Four designs in a contest to replace New Zealand's national flag with something that's a little less Union Jack-y were unveiled this week. And now, New Zealanders are pondering a big question: Do you like 1) silver ferns, 2) silver ferns, 3) a Maori symbol based on silver ferns, or 4) silver ferns?
Out of more than 10,000 designs submitted by the public, the finalists presented by the government's campaign appeared awfully similar to many New Zealanders and flag enthusiasts. Two of the finalists -- those featuring that fern and the Southern Cross in different color schemes -- were even designed by the same person.
People appeared to have a mixed reaction to the choices, the first that will be put to a public vote:
Don't say we didn't try to help you fix this, New Zealand.
The designs were revealed in advance of two referendums: The first, later this year, will allow voters to choose among the four finalists seen above. And the second, planned for March, will ask voters to choose between the current national flag and whichever design wins the first referendum.
Earlier, the country had announced a "long list" of 40 potential designs. One of those designs was disqualified from the contest because of a copyright claim, the government's flag contest site notes.
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key has wanted to change New Zealand's flag for awhile, and he sees the contest as a way to offer his country a chance to remove the Union Jack -- which many read as a symbol of the country's colonialist roots -- and replace it with something else that is representative of the country.
"A great flag is timeless and communicates swiftly and potently the essence of the country it represents," the panel leading the selection process wrote in a letter announcing the long list. "A flag should carry sufficient dignity to be appropriate for all situations in which New Zealanders might be represented. It should speak to all Kiwis. Our hope is that New Zealanders will see themselves reflected in these flags’ symbols, colour and stories."
The silver ferns featured on three of the four designs are similar to a flag Key originally supported: a simple silver fern on a black background, associated with sports teams in New Zealand. Key apparently still favors the use of a silver fern design in some form, a choice that is certainly well-represented among the finalists.
It, however, appears to have some plant enthusiasts miffed:
Some have also noted that at least one of the two fern and Southern Cross flag designs from the final four appears to have a doppelganger:
The koru -- that swirly black and white design on the third of the four flags above -- is a well-known Maori symbol. And it also represents a fern, albeit a younger one: The curled arm of the koru is reminiscent of a fern that has yet to unfurl.
That design has its supporters, who believe that there is something, well ... hypnotic about a swirling black and white spiral.
Toby Morris, a cartoonist and illustrator writing at Radio New Zealand, mourned the panel's decision to overlook his personal favorite design, "Red Peak." The design was "Simple, strong, [and] distinctive," he wrote, adding: "The colours give a subtle nod to the old flag but look distinctly New Zealand. And, to me, a nod to the past is all we need if the exercise is about moving forward."
Morris also reminded the country of the loss of "FIRE THE LAZAR," which featured a kiwi firing lasers from its eyes and was somehow not placed on the long list.
The reaction here, the Guardian notes, appears to be focused on the lack of diversity among the designs, along with a general sense that the crowd-sourced design process was less transparent than promised. It's not clear whether, come March, New Zealanders will be ready to replace the current flag with whichever design wins the referendum this year.
A poll conducted by the New Zealand Herald found that close to half of voters were open to changing the national flag. However, the Herald notes, 24 percent said their ultimate decision would depend on the final design.
Here are the finalists, along with the description from the designer accompanying each of them:
Silver Fern (Black & White), by Alofi Kanter
The fern has been a distinctive symbol of New Zealand for the past 100 years. Strong and simple, it represents our uniqueness as Aotearoa New Zealand and the black and white colours show our ‘yin and yang’, with the softly curved spine of the frond binding us all together as a young, independent and proud nation. Credit for the fern goes to The New Zealand Way Limited.
Silver Fern (Red, White and Blue), by Kyle Lockwood
The silver fern: A New Zealand icon for over 160 years, worn proudly by many generations. The fern is an element of indigenous flora representing the growth of our nation. The multiple points of the fern leaf represent Aotearoa’s peaceful multicultural society, a single fern spreading upwards represents that we are all one people growing onward into the future. The red represents our heritage and sacrifices made. Blue represents our clear atmosphere and the Pacific Ocean, over which all New Zealanders, or their ancestors, crossed to get here. The Southern Cross represents our geographic location in the antipodes. It has been used as a navigational aid for centuries and it helped guide early settlers to our islands.
Koru, by Andrew Fyfe
As our flag unfurls, so too does its koru. The koru represents the fern frond, but is also reminiscent of a wave, a cloud, and a ram’s horn. In Māori kowhaiwhai patterns the koru represent new life, growth, strength and peace, and for this reason has taken a special place in Aotearoa’s visual language.
Silver Fern (Black, White and Blue), by Kyle Lockwood
The silver fern: A New Zealand icon for over 160 years, worn proudly by many generations. The fern is an element of indigenous flora representing the growth of our nation. The multiple points of the fern leaf represent Aotearoa’s peaceful multicultural society, a single fern spreading upwards represents that we are all one people growing onward into the future. The bright blue represents our clear atmosphere and the Pacific Ocean, over which all New Zealanders, or their ancestors, crossed to get here. The Southern Cross represents our geographic location in the antipodes. It has been used as a navigational aid for centuries and it helped guide early settlers to our islands.
That being said, the people of New Zealand should probably consider writing in votes for this majestic, rejected cat flag, known as "Deranged Cat Raking Its Garden," by Jeong Hyuk Fidan: