Season’s column, March 2016
Monday, March 7, 2016
Change the flag to honour the fallen
We are a fiercely proud nation. Internationally, New Zealand has an outstanding reputation.
But few foreigners recognise our flag.
When they think they do, all too often they're looking at Australia's.
Legend has it that former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans once picked up a large New Zealand flag at the formal opening of an international forum and proudly marched on to stage with it during the welcoming ceremony, leaving New Zealand's Don McKinnon with the dilemma of whether he should follow bearing the Australian flag.
Recent Australian and New Zealand Prime Ministers tell similar stories of having each other’s flag displayed behind them while addressing international gatherings.
Such confusion happens all too frequently.
Last month a sign-writer put the Australian flag on the side of New Zealander Hayden Paddon’s car as he commenced his impressive performance in the Rally of Sweden, and countless top Kiwi sportsmen and women have experienced similar mistakes. Many of them, including Paddon, Richie McCaw, Maria Tutaia, Mahe Drysdale and Dan Carter, are supporting change.
I agree with them and will vote for Kyle Lockwood’s Silver Fern with the Southern Cross design in this month's binding referendum.
I'm not advocating widespread change. I don't want to change our constitutional arrangements, nor our beautiful national anthem. Both of those serve us well and are representative of who we are.
We've already had three flags in our brief history but New Zealanders have never before had the chance to choose. Our current flag is a colonial relic which was imposed upon our ancestors in 1902. We've moved a long way since those early days.
We long ago ceased to be a British colony, and it’s an anachronism in the 21st century for an independent nation to have another country’s flag on our own. Can anyone imagine another country putting our flag on theirs?
Even in 1939, Michael Joseph Savage declared “where Britain goes, we go”, when taking New Zealand into WW2. Back then, we looked to the UK to lead “the empire” and consume all our exports. But in the early ‘70s all that changed as Britain turned to Europe and the common market, and we are a very different, multi-cultural nation today. Britain has a wonderful flag – but it’s their flag, not ours.
Sadly, and unlike citizens of many other countries, few of us fly our current flag. I hope that will change if we have one that is distinctive and representative of modern New Zealand.
Canada did just that in 1965. Previously, they had a similar design to ours, and they had the same debate before adopting the Maple Leaf. Now they have perhaps the world's most recognisable flag. No Canadian would go back to their old one!
The Silver Fern is our symbol, recognised everywhere. Our sports teams wear it with pride. Let’s put it on our flag, along with the Southern Cross – a nice blend of old and new.
I agree with those who say that Lockwood’s design isn’t perfect. But if we wait for unanimity about an alternative design, it will never happen. The important thing is that it displays the two symbols of our country that make us distinct, whereas our current flag could be any country’s flag. The Silver Fern with the Southern Cross flag could only be New Zealand’s. Let’s embrace it!
Some are criticising the process, but it’s exactly what the Labour and National parties promised in their 2014 election manifestos, and most New Zealanders voted in support.
Our flag is about who we are, not politics. Who cares, or will remember, whose idea it was to change? Canadians don’t. Let's all do it as New Zealanders!
But my main reason for seeking change, as we mark the Centennial of World War One, is to honour the legacy of those who have fought, and in many cases died, serving New Zealand in the world's major conflicts.
I am the great-grandson, grandson, son and nephew of New Zealanders who served our country during the Boer War, WW1 and WW2. I have huge respect for all who have served in our Armed Services, and I reject the argument that changing the flag would be disrespectful to them.
No one “died for a flag”. They defended our democracy, freedom and values. My grandfather’s Boer War medals, which I inherited, included a Silver Fern badge with the words “South Africa” on it. I wear it proudly. Our current flag had not been adopted then.
The Anzacs typically served under the Union Jack at Gallipoli and on the Western Front. The Silver Fern appears on many military uniforms. Most significantly, New Zealanders who died in those conflicts are buried in war cemeteries with the Silver Fern, not the flag, etched on their headstones.
The Silver Fern is on the back of my father’s WW2 NZ Defence Medal. His brother was killed in action in 1945, and is buried in Forli’s military cemetery alongside many other New Zealanders – all of whom rest in peace under the Silver Fern. I never met Uncle Ken, but I’m fiercely proud of his sacrifice.
What better way to honour the fallen, especially as we mark the centennial of WW1, than to put on our flag the emblem on New Zealanders’ memorials?
Photo caption: Tim Macindoe’s uncle was killed in action in WW2 and is buried in Italy under the Silver Fern