1 Sep 2015

Flagged flags - what could have been

3:32 pm on 1 September 2015

OPINION: Well, I sure hope you like ferns. In the wake of today's announcement of the final four flag options, also known as 'three lumpy ferns and a token koru', let's raise a glass to 10 great flags that didn't make it, and say goodbye to what could have been.

RED PEAK - by Aaron Dustin

Red Peak - Aaron Dustin

Red Peak - Aaron Dustin Photo: SUPPLIED

Rest in peace, 'Red Peak'. This was my favourite of the official longlist of 40. Simple, strong, distinctive. The colours give a subtle nod to the old flag but look distinctly New Zealand. And, to me, a nod to the past is all we need if the exercise is about moving forward. In looking for a flag that draws on our history and own distinctive visual language, it seems crazy to rest that entirely on a literal symbol and ignore what is right under our nose.

Here Dustin references tāniko weaving. That's cool, and smart. Plus, it looks like a bloody flag and not like a cut-price Lenco bootleg sports uniform logo.

UNITED PACIFIC STARS - by Aaron Dustin

United Pacific Stars - Aaron Dustin

United Pacific Stars - Aaron Dustin Photo: SUPPLIED

While Dustin's 'Red Peak' grew on me as my favourite of the official longlist of 40, I actually think he had some that were even better. Here he takes the 'United Tribes' flag - New Zealand's first flag - and gives it a modern update. I like that the stars are influenced by Pasifika designs. And it looks like a flag.

TUKUTUKU 2 - by Aaron Dustin

Tukutuku - Aaron Dustin

Tukutuku - Aaron Dustin Photo: SUPPLIED

OK, one more Dustin design. Here he references tukutuku panelling to produce a design that is striking, confident, and distinctively New Zealand. This flag says "this country is here to kick arse". The fern flags say "this intermediate hockey team missed the bus".

MIGRANT BIRD - by Malcolm Dale

Migrant Bird - Malcolm Dale

Migrant Bird - Malcolm Dale Photo: SUPPLIED

Look, we're making a new flag. It's an opportunity to create a new symbol. I think the biggest mistake made by the flag selection panel was to miss this point - we don't have to whack an existing symbol onto the flag for people to recognise it.

Here, we can create an entirely new symbol. Getting stuck on existing cliches like ferns and kiwi shows a lack of imagination and foresight. Would anyone have recognised the new South African flag before it was announced? Why does that matter?

That's why this one interested me. Why not the tern as a symbol for a nation of migrants, surrounded by ocean?

NZ FLAG - by Michael Smythe/Gordon Walters

NZ Flag - Michael Smythe/Gordon Walters

NZ Flag - Michael Smythe/Gordon Walters Photo: SUPPLIED

I've already written about why I liked this one. Bold and distinctive - I take one look at it and think Māori/Pākehā, or land/sea, or future/past or north/south. It is modern and timeless at the same time. And I don't buy the "looks like an ISIS flag" argument. New Zealand will outlast ISIS. Well, I hope so.

TUKUTUKU 02 and WHARENUI 02 - by Kris Sowersby

Tukutuku 02 - Kris Sowersby

Tukutuku 02 - Kris Sowersby Photo: SUPPLIED

Wharenui 02 - Kris Sowersby

Wharenui 02 - Kris Sowersby Photo: SUPPLIED

There is an old adage that if designers do their job well, they're invisible. Unfortunately, that means our great designers are nationally anonymous. Let me tell you, if designers were All Blacks, right now Kris Sowersby would be Richie McCaw. (In my mind - I'm sure other designers will disagree.) The point is: he is good. Really good. The kind of person you might think might be pretty handy for a task like this. Or the new currency while we're talking about missed opportunities.

I love these two. Bold, strong, memorable. Beautiful, even.

TUKUTUKU SOUTHERN CROSS (2) - by Michael Reuvecamp

Tukutuku Southern Cross (2) - Michael Reuvecamp

Tukutuku Southern Cross (2) - Michael Reuvecamp Photo: SUPPLIED

TO AO MARAMA - by Stephen Canning

Te Ao Marama - Stephen Canning

Te Ao Marama - Stephen Canning Photo: SUPPLIED

I'm not totally against referencing the past, or existing symbols, or the current flag. Here, we see two examples of modern, updated Southern Cross designs that are clever, bold and modern. Stephen Canning uses stylised stars to retell the story of creation in 'Te Ao Marama', and Michael Reuvecamp strips it back even further to draw a parallel between the stars and tukutuku panelling.

FIRE THE LAZAR - by James Gray

Fire the Lazar - James Gray

Fire the Lazar - James Gray Photo: SUPPLIED

And, lastly, perhaps the most visionary of all. On a day like today, I wonder: are the angry green rays coming out of the kiwi's eyes, or were they piercing into them all along? Rest in peace, laser-eyed kiwi, we hardly knew you.

Toby Morris is an Auckland-based illustrator and comic artist. He is the creator of the Pencilsword and also half of the Toby and Toby duo behind the series 'That is the question' at radionz.co.nz.

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