Announced just in time for April Fool’s Day, the practical joke at right is meant to do for the London Olympics of 2012 what the Eiffel Tower did for the Paris Universal Exposition of 1889.

No, I don’t mean “Make it a laughing stock”.

To me, this molten mangle looks like the Eiffel Tower after a direct hit by George Jetson.

Its official name is the ArcelorMittal Orbit, after the steel company of the UK’s richest man, Lakshmi Mittal, who’s kindly donating the materials. 

(Salvaged, I suspect, from a decommissioned Blackpool rollercoaster.)

It can surely be only a matter of time before the Sun or News of the World dubs this spaghetti of scaffolding the Awful Tower.

The public reaction has so far been mixed: a mix of contempt, derision and sardonic British resignation.

Architectural historian Gavin Stamp condemned it as a “ridiculous, over-inflated doodle”.

Evening Standard reader Colin Snelling of Melbourne thinks it “looks like an old helter-skelter from a Butlins holiday camp from the 1950s”.

And I love this gem from John Stallard of Gerrard’s Cross: “Someone should check to see if the Forth Road Bridge is still there.”

The outrage has, of course, drawn praise from the usual quarters, though even that has been strangely muted.

Arts Council chief executive Alan Davey said, “At first sight, it seems an eccentric Meccano-like jumble, but then you see the parabolic beauty characteristic of Kapoor.”

(Er, unless you’re looking at the above official photo, in which case you just see the jumble.)

Kapoor, by the way, is the perpetrator, Anish Kapoor.

My ears pricked up when I heard he’d won a Turner Prize.

This annual insult to the British taxpayer doles out huge prizes for  installations like this (admittedly only a finalist – I suspect the mattress by itself, if accompanied by the regulation ludicrously irrelevant multisyllabic title, would have won).

I once wrote a poem about a Turner Prize winner, which I’ll publish here shortly.

Last word on the Orbit to Colin Snelling: “What an opportunity missed to create an icon for this century.”

(In New Zealand we have a name for that missed opportunity: Te Papa.)

British ensign flags, Flags

12 states discarded Jack, kept Queen


Many people confuse changing our flag with becoming a republic.

But they’re clearly separate issues, as you can see in the chart I’ve compiled below.

New Zealand’s blue ensign is one of 64 former British colonial ensign flags.

Most of which, like ours, are blue.

(Actually, there are many more blue ensigns, if you include states and provinces that were once colonies, and the ensigns flown by dozens of state institutions.)

Of those 64 former colonies, all but 12 now feel independent enough to fly a national flag of their own design.

Some of these countries (Burma, Fiji, Ireland, Somalia, Yemen, Zimbabwe) did not join, have left, or have been suspended by the Commonwealth since  independence.

Others have become republics with their own heads of state.

But 15 remain constitutional monarchies within the Commonwealth, with the Queen as head of state.

Of these monarchies, 12 display no trace of the monarch’s home country on their flags. 

You’ll see on this chart not only how stultifyingly unoriginal our flag is, but also how out of step we are in clinging to mother’s apron strings when mother abandoned us in the 70s to shack up with her neighbours.

 Omission: between Canada and Ceylon above should be this flag of the Cayman Islands. As Jim from the Caymans kindly pointed out in Comments  below, the Caymans still use an ensign flag – one of 14 countries to do so.

Oddly, despite their loyalty to the Union flag, only two of these countries – Australia and New Zealand – remain Commonwealth realms (in other words, have the Queen as head of state). 

The full list of ensign fliers is: Anguilla, Australia, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands, Fiji, Montserrat, Niue, New Zealand, Pitcairn Islands, Saint Helena and Dependencies, the Turks and Caicos Islands and Tuvalu.  

Of the 15 Commonwealth realms outside the UK that retain the Queen as head of state, only Australia, New Zealand and Tuvalu still fly an ensign flag.

The other 12, and the dates they adopted their new flags, are: 

Antigua and Barbuda (1997),  The Bahamas (1973), Barbados (1996), Belize (1950), Canada (1965), Grenada (1974), Jamaica (1962), Papua New Guinea (1971), Saint Kitts and Nevis (1983), Saint Lucia (1979), Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (1985), Solomon Islands (1977) and Tuvalu (1978).

When you slice it up a different way, you see that for 22 of our Commonwealth cousins, a quirky inconsistency is the norm:

10 countries have the British flag on their flag, but do not have the British monarch as their head of state. 

12 countries have the British monarch as their head of state, but do not have the British flag on their flag.

Only 3 countries (Australia, New Zealand and Tuvalu) have both.

I say if 12 countries can discard the Jack and keep the Queen, so can we.

Architecture, Supreme Court

New Supreme Court not world’s ugliest

New Zealand Supreme Court

Scottish Parliament

Good news. Our new brass-clad Supreme Court building, being opened today by Prince William, is not the ugliest public building in the world.

That honour must surely go to the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. 

But I do find the judgment that went into approving the design of our new court a good argument for retaining the Privy Council.

(Yes, this at a time when I’m trying to change the flag.)

In the tradition of Te Papa and the Beehive, Wellington’s architects have once again blown a glorious opportunity to give New Zealand a world class building.

Instead, they’ve produced yet another modernistic eyesore – a poor man’s Bird’s Nest Stadium.

And you and I have stumped up $80 million for a five-person building that looks more like a razor-wire-fenced prison than a courthouse.

It does make you wonder at the quality of decisions that will emanate from this building. Can the best New Zealand minds really think better than the best from a nation of 56 million?

But back to that other provincial architectural embarrassment, the Scottish Parliament. 

I remember walking past it at the end of the otherwise stately Royal Mile and shaking my head in disbelief at this right royal hotchpotch of a building.

Bamboo window covers – how Scottish is that? They’d look more at home on a Maori pa than a Parliament.

In fact, they make our jagged brass pohutukawa seem almost relevant.

Flags, Oregon flag, Trivia

How to compromise your flag

Oregon's State Flag

I was looking for a flag with a beaver on it. Why?

So you could see what the Canadian flag might have looked like had lovers of their national animal had their way – and why it would be just as nutty to put a kiwi on our flag.

And what did I find? That the beaver is also the state animal of Oregon (the Beaver State!)

And that Oregonians must have been similarly split over having fauna on their flag, because they’re the only state to have a different design on each side.

This will be ammunition for the day – and it’s only a matter of time – when some helpful person suggests that a New Zealand flag have the Union Jack or silver fern on one side and the Southern Cross, kiwi or koru on the other.

But back to beautiful Oregon, which maybe should be called the Schizophrenic State. 

A trawl through their state symbols reveals that they also have:

  • a state beverage (milk – believe it or not, so is Kentucky’s)
  • a state dance (the square dance)
  • a state mushroom (no, not magic – that’d be California’s)
  • a state insect (the Oregon swallowtail)
  • a state rock (the thunder egg), and even
  • a state fossil (the Metasequoia).

And let’s not forget: 

  • the state nut (the hazelnut).

On second thoughts, make that the Nutty State.

Hey, let’s put a kiwi on our flag – so we can be the Nutty Country.

But seriously, this is why creative people often seem precious: because they know that compromise kills good design.

When politicians think compromise is cool, you get the Oregon flag. And, of course, Wanganui/Whanganui. 

I hope we’ll take a leaf out of the Canadians’ book and have the courage to be single-minded.

Scroll down to check out the other flag posts – especially the flag poll, the latest variants, and the plan to fly a gigantic fern flag over the Auckland Harbour Bridge on Waitangi Day.

1884 NZ rugby team, Design, Flags, Joe Warbrick, John Diefenbaker, Kenneth Wang, Lester Pearson, Native Rugby Team 1888, NZ Rugby Museum, Skybanners, Tom Ellison

“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.

WHERE DO THE SILVER AND BLACK COME FROM?

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? 

[575429D9-FBD7-A5C6-BD2DF5DBA5BA8FB7.jpg] 
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.