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I ❤️ the Silver Fern

Dear John,

It seems my last letter struck a chord with many.

I didn’t set out to advance a movement. I wasn’t even the first to write about the Red Peak flag after the current shortlist was announced. I was simply expressing my disappointment at the options. There seemed to be no choice.

We were promised four choices for the first referendum, but in the end have been presented with a single solution – four variations of a fern.

Here is something that might surprise you … just like you and lots of others, I love the Silver Fern.

It’s an enduring and unique symbol. It’s widely associated with New Zealand and New Zealanders, and is the only symbol most of us would pick if we had to choose a single icon to represent our country. It is something we should all be proud of.

It is most commonly associated with our sports teams and specifically with the All Blacks. But, of course, it goes much wider than that. It’s extensively used, in business and trade, tourism, on our money and our passports, and importantly on the headstones that commemorate our fallen soldiers.

For these reasons I’ve long been an advocate for a Silver Fern flag. I was pleased to see a simple Silver Fern on Black design included in the long list.

But, as we now all know, there are a number of reasons why that sort of simple Silver Fern couldn’t be considered for selection – most importantly that it is almost impossible to design a flag featuring a fern that doesn’t look like one of the many other existing trademarked designs.

Of course, the Silver Fern is not part of our current flag, and whether it’s included in the design of the new flag or not, it will still to be our national symbol. We will continue to use it everywhere we do today, and no doubt find even more uses for it in the future.

That’s not the question. The question is: what is the best design for the flag, given we can’t use the simple Silver Fern?

This is what first attracted me to the Red Peak design. As the designer Aaron Dustin explains on the Red Peak website:

The Red Peak flag was intended to be a ‘new’ symbol that expressed our NZ identity while avoiding the use of Southern Cross, koru, kiwi, and fern motifs.

In just a month, since the long list was announced, and especially in the last week, since the current shortlist was announced, this elegant and considered design has received an overwhelming amount of support, from a wide cross section of New Zealanders. Very few of those people were engaged in this process before, if we’re honest. They are now! This is the first sign that people actually do care about changing the existing flag. Let’s not waste that.

Because it uses an abstract geometric design, its symbolism is less obvious. It isn’t just a rehash of existing symbols to fit on a canvas. You need to take a bit of time to understand the meaning and story behind the shapes and the colours. It allows room for each person to add their own interpretation.

tfss-a2d390ca-8987-4b04-9bc6-374ff29eb489-red-peak-flag

This is why it’s no surprise that when asked, based just on the shapes, it didn’t rank very highly in public polling. It’s like asking people to choose their favourite singer just based on a photo. But, it’s also why, once people were given the opportunity to consider it in context, it has resonated with so many and become their preferred option.

If you reduce many of the great flags to their shapes and colours they are also meaningless. The Japanese flag is just a red circle. The French flag (like a lot of other flags for that matter) is just three rectangles. The Union Jack is just some lines and triangles. The Stars & Stripes is … well stars and stripes. It is the story attached to these shapes and colours which give all of these flags great meaning. And, it’s the same with Red Peak.

The fact that, like them, Red Peak is a simple design, means that it stands strongly alongside all of these examples, and all of the other great flags. The same cannot be said for the other designs in the current shortlist.

Here is another wonderful thing if, like me, you love the Silver Fern on black: the Red Peak design stands strongly alongside the Silver Fern too. It complements. It makes it look better. Again, unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the other contenders, which compete for attention.

Side-By-Side

So, it’s disappointing that the current short list doesn’t include the Red Peak option. It would be great to have the choice, and to leverage all of the engagement and support for replacing the current flag which has been generated in the last week.

However, it’s not too late. It would be really easy to make this change. Even more so, because the current shortlist includes those two identical designs. All Cabinet needs to do is to pick one of those and replace the other with this Red Peak design by Order in Council on Monday. You can do this. Then we can have a process which includes real choice.

That would be choice, eh!

So, John. I ask again, respectfully: why not give New Zealanders a real choice?

Regards,
Rowan.

16 thoughts on “I ❤️ the Silver Fern”

  1. Totally agree with Rowan on this. The Red Peak has grown on me, and certainly seems a better fit for a new flag, particularly because I’ve seen so many designs based on its simple geometry that it’s obvious the design lends itself to embellishment and further interpretation. I wish I could vote for it. I want to vote for it. I want to have the choice to vote for it.
    I’m fairly certain Rowan’s request will fall on deaf ears, and mine too, but the consequence is that the significance of the whole referendum will not make sense without the Red Peak. The political ramifications will be even more disappointment, disillusionment, and feelings of disenfranchisement as people realise that we’re not being listened to. So that’s what this Flag Referendum was meant to accomplish?

  2. You make a good point regarding mixing a fern-based flag with NZ “team” branding. A national flag should stand as a symbol above such logos, not compete with them on the same level. In doing so, it is diminished to yet another leafy-looking thing in the NZ ‘fern salad’. I am at a loss how this supports a “NZ brand”, if such a thing should exist.

    1. Thanks Paul. You’re right. I realised this myself when looking at the fern and koru together on the new Air NZ planes. They are both very strong symbols, but somehow placing them together in combination like this somehow diminishes both. I’m sure designers would have a name for that.

  3. “A real choice” would involve letting us actually see, and actually talk about, and actually hold a referendum on the TPPA.

    As it is, a corporate coup de tête is under-way, and our elected officials are participating in it – so instead of a “real choice”, we’re being thrown “a choice to decide our new national logo”. It’s a distraction – if the TPPA goes through, we won’t be able to pass our own laws without corporate supervision… enough it has leaked re: ISDS for us to know that as an absolute fact. “A choice of flag” is an astonishingly arrogant and patronising consolation prize.

  4. Yes! Can we at least request a response other than a “no comment” form Mr Key. He WANTED public involvement and no he has got it and he is being quiet as a mouse. Time is ticking by and we need to know what would make him stop being so withdrawn. This debate needs to be had

    1. in corrected form… Yes! Can we at least request a response other than a “no comment” from Mr Key. He WANTED public involvement and now he has got it and he is being quiet as a mouse? Time is ticking by and this debate needs to be had. It is not okay to cast aspersions or say we are a small minority or we have motives etc etc. I love the silver fern, that’s a given, but Rowan speaks for many of us when we say we are not at all comfortable with the final 4. And its fixable.

  5. Sadly, all I see is a big ‘A’ which to those of us non New Zealanders who don’t know your history and live on the other side of the world will read as Australia.

      1. I agree, it’s just another angular flag amongst the multitude of angular flags. It won’t be recognisable amongst the masses. At least the silver fern on black is unlike any other flag making it instantly recognisable.

        I don’t buy the “we can’t use a silver fern” argument. That’s just a cop out.

  6. Maybe, if the people of Aotearoa New Zealand hear the story behind this design ie more high profile coverage on main stream media, sports stars promoting it, musicians like Lorde etc (easier said than done of course) then start manufacturing the flag and flying it, start a true movement of the people to have the flag the nation rallies behind, formal referendum or not. Be interesting to see what would happen.

  7. I was equivocal about Red Peak until last week, when my husband and I were watching a football match on telly. It was NZ versus Myanmar from Myanmar, and as the camera panned over the crowd there was a small group of Kiwi supporters waving the Red Peak flag. It looked amazing. I also love the symbolism of this flag.

    I have been supportive of this flag process but the four designs the panel came up with were underwhelming, to put it mildly.

    1. Thanks Anne-Marie. I’m yet to come across anybody who has seen it in the real world, and understood the story, who hasn’t been convinced. Unfortunately in this process they have relied on polling which just asked people to react to the shapes and colours, and it was never going to stack up next to ferns in that process.

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