Our visit to the small North Island town of Otorohanga, known as the “Kiwiana” town of New Zealand has prompted some delving into explanation and history of some of New Zealand’s best loved icons.
“Cyathea dealbata” is the botanical name for a much loved New Zealand native plant: the silver tree fern or silver fern. It’s also well known by it’s Maori names, Kaponga or Ponga . It got it’s common name in English due to the distinctive silvery undersides of the fronds of the plants after they are several years old.
In 1888 the New Zealand Native Rugby Team visited England and had adopted the silver fern on a black background as part of their uniform, the tradition stuck and was in due course taken up by various sports teams. In 1900 the fern leaf became a widely used trademark within the meat and dairy export industries.
The Secretary of State for Colonies approved the New Zealand Government’s proposal to substitute a wreath of fern leaves for the laurel wreath on the Governor’s Ensign in May 1908 to mark the occasion of New Zealand obtaining Dominion status and this wreath was in regular use until about 1935.
In military circles it’s use has also been widespread, having been used as a distinguishing badge for New Zealand military formations, particularly during the Second World War, and was also used to mark the graves of New Zealand servicemen in overseas countries. It appears on the New Zealand one dollar coin, is used both commercially and by Government and many New Zealand sporting teams have incorporated it into their sporting team logos and/or names.
Such is the strength of feeling for the silver fern logo and association, that New Zealand Sports teams that use the silver fern as their logo include: the All Blacks (Rugby Union), the Silver Ferns (Netball), All Whites (football) … note the All Whites play in white and not the New Zealand traditional black due to football rules that state that black is the colour reserved for the strip of International referees. The silver fern is still however incorporated into their white uniform, The Tall Blacks (Basketball), The White Ferns (women’s cricket), the Black Caps (men’s cricket), the Black Ferns (women’s rugby), the Black Sox (softball).
As a Kiwi I love the humour in the semi harmonised names of the New Zealand national teams, that incorporate the black strip and the silver fern as much as possible into their teams to cement their inclusion in the national identity.
With the present (official) New Zealand flag looking very much similar to it’s Australian equivalent, and debate that has raged for decades as to the relevance of having the UK’s union jack incorporated our flag when the days of empire have long since departed, campaigns to replace the current official flag with a more modern one relevant to New Zealand have come and gone.
Personally I’m an mega-ardent supporter of the Silver Fern flag with it’s black background becoming the national flag of New Zealand, but each time it’s come close to making it into reality, the argument that we can’t forgo a flag that our ancestors so gallantly fought under has persuaded the powers that be that the old official flag should remain as the status-quo.
My reply to that argument is that the silver fern was already a well known and loved emblem when these ancestors fought and died for our country, our silver fern emblem is on their graves and they fought and died for the ideal of democracy and not just for the preservation of the United Kingdom.
(Also compelling evidence is the fact that the vast majority of these New Zealand war graves are not found in the United Kingdom but rather in places like the France, Turkey, North Africa, the Pacific, and Asia.)
The British Empire is gone, Britain transferred it’s economic allegiances from New Zealand to the EU long ago, it’s Royal Family do nothing for New Zealand except for running up vast bills for the Kiwi taxpayer whenever they visit, New Zealand is part of the Commonwealth, but what is that actually worth in this day and age? In reality it means precious little.
Naturally you can clearly see my republican leanings: New Zealand came of age decades ago, I sincerely believe that our flag should too.