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Paul Thomas is a Weekend Herald columnist

Paul Thomas: Lorde's success gives country another reason to change flag

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The Union Jack on the NZ flag suggests this country is a British possession. Photo / Richard Robinson
The Union Jack on the NZ flag suggests this country is a British possession. Photo / Richard Robinson

There are only three things wrong with our flag. The presence of the Union Jack suggests that this country is a British possession, the last, loneliest relic of an otherwise vanished empire. Plenty of people around the world have pretty much this impression, and who can blame them?

The fact that it looks just like the Australian flag suggests we're an extension of our neighbour: Greater Tasmania. Again, plenty of people around the world have pretty much this impression, and who can blame them?

And because our flag is so busy saluting other countries, it says absolutely nothing about who we are.

When we sold everything we produced to Britain and most people living in these islands were British-born or the children of British immigrants, the Mother Country fixation made sense: London was always calling.

That's no longer the case, and the embarrassing thing is that the Brits moved on some time ago.

In 1973, Britain joined the European Economic Community. We were cast into a humiliating limbo, during which our envoys traipsed around Europe begging its Agriculture Ministers to give us time to get used to being poor, and eventually cut adrift. Britain also changed its immigration rules, taking away our first cousin status, the enabler of generations of Kiwis' OE. From then on we had to join the flotsam and jetsam queue at Heathrow.

As they watch us cling to our mini Union Jack and the monarchy, the Brits must think of us as a stray cat that won't go back to where it belongs. At first its solemn-eyed devotion is cute, but after a while cute becomes needy. Besides, the Britons would rather have a big dog, and the two aren't compatible. They shoo the cat away but it keeps coming back, so one day they drive out into the country and abandon it.

But next morning, there it is on the doorstep. "What's with this cat?" says an incredulous Mr Briton. "What part of 'we don't want you' doesn't it understand?"

The Aussies aren't embracing us either.

This was reinforced as recently as last October when newly installed Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who's married to a Kiwi, told John Key there would be no change to the status of New Zealanders living across the Tasman. Unlike Australians living here, the hundreds of thousands of Kiwis in Australia don't get access to a variety of social services despite paying full taxes, and can't get permanent residency unless there's a demand for their professional skills.

Abbott tried to sweeten the pill by telling Key that New Zealand "is family, in a way that probably no other country is".

For another take on how our neighbours see us, we turn to minor celeb and very former Kiwi Charlotte Dawson who unloaded on the country of her birth in her 2012 autobiography: "tiny ... nasty ... vindictive ... pedestrian ... stupid".

There was a lot more where that came from, but her publishers turned off the bile tap: "They said Australians don't give a f**k about New Zealand and took a lot of it out."

Dawson was back on her least favourite subject this week, using Lorde's complaint about the media scrum she encountered at Auckland Airport as a licence to urge the star to relocate: "Unless you're very mediocre, you need to get out of there."

Dawson needn't concern us unduly. Even by the debased standards of celebrity culture, she's the personification of mediocrity.

But things are happening very fast for the phenomenal Lorde. While she seems determined to resist being sucked into the maw of the celebrity machine, it will be hard to stop the hype getting out of hand and prevent people like Dawson from piggy-backing on her runaway fame.

When she performed in Auckland on Wednesday after vomiting backstage, her manager tweeted that she was "the bravest girl in the world". Tell that to the young women risking their lives to stand up to medieval misogyny in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan.

A piece in this paper claimed that Lorde "fabulously terrifies everyone in LA, the way an escaped tiger would terrify a mothers' group in Grey Lynn ... 'You know Lorde?' (LA people) ask in trembling, terrified tones. 'Please don't hurt me'."

We know LA is essentially an irony-free zone, but it's odd that such hagiographic drivel could appear in an article about an artist who "genuinely doesn't care for the wank of it all".

Nevertheless, we celebrate Lorde's extraordinary achievement and congratulate the Prime Minister on his timing in reopening the flag debate.

Who can possibly believe that a young, multicultural, Pacific nation, home to a 17-year-old double Grammy Award winner called Ella Yelich-O'Connor, doesn't need or deserve its own flag, as opposed to a hybrid of other peoples'?

- NZ Herald

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