Carol Hills: It’s hard to imagine America with a different flag. Yes, we’ve added stars over the years, but the basic design hasn’t changed since the 18th century, and the stars and stripes are totally part of our national identity. But sometimes countries decide to change their flags. New Zealand is thinking about it right now, the government even asked New Zealanders to send in their ideas for a new flag. More than 10,000 proposals were submitted, and this week a government panel released 40 of them as possible choices. Graham Bartram is one of the world’s leading flag experts, they’re known as a vexillologist. Describe New Zealand’s current flag for us.
Graham Bartram: Well New Zealand’s current flag is a British colonial flag. We had a system of (?). That means we’ve got the national flag in the corner and then a big area of color, usually either red or blue, and then we put a badge on it. We have that system, we still use it for our overseas territories. The badge for New Zealand was the sovereign cross in red stars with a white edge.
Hills: So Graham, why do countries do this, why do they change their flag?
Bartram: Well, usually because they feel the flag they’ve got doesn’t represent what they feel their country is.
Hills: So in the case of New Zealand, what’s wrong with the current flag? Why does it not represent them now?
Bartram: The feeling is that the union flag in the corner is too reminiscent of colonial New Zealand and that they want to emphasize their independence as a separate country from the United Kingdom. I mean, they haven’t been a colony for quite some time.
Hills: But they are still a part of the commonwealth, the queen is their queen. Isn’t that true?
Bartram: Absolutely, yes. But then so is Belize.
Hills: Yeah, that’s true, and Belize has its own flag.
Bartram: It has its own flag, yes.
Hills: And of course Canada changed theirs in 1965 to the maple leaf. So, what’s interesting in reading about this, that people in charge of New Zealand want the flag to be quintessentially New Zealand-ish. What do you think about the designs you’re seeing, the 40 finalists?
Bartram: The thing that stands out most to me is that they really like ferns. I think almost every design here has a fern on it, because apart from the obvious fern leafs, the spiral designs are actually based on a curled fern leaf, so they, too, are ferns. We call them kiwis. Maybe they don’t think of themselves as kiwis, maybe they think of themselves as people with lots of ferns.
Hills: So tell us about some of the funnier designs that didn’t pass muster with the panel.
Bartram: Oh, well yes, there were definitely--out of those 10,000 designs, there were quite a few that were a bit strange. There was one with a kiwi with laser vision blasting some unknown foe in the distance. There were designs with a kiwi holding a flag, on the flag was a kiwi holding a flag, and on that flag was a kiwi holding a flag. So, that would’ve been a difficult one to make because you’d never know when to stop.
Hills: Vexillologist Graham Bartram, thank you for speaking with us.
Bartram: My pleasure.
Hills: Checkout New Zealand’s possible future flags and some of the designs that didn’t make the cut. They’re all at PRI.ORG. And that’s all for us today. From our studios here at WGBH in Boston, I’m Carol Hills. Thanks for tuning in.