This Could Be New Zealand’s Next Flag, and It’s a Good One
For months now, New Zealand has been toying with the idea of redesigning its national flag. Today, a new flag design called the Silver Fern, created by architect Kyle Lockwood, won a referendum that could see it adopted as the country’s new official flag.
The referendum doesn’t mean Lockwood’s leaf-and-stars pattern will actually become the new flag; that’s contingent on a vote that will happen in March, when New Zealand’s Electoral Commission will ask voters to choose between it and the current flag, a near-replica of Australia’s flag and spinoff of the United Kingdom’s Union Jack. That’s the impetus of the whole redesign: New Zealand’s adaptation of UK’s flag is an outmoded symbol of its past as a colony of the British Empire. The redesign also notably retains the 1:2 ratio of the current flag. Trivial as that sounds, it’s also the ratio shared by the flags for all of Britain’s Overseas Territories (Australia, the Bahamas, and Ireland adhere to this rule, as well), meaning the new flag’s aspect ratio may itself be a holdover of British imperialism.
The new flag uses a silver fern frond as its primary motif, instead of the Union Jack, and keeps the four stars that decorate the bottom right corner of the current design. The official alternative flag has quite a campaign behind it: Lockwood has a robust website about the design, complete with information on voting and donating. As for the silver fern, it’s a known icon in New Zealand with roots that trace back to the Māori, the country’s indigenous Polynesian populaton. Māori legend has it that the silver fern once helped hunters and warriors find their way home, by reflecting the moonlight and creating a path through the forest.
On his site, Lockwood writes, “the fern is an element of indigenous flora representing the growth of our nation. The multiple points of the fern leaf represent Aotearoa’s,”—the indigenous name for the island country—“peaceful multicultural society, a single fern spreading upwards represents that we are all one people growing onward into the future.” That last bit is some saccharine symbolism, for sure, but that’s hardly uncommon with flag design.
That said, it’s also a smart design. According to experts in vexillology, the study of flag design, a good flag is one you can both recognize immediately and draw from memory. The frond, as a piece of graphic design, makes both possible. It’s almost like a Matisse cut-out in this way: it has a child-like simplicity, but character that won’t be found on another nation’s flag. It’s also already in use, meaning that the fern has some local resonance. The New Zealand national rugby team uses it as its insignia, and it’s used in a smattering of official tourism campaigns. Come March, the world might be seeing even more of it.