John Langley: Olympics was a vote for a new flag

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Over the past decade or so there has been much discussion about whether New Zealand should become a republic. While this debate has not been driven in any clear and systematic way by anyone, least of all respective governments, there are certain signs that might edge us to that point.

One such move was to sing the first verse of our National Anthem in Te Reo. When Hinewahi Mohi first sang our song in Te Reo in 1999 it caused outrage. Now, who doesn't sing our song in Te Reo? Well, apart from those caught in a time warp or the most red-necked of our citizenry. This small change took a staggeringly ordinary ditty and turned it into a national song that brings a tear to our eyes when sung.

What brings a greater tear to our eyes is that, while those of us getting older, those who are old already and those who are aged and infirm might struggle with the "new" words, our kids don't. Look into the crowd at any test match and you will see the gusto with which our tamariki and mokopuna rip into it.

In recent years even those who are older are getting stuck into it as well. This is a good example. This augers well for our future. We are starting to get it.

Our children and young people not only "digital natives" but are becoming "cultural natives" as well.

They are the best evidence we have that we are growing up as a nation and to a large degree we have our education system to thanks for this. While there are those who continue to take pot shots at what the system does and those who bleat endlessly on about political correctness, the observant among us can see what is happening here and should take refuge in the progress.

All of this is why the Olympics is so important. It is essential to our planet. For two wonderful weeks people put down their arms, park their differences and get back to understanding what it means to live on the earth with all of those around us. It is a party that gets us back to the basics of who we are - fun and physical stuff. It is also a chance for nations to continue to define themselves.

I don't know about you but it is not just Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps, our rowers and Valerie Adams who represent the best, it is the huge victory for the young Saudi women who were there and broke down a barrier or three, the folk from Afghanistan who, against all odds, were there with pride and those of no fixed nation who had the gumption to turn up because the cause was bigger than that of any country.

So, what little bit of progress can we make in New Zealand as a result of all this? If some things come in little steps maybe it is time for us to take another. This step is about those images that we want the world to see that symbolise who we are and who we want to be rather than who we have been. It should be an image that has clout and that all people recognise when they see it. It should be about who we are and what we see in ourselves.

That image is the silver fern on a black background.

The uniforms of our athletes in London carried this image. Our team strips to a woman and man carried this image, the flags flying from the supporters carried this image, our great football and netball teams carry this image and it is the flag I flew on my house during the Rugby World Cup.

This is the modern image of Aotearoa New Zealand.

It is the most distinctive symbol we have. Yet when our somewhat insipid flag gets raised up the pole at these events there is no sign of this symbol. What others see is a vestige of the past and nothing much that is relevant to New Zealand today. Let's cut to the chase - most people in the world wouldn't even recognise it.

It seems to me that just as we "voted" in terms of our acceptance of a "new" national anthem, so we have voted in terms of what we want raised up the flagpole to represent who we are. There has never been a better time for any government of whatever hue to take an initiative and get this sorted once and for all.

As a proud New Zealander when I see my flag go up the pole I want everyone to know where it comes from and who we are.

A small step towards other things? Perhaps. So, let's take them when the opportunity arises.

Dr John Langley is an Auckland educationalist.

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