Deceptively clever simplicity of New Zealand’s latest flag proposal


How often do you see a clever idea that is so simple that you think, ‘I could’ve done that!’? Yet, the point is that you didn’t do that, and nor did anyone else, until the person who finally does come up with that deceptively simple idea.

And so it is with the latest contender to become New Zealand’s new national flag.

on mountain

In my last blog post, I reported about First to the Light, or Red Peak as it has become commonly known. Since my post, Red Peak has followed the example of the new Canadian and South African flags in becoming a last-minute contender. It has now  been included as a fifth addition to the contenders in the forthcoming national referendum to pick the alternative flag to go up against the current ensign in a second referendum next year.



The original process began with an invitation to the public to submit designs for a new flag. Over 10,000 submissions were made – including half a dozen from me. Which leads me to the point about ideas so simple that you think “I could’ve done that!”.

So let’s start with what I actually did do.

New Zealand actually has two official flags. There is of course the current New Zealand ensign that is our national flag.  But there is also an official Māori flag, called the Tino Rangatiratanga flag. One of my ideas was to merge these two flags.


So I came up with the design below, which at the time I was quite proud of. Looking back, however, whilst my idea certainly combined elements of the two flags, it was a rather cluttered design. This was not helped because at this time I was also wedded to the idea that the flag had to carry a symbol of some sort.


I also submitted another design that picked up the colours of the two flags, though as you can see, I was still attached to including a symbol!


My design reinterpreted the red/white/blue of the current ensign, and the red/white/black of the Tino Rangatiratanga flag into a traditional Māori tāniko weaving pattern, as seen on the headbands in the picture below.


The funny thing is, with my second design I was nearly onto something, if only I had realised it at the time! Turn my flag on its side, and look at just one end – a truly simple idea begins to emerge. Whilst it is only red/white/blue at this stage, the next step in the the thought process could’ve been to turn one of the corners black to complete the Maori colours.


But, of course, I didn’t do that.  However, designer Aaron Dustin did. Though his flag was not based on my original design of course – he came to First to the Light / Red Peak via another route, which you can see evolving in the 18 flag designs he submitted.


Aaron’s design is really simple. ‘Just a bunch of triangles,’ say some critics. ‘Anyone could have done this,’ they say, ‘even a five-year old.’ But the simplicity is deceptive, and disguises a very clever juxtaposition of the two flags.

If any of us were going to try to combine the current flag with the traditional Māori colours, we would’ve probably come up with a complex and cluttered design like I did.

Even had I come up with the idea of simplifying it down to the two different colour palettes lying alongside each other, I probably would’ve come up with something bland like this.

My combined pic

The touch of genius on Aaron’s part was to turn the middle stripe into a chevron. The result is still just the two palettes sitting alongside each other, but at an angle instead of straight.


So, yes, this is fantastically simple. Anyone could have thought of this idea … but we didn’t!

It took Aaron to come up with the idea, but such a simple idea can come up in other ways too. For example, a somewhat similar flag entitled Wa Kainga/Home was also submitted totally independently of Aaron. But in Wa Kainga/Home, although it includes all the colours, they don’t line up as the two flags.

wa kainga

Even a logo from a small business in the USA came up with a somewhat similar design. Though of course this would have derived from an entirely different process.

peak engineering

But such similarities don’t matter, even if they had been exactly the same, rather than just similar. Simple designs are just that – simple. Therefore it is quite likely they’ll reappear amongst the billions of pieces of design around the world. Therefore it is the context behind them that is important.

Of course, saying that Red Peak is simple feeds straight into another common criticism of Red Peak. ‘We don’t want a flag that you have to constantly explain to people,’ they say.

The world is filled with simple flags. But when do you ever hear complaints from the Danish people, for example, that they’re constantly being asked, ‘I don’t understand your flag, what does it mean?’


A flag becomes a symbol in itself, and doesn’t need to be explained (unless you’re merely curious about its meaning or history behind it – and the Dannebrog certainly does have history behind it!). Locals learn the meaning of their own flags at school or through their families. But most of us would have no idea of the meaning behind other countries’ flags, and it makes no difference.

‘But our flag has got to scream New Zealand!’ say the critics. Whilst some flags do indeed use pictorial  symbols, you first have to actually recognise that symbol. You have to know what Angkor Wat looks like, to recognise that this is what is portrayed on the Cambodian flag.


Many of the most well-known flags have nothing about them that ‘screams’ where they come from, even though those countries often have well-known symbols too. Their flags speak for themselves. And it doesn’t take long, either – the South African flag is quite new, but it already ‘screams’ South Africa much more than its symbol ever did.


 Image by Rachael Macklin

Maybe Red Peak could’ve been designed by a five-year old. But they wouldn’t have known they were designing a flag that does what flags are supposed to do. It stands out, but by being simple and bold, not by being cluttered or artsy.

