Saturday, 16 May 2015

Fuelling the Flag Debate, my Two Cents Worth.

Whatever it looks like, a flag is simply an emblem that denotes nationhood and identity, to those that serve under it, and to the greater world.  It's usually representative of beliefs, history and vision.  That all countries in the world have a flag is a testament to the importance of having one.  But as years and centuries go by, flags change to signal in diversity, change of pseudo political boundaries, and changing attitudes in society.  By and large however there are large similarities between the old and new flags, just subtle differences in what is represented.

New Zealand was first "settled" by a Polynesian population some 1000 years ago.  Sea travelers of
great daring, they brought to this country a new culture and lifestyle.  They also brought beliefs, lore and taonga.  Each iwi had it's Pou, signifying all three and for centuries they lived under those Pou.  They didn't know what a flag was, and didn't need one, deeds were done in other manners and acts under those Pou.  But even with all the dissent and wars between iwi and hapu one thing stood firm.  A sense of Nationhood and respect for the country they found themselves living in.  All Iwi and Hapu knew the country as Ao Te a Roa, Land of the Long White Cloud.  And all place names were largely the same, with maybe some dialectal differences.  The lores were similar, the beliefs similar and the taonga of a similar ilk.

Now in 1642, the name Zeeland came into being when Dutch explorer Abel Tasman rediscovered this land of ours, but for some reason, the country was largely ignored, for another 134 years when British Royal Navy captain and explorer/surveyor James Cook also rediscovered this land.  He knew his history and as a British subject claimed the new name New Zealand for Britain and King (Under our first flag, the Union Jack).  This land fell under The British Empire.  From 1795 the first visitors en masse arrived, sealers and whalers and some settlements were established, though at the time there was no governance.  As the arrivals increased and it was clear a new society was in the making and laws and protection of citizens was required, New Zealand became a protectorate under the Governer of New South Wales and the Union Jack.  In 1826 the first large scale immigration commenced of British peoples to this country when the New Zealand Company was set up under Wakefield.  At that time the only flag was the Union Jack still, or flags of other immigrants and their countries.

Skip forward to 1836.  New Zealand's official first flag, the flag of the Confederation of United Tribes. There is a lot of feather ruffling when this flag is mentioned as a possible new New Zealand Flag.  Many see the word Tribe and think it's a flag that represents dissident Maori of the time.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  This flag was designed by a group headed by James Busby, a British resident, and ratified by King William IV.  So officially it is the first flag of New Zealand.  However it still looks like a British Standard (if one looks at the Royal Navy's White Ensign).  This flag flew in this country until the Treaty of Waitangi was signed (and probably by some a great deal later) and was replaced by deed with two flags, the current one and more officially the Union Jack.  In 1901 a law was passed to say the current New Zealand Flag was the official flag of this country.

There have been several attempts over the past 100+ years to change the flag, either minutely (adding a Maori symbol - Prime Minister Peter Fraser 1940's, told to leave it after the war and never revisited) and several times since 1978 to actually change that flag completely.  The 1978 event drew 600 designs but it came down to three flags in the end, the current one, the Confederation of United Tribes one, and another design, and as there was no clear winner the status quo stood.  Several times over the past 40 years since ministers of the crown (both Labour and National) have made proposals but to no avail.

So why am I a proponent of change?  Yes I acknowledge history and I also acknowledge that lives were lost under that flag.  But I feel going forward, with less wars and more peace, lives will no longer be lost under A Flag and we need to express our identity on the world stage.  Our flag has been compared often to the Australia one.  Our Flag does not represent our new national identity.  Our Flag needs the stand out as ours and ours alone.  And it needs to be special, not for the world, but for us as a nation.  I am not a member of the British Empire (we haven't been since the 40's), I am not a subject of the Queen and her Flag and many in this country aren't.  So the Union Jack has to go.

The second unofficial New Zealand Flag is the Silver Fern on a Black Flag, seen in all sports arena in this nation and worldwide.  A simple yet memorable design. So why not incorporate the best of both designs? Here is the one design I really like. Retains the colours of The Crown and British heritage, but two main emblems are representative of Ao te a Roa/New Zealand.

