Flag, Helen Clark

Clark government advised to ensure flag change if public supports it

There was a fascinating revelation in the fine print of Saturday’s Herald article about Helen Clark’s flag preference.

It seems her government was advised in 2004 not to lead any flag debate, but that if there was a mood for change, the government should take steps to drive the change through:

The advice given to Helen Clark was from former Cabinet Secretary Diane Morcom, and the chief executive of the Culture and Heritage Ministry.

Released this week by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, it advised Helen Clark that the Government should not lead the initial stage of the process – public debate about whether to change the flag.

But if it was established that there was wide support to change the flag, the Government should get involved to ensure that the process for change succeeded. If it didn’t succeed it could damage the flag as a unifying symbol.

Well, well, well. This begs the question: is the Key government being given similar advice?


Ansell/Wang silver fern, Flag

Farrar’s impeccable taste in flags

Can’t argue with Kiwiblogger David Farrar’s choice of alternative flag on last night’s Backbenchers. (Click on part 2 of the video – it’s near the start.)

David had told me he was going to be doing the Soapbox spot about flags, and asked me if I could chase down the old and new Canadian flags – to show the improvement.

But he gave me no clue that he was planning to use the above design of Kenneth’s and mine as his preferred NZ flag.

His point was how it would make a better choice than the tino rangatiratanga flag because of the non-racial fern.

It got a pretty good reaction from the audience too, even if one guy did say it looked like the Nike logo :-).

However, my own poll of six Ansell-Wang fern flags currently has this one coming fourth.

If you’re in the voting mood, do take part in my other poll comparing four different styles of fern.

Good also to see Monday’s Herald proclaiming Silver Fern design preferred choice for new NZ flag.

The momentum is running my way on two issues at the moment: for flag change and away from climate change!

Flag, NZ Herald, Silver fern

Scientific poll backs fern flag

The Herald DigiPoll results. Photo / Herald Graphic
A Herald-Digipoll of 600 today echoes last Friday’s less scientific Close Up poll of 12,000 New Zealanders who want to see us adopt a new flag with a silver fern.

Oddly, the greatest mood for change comes from 40-70 year olds and those outside Auckland, with Aucklanders and 18-29 year olds favouring the Union Jack.

That’s the exact opposite of what I would have expected – a campaign for change driven by middle-aged provincials.

(Seems we baby-boomers are an island of radicalism in a sea of conservatism.)

It would now be good to see another poll, independent of the newspaper that’s leading the campaign for change.

It will be too easy for conservatives to view this Herald poll as akin to a Greenpeace poll on global warming.

But this is a great day for those wanting change, as it means the issue will start to move on to the government’s radar.

All the moreso as it reinforces the prime minister’s own instincts about the silver fern being the right symbol.

Ansell/Wang silver fern, Flag

More blue fern flags

In my poll of six Ansell-Wang fern flags, the white fern on blue surrounded by red stars continues to outpoint the fern on black by 28% to 24%.

Here’s a version with the stars separate from the fern, based on a recent design by Kenneth Wang, but wider.

Are we getting closer?

I clearly made a mistake in pushing my black and silver design, which has failed to catch on. As a result, we didn’t raise enough money for an Auckland Harbour Bridge flyover on Waitangi Day.

This was always a possibility, as it scored only 6% in the same poll, but I thought people might agree that it looked better when animated.

Not many did. Lesson learned!

Here’s a more single-minded design without the stars, but relieved by a white panel.

In an email to the NZ Herald, I  justify it as follows:

Royal blue for the sea and our British heritage, white for the mountains and the long white cloud.

Plus the uniquely New Zealand silver fern, the ponga, chosen by the captain of the Natives rugby team  of 1888 because it brought to his mind the Maori proverb “Mate atu he toa ara mai he toa.  Mate atu he tetakura ara mai he tetakura.”

(“When one warrior dies, another arises. When one fern dies, another arises.”)

A blend of land, sea and air, native and colonial, Maori and Pakeha.

Blogger and artist Lindsay Mitchell says one white panel works better than the Canadian-style panel either side of the leaf, and I agree.

I wasn’t sure why, but she says it’s because the Canadian maple leaf is symmetrical, so suits a central position, while the fern is leaning and doesn’t.

If we want to be totally single-minded, here’s the equivalent of the classic black in royal blue.

Meanwhile, Kenneth’s and my fern is getting royally beaten up by Kyle Lockwood in my latest poll. But we’re outscoring the All Blacks’ steak knives logo, which is just as well.

(Don’t tell my old schoolmate Steve Tew or there could be some serious block-voting from a certain office building on the wharf – not to mention five franchises, twentysomething unions and countless clubs. Mum’s the word.)

For some reason, the nzflag.com fern has completely failed to fire in the poll, which I find strange as I like its dynamism.

Perhaps people are saying that it works as a flag campaign logo, but not as a flag.

Anyway, I’m pleased to see the softer, classical ferns prevailing over the sharp, angular versions.

Feedback welcome as always. Are we getting closer with the blue?