Red Peak represents our history, not just from colonial times, but from way back in medieval times when the country was first settled. It will become a great symbol in itself, and will fly well with our existing symbols.

I already fly First to the Light / Red Peak with pride at my place.



Filed under Thoughts of the day

Disappointment and joy about the new New Zealand flag


New Zealand is currently going through a process to see if we would like to change our national flag. The process is:

  1. Submissions of designs from the public.
  2. A flag consideration panel chooses four of the submitted designs.
  3. The selected four designs go to a first referendum to choose one.
  4. The winning alternative goes up against the existing flag in a second referendum.

Steps 1 and 2 have been completed, and the four designs chosen by the flag consideration panel were announced last week.

final four

It is fair to say that public reaction to the final four has been less than enthusiastic – in fact, quite derisive. This response comes from both ends of the spectrum – those who don’t want the flag changed in the first place; and those who do but are disappointed with the low quality and variety in the chosen four. I fall in the latter camp.

Firstly, why do I want to change the existing New Zealand ensign? Well, quite simply because I don’t see why we should have another country’s flag in the place of honour on our own flag. Yes, we do have a history of being part of the the British Empire, and then the Commonwealth. But we’re a big boy now and are forging our own way. Plus that Union Jack is not so welcome to many of our Maori people, for whom it represents the colonising power.

nz flag

I was so excited that we might get some really good choices for an alternative design to go against the current ensign. And in fact amongst the 10,000 submissions there were some great ones (some of mine were in the 10,000, but they weren’t the great ones!)

But, sadly, I’m in agreement with much of the population that the final four are too kitschy and more like corporate logos. The general feeling is that this is because either there was political interference, and/or there was no graphical or vexillogical expertise on the panel.

So I’m now stuck with the choice in the second referendum of voting for the design that is selected as the least bad in the first referendum, or I vote for the current ensign and hope that in a few years this process will occur again, but in a much more rigourous manner.

But, suddenly there is some hope on the horizon. For a people-driven flag is beginning to arise from the discarded submissions that, whilst unlikely to be part of the process, is certainly showing what could have been.


Red Peak was one of the 10,000 designs that were initially submitted and got to the top 40, but not into the final four. But for some reason it is now getting a real push on social media, and even mainstream media are beginning to report on it too.

on mountain

Unlike most of the final four, Red Peak is an abstract flag. This has not pleased everyone, as many people  want a literal picture of a fernleaf or another New Zealand icon on the flag (the fernleaf is a common emblem in New Zealand, especially in sports and the military).

But once you understand Red Peak, the New Zealand references are indeed there. But it is not as kitsch as drawing a huge fern and stars on a flag. The symbology is very subtle, but the flag itself is very strong.




I think this is a designer’s flag. It is properly thought-out, not just a collection of clip-art. And it follows the rules of good flag design.

As for those who say it is too abstract and doesn’t scream “New Zealand” – my artistic brother put together this graphic:


Sadly, Red Peak is unlikely to get into the first referendum, because the final four are now apparently locked in. But I for one am definitely going to fly it. Through an online pledge site, I’ve bought one of first-run production Red Peak flags, which will go up on the flagpole in my garden. And even though Red Peak is unlikely to become New Zealand’s national flag, I think it’ll become an historical collectors’ item in years to come.

Oh, and I support the increase in our refugee quota too. Whatever flag we fly, it is only a representation of who we actually are. Let’s make sure that it represents a caring country.



Filed under Uncategorized

Video of Sir Peter Jackson and ‘The Great War Exhibition’

This newly-released video features Sir Peter Jackson talking about The Great War Exhibition here in Wellington.

Besides showing some of the spectacular life-size displays, Sir Peter also shows us the massive Battle of Chunuk Bair diorama that I helped paint the figures for.



Filed under WW1

The VERY best photos of the Chunuk Bair diorama

Whilst I’ve previously posted quite a few photos on the official blog of the diorama of the WW1 battle of Chunuk Bair, we’ve saved the *very* best shots until last!

We had agreed to withhold these photos until after ‘Wargames Illustrated’ published a photo-article about this project. Now that this article is in their August issue, we can at last show you these amazing shots taken by Andy Palmer.

Here’s a few sample pics (click each picture for the full effect).  But do go to the Mustering The Troops blog to see more photos and to read the informative captions:







Filed under WW1

The oldest item in my bookshelf – an 1854 map of Waterloo

map bookThe other day I pulled a book out of my bookshelf, and noticed a scruffy little green cover peering at me from the shadows at the back of the shelf. I reached in and pulled it out, and was overjoyed to see that I had at last re-found my long-lost antique map of Waterloo, the oldest print item I own.

Quite a few years ago, some British friends of my mother-in-law visited New Zealand. They knew of my interest in military history, so presented me with this lovely bound map of Waterloo. I placed it on my bookshelf, where it eventually fell behind some other books. For years I’d thought I had somehow lost the map.

