The kiwi from James Gray's "Fire the Lazer!" and Kyle Lockwood's silver fern flag could not beat the original flag's design (image by the author for Hyperallergic)

The kiwi from James Gray’s “Fire the Lazer!” and Kyle Lockwood’s silver fern flag could not beat the original flag’s design (image by the author for Hyperallergic)

After a nearly yearlong process that involved two national referendums and that cost taxpayers US$17.6 million, New Zealanders have finally voted to hold on to the flag their country has been flying for 114 years. Results from the final poll show that over 56.6% of Kiwis are in favor of keeping the colonial-era design, which features the Union Jack, over the alternative by architectural designer Kyle Lockwood, which features a silver fern — widely considered a national symbol.

(infographic via

The pretty anti-climactic results arrive after a lengthy and historic campaign spearheaded by Prime Minister John Key, whose Flag Consideration Project officially kicked off last year. An open call for potential redesigns had received many tasteful silver fern and koru-adorned flags but also some fantastic Microsoft Paint-based masterpieces, including an infamous kiwi shooting laser beams from its eyes.

“Obviously I’m a bit disappointed there was no change but nearly a million people voted for change,” Key said. “Just because it’s not the outcome I wanted doesn’t mean it wasn’t a worthwhile process.”

Sorry, Key, better luck next time — although considering the price-tag of this process, a push for a new flag may be far off in the distant future. As somewhat of a consolation prize, perhaps, at least one of those new banknotes, which many considered over-designed, has been nominated for the International Banknote Society’s Banknote of the Year.

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Claire Voon

Claire Voon is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Singapore, she grew up near Washington, D.C. and is now based in Chicago. Her work has also appeared in New York Magazine, VICE,...

7 replies on “New Zealand Votes to Preserve Colonial-era Flag”

  1. Dear Claire Voon,

    Why must reviewer after reviewer, almost regardless of the topic, feel the need to slip in the word ‘colonial’ or ‘colonialist’ or (as in your case) ‘colonial-era’. An answer isn’t necessary. I already know the answer, and it’s not usually for informational or educational reasons. The fact is, 56.6% of those who voted seem to have some sort of fond feeling for the Union Jack, as they wanted to keep it as a part of the flag.

    I realize that perhaps there are many, if not most, among the indigenous population who would feel differently. This alone presents a major dilemma, and I don’t know that anyone has a really good answer. I’m sure that the Stars and Stripes would not be the first choice among many here in the United States — let alone the very notion of a ‘state’ as the states are designated, geographically and otherwise.

    While the Canadian flag may be an exception, I would guess that the flag problem may well exist for Mexico, and for every Central and South American country. Let me not mention the many other nations of the world.

    But getting back to the Union Jack. Forgetting her ‘off-island’ adventures, the problem also exists for Great British herself. While we can hardly identify what is left of the island’s indigenous peoples, though DNA is changing that (in recent years at least one descendant of the famed Cheddar Man has been identified), I’m sure those whom the Romans encountered would not have had any very fond feelings for the Roman banners.

    And so it goes, one layer of ‘colonization’ beneath another. The last few hundred years hardly define the world, only the world as we care to understand it (we’ve either forgotten or ignore the rest). The POINT is to do the right thing. Right NOW. The PROBLEM is to know what that is. How many new flags would change who we are as human beings? (You only have to consider the legislation the governor of North Carolina signed into law yesterday.)

    1. This says a lot:

      Paul Moon, a professor of history at Auckland University of Technology, told The Guardian the whole process had been “insipid and unimaginative. And to make matters worse, for all the talk of inclusivity, serious Indigenous input was largely whitewashed. What we were left with was culturally monochromatic and aesthetically neutered design to go up against the incumbent.”

      1. Dear Hrag Vartanian,

        I am not defending the choice. There were some of the competition entries that I found quite to my liking. They did, however, have a vote. And while I have not made it my mission to read everything on the topic over the last year, I have, nevertheless, not read much criticizing the process. (I must assume, then, that the whitewash was pretty thorough.)

        That said, complaining now, rather than making a REALLY BIG NOISE at the time, seems a bit too late.

        It’s sad that politics, and not doing what’s right, so often determines “the course of human events”.

        1. I was adding to your comment. In democracies majorities often do what is not good for minorities. We see it again and again, and New Zealand, at the end of the day, is a colonial settler state. So, the vote isn’t surprising.

          1. I wouldn’t disagree about settler states, nor your comment about democracies. However, non-democracies, where there is no vote, almost always “do what is not good for minorities”.

            I say ‘settler states’, not “colonial settler state[s]”, because I usually try not to use any sort of loaded language, such as ‘Marxist’, ‘femminist’, ’empire building’, ‘cultural appropriation’, ‘colonial’, and so forth — whether I agree with the cause or not — so as to keep things clear, and not muddied by unnessery jargon.

            And by the way, political jargon, as well as most other jargon, all too often exhibits a lack of analysis and/or thought — as catch phrases are simply too ‘easy’. And worse than that, they can too easily, and unnecessarily, stir people up for no good reason. That is, unless one wishes merely to be agitating, and not enter into a productive, rational conversation.

            So what do we do now?

          2. You are denying New Zealand was a colony that enforced settler policies on indigenous people? That’s not in question. Buzzwords are another thing, but they are often used because we can’t keep redefining things all the time.

          3. Wow. That’s interesting, that you should draw such a conclusion. Of course you are right, “New Zealand was a colony . . .”, but I don’t see what the adjective ‘colonial’ adds to the already understandable ‘settler’. Is ‘settler’, and all that that implies, not enough?

            I try not to use ‘buzzwords’ (that, a buzzword in itself). I have been really surprised how liberating it is. Without them we can actually be free to say what we really mean, and in a way that is really us, not the ‘us’ that is victim to someone else’s ‘cultural colonization’ of our minds.

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