I've just about had the flag up to my eyeballs. After March, I don't want to hear so much as a whisper of the word "flag" for a very long time. I'm flagged out.
Who knew a piece of fabric could inspire such mind-numbing and tedious national debate? Or that we wouldn't have a single designer on the committee tasked with choosing the emblem that is to represent us henceforth? Or that we'd be implored by sporting heroes to give our votes to a design that frankly looks like a tea towel? These are strange times indeed.
Yet through it all the New Zealand flag has flown on, unfazed by the pretender attempting to usurp it. While the Lockwood flag (otherwise known as the Weet-Bix flag, the fish skeleton flag, or the clip-art flag) has attracted the backing of a group of rich and powerful New Zealanders with advertising dollars to fritter away, the New Zealand flag has honoured the fallen on the fifth anniversary of the Christchurch earthquake, taken its place on Waitangi Day beside the Tino Rangatiratanga flag and represented our country around the world, as it has done for generations.
With all due respect, I don't give a hoot what the Prime Minister, Richie McCaw and Dan Carter think about the flag. To me, the relationship Kiwis have with their flag should be wholly their own. They are absolutely entitled to their own views, but it is not for All Black legends or a leader democratically elected to serve all New Zealanders, to try to tell us what to think, much less how to vote in this ballot of lasting national significance.
While I totally respect the right of all NZ citizens to have an opinion about our flag, seeing elected officials pushing the Lockwood flag makes me decidedly uneasy. Surely, if a flag change were to be this Government's legacy, the honourable thing would be to allow New Zealanders to champion their chosen alternative without seeking to influence the outcome. That, to me, would've demonstrated true leadership.
Our flag is more important than any individual. It will outlive any political leader or rugby player. It will fly atop the Beehive whether National or Labour are in Government. It should be apolitical, because it will represent us all. A flag is meant to unite us, and if there is one thing this endless referendum process has proven, it's that the Lockwood flag does nothing but divide us.
When I think of New Zealand, I think of a nation of brave, bold, creative and talented people. We like to say we "punch above our weight", and by and large we do. As a country that produced Lorde, Sir Peter Jackson, Kate Sheppard, the All Blacks, Whale Rider, and Sir Edmund Hillary, any flag seeking to represent us should be worthy of such an honour. If we are to change our flag, it must be to a design that we can be proud of, that lights a fire within us.
Yet even among those who want a flag change, the Lockwood flag is divisive. You could almost hear the nation's hearts sinking when the shortlist was announced. When the Lockwood flag limped through the first referendum (beating its closest rival by a tiny margin) many sworn change advocates mournfully said they'd back our current flag rather than vote for the insipid alternative.
When it comes to representing our nationhood, nothing but the best will do. And the best possible New Zealand flag is well within our reach. If we'd only enlisted the expertise of our many world-class designers and artists, we may have been facing a very different decision next week. Instead we had a taxpayer-funded national "best drawing" competition judged by a group of people with absolutely no design experience. It's as much an insult to our designers and our artists as it is to the NZ people to be lumped with such a dud option.
A few weeks ago I saw a photo of the two flying side by side: the New Zealand flag unfurling in a flash of deep, majestic blue and red, and the Lockwood flag looking like a bad Year 9 social studies project. It is hardly the "strong brand" the pro-change club has told us we apparently need. I'm not sure whether it's because I've stood and sung the national anthem before our flag so often, but I do feel emotionally and spiritually attached. Even so, I couldn't help but be struck by the sense of wasted opportunity in that pale and uninspired design flapping dully in the wind.
And as for the Prime Minister saying we'll never revisit the flag, it's nonsense. We can revisit the flag at any time the people truly call for change, and we'll have an example of what not to do. But to change simply for the sake of change disrespects the importance of our national identity.
The thing is, I doubt even the pro-Lockwood campaigners could look New Zealanders in the eye and say, hand on heart, that this alternative flag is the best flag they could have imagined for Aotearoa. Until there is such a design, one capable of flying alongside Tino Rangatiratanga (now that is a well-designed flag, whatever you think of its connotations), of representing us in times of triumph and in times of tragedy, of inspiring a rush of love for our homeland here in New Zealand and overseas, I'll be voting for our current flag.
That is my opinion, and my opinion alone. My only hope is that all New Zealanders (particularly young New Zealanders, as our voter turnout is generally low) will vote for the flag they believe in their hearts is truly worthy of representing this fine nation. A taonga for us all.
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