So it was with great pleasure this Waterloo bicentenary year to find it again!

a_IMG_3696At the time I was presented with this map, I knew little about it, other than it was by a Sergeant-Major Edward Cotton, and published in 1854. But finding it again has spurred me into a doing some research on the internet.

According to family historian Gordon Childs:

Sergeant Major Edward COTTON was born on Isle of Wight around 1792 and served at Waterloo in the ranks of the 7th Hussars which was part of General Grant’s brigade – the 5th British Cavalry Brigade. Fortunately, Edward Cotton survived the carnage of the battle on that fateful day of 18 June 1815, in which there were over 50,000 casualties of the some 150,000 troops engaged, to become a local hero.

He particularly distinguished himself by saving fellow hussar Gilmoure as he lay trapped under his wounded horse in front of the main battle line. Cotton could see the French cuirassiers coming on again and, knowing that they rarely spared a foe outside of the protection of the infantry squares, he sprang from his horse and rushed to extricate Gilmoure and to bring him back to safety as the army of French horsemen came up to Wellington’s line.

After leaving the army, Cotton lived at Mont St Jean village (where the battle was centred) where he soon gained a reputation as a fine battlefield guide. In 1845, the Naval and Military Gazette described him as an intelligent, active and good looking man of fifty-three and the very cut as a Hussar. From the many fellow Waterloo veterans who visited the battlefield, Cotton built up a formidable knowledge of the battle and published a book called ‘A Voice from Waterloo’. His collection of memorabilia occupied a building at the base of the Lion Mound, but has now been dispersed.

“I sincerely hope,” wrote veteran, Lieutenant-General Sir Hussey Vivian, to Cotton in 1839, “that occupation which you have undertaken, you will derive the means of passing the remainder of your days in competence and comfort; and thus heap the rewards of your intelligence, on a field where you had proved your courage.”

Edward Cotton died on 24 June 1849. He had been ill for some time but had soldiered on and, only two days before his death, he had shown an English family around the battlefield. He was buried in the gardens of Hougoumont, and rested there until the 18 August 1890 when he was disinterred for reburial at Evere Cemetery in the north-east suburbs of Brussels.

Handy pocket-sized maps like this one would have been carried by his visitors to the battlefield. This particular edition was printed a few years after his death, and was drawn from his 1846 book  ‘A Voice from Waterloo’. I wonder if a 19th century visitor carried my actual map in his or her hands as they tramped over the battlefield.

a_IMG_3996Opening the green linen cover with its gold-embossed title, you first come to a small overview map of the Belgian countryside over which the Waterloo campaign took place.

It is a bit confusing, though, that this map places north at the bottom of the page instead of the more usual top.

a_IMG_3695The main page unfolds to display a beautiful hand-tinted map of the field of Waterloo as it was towards sunset. The Allies are shown in red, Prussians in yellow, and the French in blue.

Extensive information is provided in the keys on each side, which link to the exact location for each brigade and military group, including Napoleon’s positions and places where certain officers were killed. For the modern reader, following the Roman numerals is quite onerous, however!

An inset table gives the number of men and guns available to each side. A narrative also recreates the final hours of the battle.

Again, north is at the bottom.

a_IMG_3697Here’s a close-up of central area of the battlefield. Click on the picture to expand it to a size where you can see the amazing detail and the sheer beauty of this wonderful old map.

I’m really pleased to be re-united with this treasure. I’m thinking I might place it in a box-frame to preserve it, and to give it some more prominence than being stuffed down the back of my bookshelf!



Filed under Books, Napoleonics

Squeezed in one last submission for a new New Zealand flag


The submissions for a new New Zealand flag closed yesterday. In my previous posts, I’ve shown half a dozen flags I’ve submitted.  But I managed to squeeze in the above entry just before closing last night.

I like this design best of the ones I’ve submitted, and it has also garnered the most ‘likes’.

Oddly enough, I spent the least time in coming up with the concept of this flag.  In fact, it came about by chance when I noticed that zooming in on one quadrant of an earlier flag design was actually more effective than the rather cluttered whole.  I then added the southern cross and the curves of the Maori flag.

Anyway, that’s it for flags now, what with submissions being closed. I don’t expect to be chosen out of the thousands of entries, and am not even sure if the current flag needs changing at all. But it has been a fun artistic exercise to design a new flag.


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

My final submission for a new New Zealand flag



I couldn’t resist one more go at a New Zealand flag design. It is based on a traditional Maori woven motif. In the centre sits our iconic silver fern on a black background.

This one uses a different palette from my other three submissions. The red, white and blue diagonals hint at the union flag, and carry into the red, white and black colours of the tino rangatiratanga flag.



Added 16 July – one more go, before submssions close tonight:



Filed under Uncategorized