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The flagged flags

Tuesday 1st September 2015

In the wake of today's announcement of the final four flag options, also known as 'three lumpy ferns and a token koru', Toby Morris raises a glass to 10 great flags that didn’t make it, and says goodbye to what could have been. 

RED PEAK - by Aaron Dustin

Rest in peace, Red Peak. This was my favourite of the official longlist of 40. Simple, strong and 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 Taniko weaving, which is cool, and smart. Plus, it looks like a bloody flag and not like a cut price Lenco bootleg sports uniform logo.


While Dustin’s ‘Red Peak’ grew on me as my favourite out of the official longest 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

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 Malcom Dale

Look, we’re making a new flag. It’s an opportunity to create a new symbol, and I think missing this point was the biggest mistake made by the flag selection panel. 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 clichés like ferns and Kiwis 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

I’ve already written about why I liked this one. It's bold and distinctive - I take one look at it and think Maori/Pakeha, 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

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

TO AO MARAMA - by Stephen Canning

I’m not totally against referencing the past, or existing symbols, or the current flag. Here we see two examples of modern updated Southern Crosses that are clever, bold and modern. Stephen Canning uses stylised stars to retell the story of creation, 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

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 lazer eyes Kiwi. We hardly knew you.

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“The Red Peak is growing on me as I learn the stories behind it and see images that support the story...the little red sheds along our railway lines for example.

When I first saw it at the Backbencher draped around Gareth Morgan, it didn't appeal but at that stage I was in love with one of Otis Frizzel's designs.

Now I support this flag being added to the four.

” — Sarndra Flay

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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
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