Monday, 21 December 2015

Flag it!

I'm a Kiwi. New Zealanders differ from their American cousins in a number of ways, not the least in how we regard our flag.

From a Kiwi perspective, Americans are weird about their flag. Hands on hearts, kids reciting pledges, salutes, displayed in all kinds of unlikely places - sometimes including churches; completely "out there".

Not so in Godzone. Patriotism is an understated thing in Aotearoa. I was in high school before I consciously noticed the difference between our flag and the Aussie knock-off (yep, those Ockers rarely have an original idea). My parent's generation still regarded "God Save the Queen" as the national anthem and referred to the rain-sodden fields of Old Blighty as "the old country", despite both being born half a world away.

For people of my generation the nuclear-free legislation was a first taste of national self-assertion, beginning years earlier with opposition to nuclear testing. New Zealand sent a frigate to monitor French nuclear tests in the Pacific, bringing down the ire of France. Later France, in an illegal act of state-sponsored terrorism, sank the Greenpeace vessel Rainbow Warrior in Auckland Harbour. How soon we forget.

The tea towel
Then there was the decision to bar nuclear armed ships from our harbours. Margaret Thatcher sent a high ranking women apparatchik, a toffee-nosed baroness, to tear strips off our then Prime Minister, David Lange, apparently under the illusion that the colonies must still conform to Downing Street. In a press conference following the meeting, fronted by the PM with the lady diplomat nowhere in evidence, Lange remarked that the British rep had probably left by broomstick.

Ah, the good old days.

Then, while our best buds, the craven Canberra crowd, huffed and puffed about our responsibility to do as we were told by the US, we were kicked out of the ANZUS defense pact. The result? Never had Kiwi patriotism been as prominent in peace time. Even today the conservative National coalition government cannot bring itself to repeal that legislation.

The bombed out hull of the Rainbow Warrior
But flag waving was never part of that. That was something other people did.

On the weekend, driving around the local area with some old friends, we saw flags flying in what, by Kiwi standards, can only be described as profusion. Today I counted three flags flying within a just block of home.

The reason? We're gearing up for a flag referendum. The choice is between the current flag and a tea-towel design.

What fascinates me is that every flag I've seen flying in recent days is the one we have now.

I don't know what this augurs for the final referendum. Public opinion is always a fickle thing, and I fear time will favour the tea towel (and in the upper-income LOMBARD* suburbs of Remuera and the North Shore I suspect the tea towel is indeed in evidence). But, as I pondered those flags proudly fluttering from nearby houses, I had to wonder whether the combination of Southern Cross and Union Jack meant something more than a backwards nod to our colonial heritage. Perhaps it's also the flag we associate with the progressive policies that have set us apart as New Zealanders over many years.

I don't have a flagpole. But if I did, I know which one I'd be flying.

(* LOMBARD: alternative to Yuppie; "Lots Of Money But A Real Dick".)


  1. Gavin, what's the policy in New Zealand about flag burning? Here in 'the States' it is a constitutionally protected right.

    I ask, because if the Tea Towel is adopted and if I were a Kiwi, I'd be reaching for the lighter fluid....

  2. Hi Gavin, this brings back memories. I was in New Zealand for five months in 1987 and was invited on board to see the Rainbow Warrior while it was still in Auckland's harbor by a crew member before it was taken out to sea and buried. I saw the big metal plate that had been welded over the huge hole in the side done by French agents sent by the French government and later given medals for heroism by the French govt. for bombing that peaceful ship docked in Auckland's harbor and killing a person in the explosion.

    I recall the normally pro-American New Zealanders widely supporting the Nuclear Free Zone and taking lots of heat for it. In a Quaker meeting I talked to a Labor Party activist who told me a back-story on that. According to her, David Lange (loved him--the charismatic, witty prime minister at the time) won election in part on the highly popular Nuclear Free Zone promise. The US was fit to be tied, furious over this development. Lange privately assured the US that after he got elected he would get something worked out, not to be so upset. The US sort of accepted those assurances and quieted down for the moment. When Lange won the election some members of his Labor Party discovered Lange's idea to negotiate some compromise from the campaign pledge. They made him keep to his campaign promise as promised (which Lange did). The US was furious, in a personal way, with Lange, over this, the story went, because they viewed Lange as not keeping his word--because Lange kept his campaign promise to the people of New Zealand. Such is politics!

    What was also interesting was it later came out that I think it was Norway had had a Nuclear Free Zone policy for years which the US and allies had abided by and it was never an issue--because it was never publicized. There was no problem because in Norway it was done and abided to in secret. The upstart little nation of New Zealand's "crime" in the eyes of larger powers was going public in doing the very same thing as New York City and Norway were already doing without any problem--saying nuclear armed ships were not welcome to dock in their cities' harbors!

    No doubt you know more about these things--it has been some time ago, but this is my memory of those days. Greg D.

  3. Starting Summer with Christmas must be quite the thing....

  4. Stars on Aus flag have 7 points, Israel 6 points, Nz 5 points (had not noticed difference in NZ flag!)