I also made a design myself some years back that could also, with some professional touches, be considered.  It's a variant of the Black Silver Fern flag, with Red White and Black stripes on top, reflecting Tino Rangitiratanga, Red White and Blue stripes on the bottom representing the Crown, and the Southern Cross left corner replacing the Union Jack and Silver Fern planted where it should be. I feel our flag also has to respect the Treaty of Waitangi Principals.

I have recently been following a website set up to foster the referendum.  I was referred there by a Navy mate who was pro old flag and he passed several comments in our discussion that many were against the change at that website.  So I looked and yes there appeared to be a lot of dissent, but then I looked closer.  About 30% of respondents weren't against changing the flag, they were upset that $27 million was being spent to do this referendum for the new flag and seemed not to care less about a flag, and if saying they opposed it appeared to be due to the cost.  So that left 70% of respondents to check and when one looked closely the split was about 40% for status quo and 30% for change.  Proponents of status quo are quoting 70-80% are in favour of keeping the old one.  Bollocks!

My history with our flag is long and probably more clear cut given my background.  I joined the Navy in 1975, to serve for Queen and Country.  We learnt early we had to salute the Flag as an honour to the Queen.  That was hard and fast and for years that was my life.  But as I grew older and more in tune with the Real New Zealand I began to shift my thinking and started to salute that flag as an emblem of our nationhood, Country first with acknowledgement we had a Royal head of state.  I saluted that flag every day for 26 years not just because I had to, but because I felt it was in me to do so.  After a number of years being out of the service I started to question my beliefs.  What did New Zealand really stand for?  And more recently I have been involved with an uncle in researching early New Zealand colonial occupation and many injustices are becoming evident, not just settlers on Maori, Crown on Maori, but also settlers on settlers and Crown on settlers.  Some are appalling and most in the Name of the Crown.  That the Crown is represented by the Union Jack on our flag now galls me.

And what of the Crown?  A British Government subservient to HM the Queen and representative of Empire ties, in the seventies decided to join the European Union.  Not a biggy you say?  For many years New Zealand's sole income was from Lamb/Butter trade to Great Britain and when Great Britain joined the EU pressure was put on them by mainly France to drop our imports and deal solely through the EU.  This lead to a sudden issue for New Zealand, remain an Empire state, or go global.  In some respect it was the making of the nation that we now live in, we became a global economy.  But those severed ties hurt and hurting shouldn't be reflected in an emblem that represents our nationhood.  Later ties were severed militarily when the UK cut back it's defense spending and we were largely left to defend ourselves with our close neighbour Australia.  And with ANZUS gone in the mid 80's we were well and truly adrift and a Nation largely fending on our own.  And as such we should have a flag that represents that change.

I admire colonialists that still foster their British Heritage, but New Zealand society is now so diverse that true British Loyalty is a passing thing.  Time to bury the past, still acknowledge it in some small detail, but represent our country in a light that our children and future generations can encompass and be proud of.

Finally the "They Died Serving Under Our Flag"argument  Purely a romantic ideology.  British Colonial Soldiers died under the Union Jack as did the ones that fought in the Boer War.  New Zealand Soldiers in WWI and WWII and Korea died serving their country and the Empire largely under British command.  The cry then was For King, then Country.  I have this thought that many New Zealanders think our troops carried the Flag into Battle (read the famous Iwo jima ).  In all my time in researching and from naval experience I have never seen a New Zealand Flag in battle except on warships  So please, in this debate, put that romanticism aside and be pragmatic.  Honour our past by presenting the future.

I know these thoughts are mine and mine alone, but I am also aware many out there can't put a voice to their thoughts.  I know many will refute and dispute my assertions.  That's fine, healthy debate is good debate.  Feel free to comment or put me right on my claims if you feel I need reeducating.  Ka kite ano..

And edited 12/12/2015 to display the chosen flag referendum to go up against the old one. A fine result.

1 comment:

  1. I personally think its a waste of taxpayers money to change the flag. Whats wrong with the flag we have now? wouldn't money be better served going towards child poverty in NZ, the welfare system, health system, in particular the mental health side, as there are still not enough adequate facilities for those who are struggling from mental health issues in some towns through NZ. The government has its priorities all skewed, worry about the people worry about peoples needs and how can better services help those needs, much more so than a dumb flag.