When New Zealand first raised its current flag, its design deferred to its United Kingdom rulers and bore a striking resemblance to another British colony next door. 100 years later, New Zealand is a diverse, sovereign nation which would also very much like to visually differentiate itself from the Aussies. So New Zealand is looking to its citizens for ideas.
Starting this week, the country is asking residents to submit their ideas for a new New Zealand flag. Later this year, a jury of 12 New Zealand residents — as well as a “cross-party” group of legislators — will choose their four top options from all the submissions, which will be ranked in the first of two national referendums. Then, in the second referendum in 2016, citizens will vote to keep the current New Zealand flag or choose from one of those four options instead.
While many cities have embarked upon crowdsourced logo contests and other ways to rebrand themselves, a new design for New Zealand’s presents a big challenge. Not only does the flag have to separate its identity from Australia, it also must choose whether or not to graphically include any part of its long history in the British Commonwealth. The flag could also attempt to acknowledge New Zealand’s indigenous Maori population, which currently has its own flag. That’s a tall order for a single rectangle.
The history of New Zealand’s flag is complicated and even includes several instances of crowdsourcing designs. Before the Union Jack was planted in New Zealand soil by British troops, a design known as the United Tribes flag was a result of Maori chiefs collaborating to form the country’s first unified government. In 1901 a New Zealander won a competition to redesign Australia’s flag, which might be why it looks very similar to the current design New Zealand officially adopted the next year.
The current New Zealand flag
Today’s flag is a kind of mishmash of concepts that includes a twist on the British Blue Ensign using the stars of Southern Cross, as well as the Union Jack. There have been several attempts to redesign it, including the campaign called Change the NZ Flag which attempted to put a referendum on the ballot as far back as 2005. That group even proposed a flag design, a stylised version of the silver fern logo that’s used for several national sports teams.
A 2005 proposal by Cameron Sanders
Even when the new flag is selected, the change will roll out rather gradually. It will still be completely legal to fly the old flag since these cannot be destroyed. It will also cost the government quite a bit of money to swap the design on official documents and uniforms, which is why some critics are against the change. There is some precedent, however: Fellow British Commonwealth Canada redesigned its flag in 1964. And it’s a winner!
Just looking through the ideas already submitted, many of the designs seem to want to preserve the basic red, white, and blue as well as the Southern Cross. I also noticed hybrids that tried to incorporate the country’s signature Kiwi bird and the Silver Fern. A few are existing designs or popular ones from previous calls for redesigns, like the flags by Kyle Lockwood and Friedrich Hundertwasser. Some would like the Maori flag to be the official flag.
Here are some notable ideas (some smart, some silly) I plucked from the 522 and counting designs submitted along with their comments. The call is open until July 16, so it’s not too late to submit yours.