All Blacks, Flag, Rugby, Silver fern, Sport, Wales

Welsh fern designer ruffles NZ feathers

Now, by way of balance, some ammo for those who say ignorant foreigners wouldn’t know a silver fern from a white feather.

Seems the Welsh artist who designed the programme for the All Blacks v Neath and Aberavon match in 1954 was not steeped in the icons of his country’s national game.

Perhaps things were busy in the studio that day. Perhaps his boss had given him a quick peek at an All Black jersey, and he’d  concluded, with somewhat curious logic, that the mighty All Blacks played under the  international symbol of cowardice.

Had he been a rugby fan, he’d have known that the only team that wears white feathers is Wales – as shown on this souvenir jersey from their last win over New Zealand earlier in the same tour.

The three white Prince of Wales feathers and the silver fern, memento of the Wales/NZ rugby test, Cardiff, 1953.

(Our feathered enemy won 13-8.)

Flag, John Key, Lester Pearson

PM signs up to fern flag

It may not be his top priority, but Prime Minister John Key has confirmed  he’d like to see New Zealand adopt a silver fern flag.

Would it make a good second term issue, as he once suggested in Opposition?

With the media now stoking the debate, will we see our PM take a leaf out of Canadian PM Lester Pearson’s book by putting a leaf on his country’s flag?

Will John be prepared to face down audiences of angry old soldiers as Pearson did?

At least Key’s hecklers would be nodding nonagenarians rather than the fiery fortysomethings Pearson had to placate only 20 years after WWII.

(Mind you, Pearson was a Liberal, and didn’t have to defend his heretical leanings to a National Party conference.)

Good to have the top man onside as a fern fan. His design instincts are spot-on.

Ansell/Wang silver fern, Cameron Sanders' fern (nzflag.com), Dave Clark's All Blacks fern, Flag, Kyle Lockwood's fern, Silver fern

Fern favourite – but which fern?

Friday night’s Close Up poll of 12341 viewers was a clear sign that when New Zealand changes its flag, it’ll be to a design featuring the silver fern.

Naturally, I’m keen to find out whether Kenneth’s and my design is in with a chance of being that fern.

So I’m testing it here against what I believe are the three most popular contenders: Cameron Sanders’ nzflag.com fern, Dave Clark’s All Blacks logo, and the fern from the well-supported Kyle Lockwood flag.

For ease of comparison only, I’ve put them all on a black background. (I’ve already canvassed people’s colour preferences in this poll.)

To avoid accusations of vote-rigging and bias by adoring readers (I wish), I invite other bloggers, Facebookers etc. to click Share This below and paste this poll into your site.

It’ll be interesting to see whether voting patterns are the same on all sites.

Oh, and if you don’t want a silver fern flag, it would be great if you could  respect the democratic rights of those who do – and by all means vote if you’d like to.

Dick Frizzell flags, Flag, Maori flag, NZ blue ensign, Silver fern, United Tribes flag

62% favour flag change in Close Up poll – blue ensign and silver fern neck and neck

The flag debate which began on this blog has now exploded on to the front page of the Herald and exposed a real mood for change on Close Up.

In tonight’s phone-in poll of 12,000 viewers, only 38% supported the present flag, with 62% wanting a change.

That’s an astonishing result, as the last time I saw a survey more than 60% favoured the status quo.

I found it especially pleasing to see the silver fern almost tied with the incumbent on 37%, even though I’d vote for the present flag over the All Blacks ‘set of steak knives’ logo that was used to represent the fern.

The silver fern was far and away the preferred alternative symbol, with a Dick Frizzell Southern Cross flag (representing ‘others’) scoring 10%, the United Tribes flag 9%, and the Maori flag 6%.

Hone Harawira surprised me by favouring a silver fern on black design as the national flag, though ironically many white liberal make-believe Maori would happily adopt his tino rangatiratanga flag as their own.

Of course, the TVNZ survey was not scientific, being a self-selecting sample, but I was pleased to confirm my long-held view that the fern is the only realistic alternative emblem.

I’d now like to test Kenneth Wang’s and my fern against the All Blacks design, so stay tuned for another flag poll on this site.

Ansell/Wang silver fern, Flag

My New Zealand flag: the Black and Silver


Just as America has its Stars and Stripes, we should fly the Black and Silver.

This was the first of my black designs. I went off it for a while, but now that I can see it “flying” (if it’s not moving, click the flag), I do think those first instincts were correct.

I’ve adjusted it slightly by making the white fern silver, which to me is one step more stylish – not to mention truer to nature.

And the white and silver bars provide relief for the black, which looks too gloomy by itself.

My fern designer Kenneth Wang has suggested a darker silver for the bars, which does make them easier to see.

This 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 flag.

Now here it is in a range of ‘locations’, so you can see how it could do double duty as a national logo.

What do you think? Does the moving flag change your mind about this design?

Can you help Kenneth Wang and me raise the $20,000 we need to make a 1000 square metre (10,000 square foot) flag and get a helicopter to tow it around Auckland for an hour and a half?

If so, please email john@johnansell.co.nz by next Wednesday 20 January.

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.


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.