24 Mar 2019

National identity and the use of flags with Malcolm Mulholland

From Te Ahi Kaa, 6:06 pm on 24 March 2019
Malcolm Mulholland at Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi, Whakatane.

Malcolm Mulholland at Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi, Whakatane. Photo: RNZ/Justine Murray

The symbols used on Flags as part of the New Zealand history forms the basis of research by author and academic Malcolm Mulholland.

The colour red in some flags depict the state of tapū (prohibition), other symbols on flags include the southern cross, the union jack and the crescent moon. Mulholland says that when it comes to flags, its largely about code-breaking. Even subtle symbols can represent an event in history.  Flags and national identity forms the basis of the Palmerston North PhD.

“I was really interested to know what Māori input if any had been given when New Zealand decided upon the flag that rep us today, so I ask that question not only in relation to the flag but also to the name new Zealand, so I was looking for symbols of nationhood, the conclusion was that Māori were not involved, we were not consulted, we weren’t even in the room.” he says.

Malcolm Mulholland is finishing his Phd into flags and national identity.

Malcolm Mulholland is finishing his Phd into flags and national identity. Photo: RNZ/Justine Murray

The New Zealand flag was created in 1869 based on the different designs of the Australian Colonies. The subject of the flag formed national discussion in 2015 when the then led National Government's referendum to keep the current flag or vote for a new design.

Mulholland was a member of the flag consideration panel at the time to take the issue of a new flag to the rest of the country that included Beatrice Faumuina, Kate De Goldi and Hana O Regan.

“I can in part remember attending a hui at Te Tii marae which was animated to say the least, but I also have some good memories about that process, I guess the overall lesson I got from it is that people do care about flags, when we started the process a lot of the comments made was oh who cares about the New Zealand flag, well in a fortnight you pretty much knew where people stood on the issue.” he says.

As part of Te Putake o Te Riri symposium into the use of flags on the battlefield, Mulholland discusses his research.

Malcolm Mulholland was a member of the Flag Consideration Panel in 2015 - 2016.

Malcolm Mulholland was a member of the Flag Consideration Panel in 2015 - 2016. Photo: RNZ/Justine Murray