A new New Zealand flag?

Sure, I think the New Zealand flag could do with a spruce up. The Union Jack doesn’t mean a whole lot to me anymore. My allegiance to the top left corner of our flag is limited to cheering for James Bond’s parachute in The Spy Who Loved Me and some fondness for the English friends I’ve met since they came to live in Tauranga.

My main problem with the Union Jack is that it’s really hard to draw. It’s a complicated collection of reds, whites and blues that perpetually confused me as a crayon-wielding kid. Is it a cross on top of an X or is it a motley collection of triangles? My childhood pictures of flags always sucked, unless I was drawing Japan.

Obviously we shouldn’t change our national flag on the basis of crayon frustration. When you weigh up the upheaval and expense that comes with changing something as ubiquitous as a nation’s flag, you need the reasoning to be pretty solid.

Let’s not forget that people have fought and died under our current flag. I wonder if this whole question would take on a different tone if we were asking it around ANZAC Day rather than Waitangi Day?

Every single one of us has a different idea about what it means to be a New Zealander. Your definition of New Zealand depends on your culture, your age and where you’ve lived.

I didn’t fight any wars for this country. I grew up in safety riding my BMX without a helmet, watching A Dog’s Show and trying to pop the silver cap off the morning milk bottle without splurting cream everywhere.

For me, being a kiwi kid was cheering for John Walker’s four minute mile and wanting to hit sixes like Lance Cairns. My All Blacks won the 1987 World Cup.

If there’s one thing I love about our history it’s that we ended up wearing black on the sports field. Out of all the countries in the world, we’re the ones who get to be Darth Vader at the Olympics.

That doesn’t mean our national flag should be black. There’s more to this country than a rugby team.

I’d like our flag to keep the southern cross and at least some of its blue background. Delving into what I think defines New Zealand, the stars on our flag grow strangely important to me. They describe where we are in the world, which just happens to be a long way from everywhere else.

If you were to turn off the internet you’d find that we’re still a little country floating alone in the Pacific. I’m attracted to the visual poetry of those four stars hovering over the blue ocean.

That’s just my opinion. You and four million other people will have four million other opinions. We are as diverse a nation as we’ve ever been. How are we ever going to agree on one little flag?

Updating the flag would be a milestone in our nation’s history. It needs to be done properly. The timing should be deliberate and appropriate. It’s not something you do on a whim before the next election. You have to take the nation with you, a near impossible task. It will require a process that’s backed up with a lot more substance than flicking out a quick vote for the prettiest picture.

I don’t know how that process should run, but when a new flag is finally hoisted I want to be proud to fly it for my country. That’s where we all need to end up.

How we get to that point matters. The flag changing process should aim for the lofty objective of producing a nation of proud New Zealanders rather than a nation of graphic design experts.

First published in Bay of Plenty Times 7 February 2014. Reproduced with permission.