The best, weirdest, most interesting flag changes through history

The referendum to choose which alternative flag will go up against the current flag is now under way.

The referendum to choose which alternative flag will go up against the current flag is now under way.

The great flag referendum of 2015-2016 is now upon us.

And here's the thing, whether you care about the flag debate or not is kind of irrelevant at this point.

These two votes will be looked back on in history as a time where Kiwis chose their own destiny, deciding how the rest of the world perceives us as a country.

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No matter if we decide to unite under the power of the hypnoflag, go for a mix of old and new with Kyle Lockwood's designs, or cling to the heritage of the Union Jack – it will be our choice.

Flag changes have always been symbolic for nations.

From banners establishing a new state to ensigns rising up from the ashes of a country's troubled past, a new flag always has a story to tell.

Here are five designs that have made history:


Mozambique's flag features an AK-47, symbolising the war of independence against old ruler Portugal.

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Got a great idea for a flag? How about putting an automatic weapon large and prominent onto your design?

That's what Mozambique decided to do after gaining independence from Portugal in 1975.

The AK-47 rifle is said to represent the country's war for independence, and has now featured on two versions of the flag.

Despite calls to drop the weaponry, the image of the gun still flies proudly over the African nation.


Canada's flag until 1965, the British Red Ensign with the Canadian Coat of Arms.

Canada was in the same position New Zealand now finds itself in, way back in 1964.

Until then, the flag in use had been a composite of the Red Ensign with the Union Jack and the Canada Coat of Arms.

But Canadians felt they had moved on from their colonial history and made the call to change the flag. 

A cross party committee was formed and the public were asked to submit alternative designs.

Liberal politician John Matheson slipped in the design of friend and historian George Stanley at the very last minute.

Canada's iconic flag has been in use since 1965.

Stanley's flag was based on the Royal Military College of Canada's flag, superimposed with a maple leaf and devoid of the Union Jack as he thought it would be "inadvisable and divisive".

The select committee unanimously chose it from among 3500 submitted options.

But it didn't get quite the same response in the House of Commons where it took six weeks of bitter debate, an attempted conservative filibuster and 250 speeches before it was adopted by 163 votes to 78.

Nowadays, the maple leaf is an instantly recognisable symbol for Canada and a beloved national icon. 


The Republic of Kosovo was founded in 2008 and decided to use a map of the country on its official flag.

When all else fails, chuck the outline of your country on your flag.

That was the unusual choice for the Republic of Kosovo when the nation declared its independence from Serbia in 2008.  

The newly formed Assembly of Kosovo chose between 993 public submissions for its official design. 

The flag of Cyprus is the only other national banner to use a map.


The flag of Saudi Arabia with white text and a sword to display military strength.

Mozambique may have taken the cue to display its military prowess on its flag from Saudi Arabia.

The Arabic nation has a very distinctive flag - a green background superimposed with white religious text which is underlined with a sword.

While the flag has remained relatively constant over the last 80 years, a few alterations have been made in that time – all of them to the design of the steel.

Firstly, it was to make it more curved. Then in 1973, in the most recent iteration of the flag, to make it more straight.

Saudi's flag may not be particularly welcoming sight to foreigners entering the country, but you'd never confuse it with another nation's design.


South Africa flew this flag until 1994. The three central flags are the British Union Jack, and the Boer republics of the Orange Free State and the South African Republic.

In post-apartheid South Africa, updating the flag was a new way forward for the country.

From 1928 to 1994, the flag had been an amalgamation of national identities.

Tiny versions of the British Union Jack and the flags of Boer nations known as the South African Republic and the Orange Free State were centred on an orange, white and blue background.

The idea for a new flag representing a new kind of nation was set in motion when Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990.

After four years of to-ing and fro-ing, and a host of undesirable designs, the current flag was put forth and accepted in 1994.

The new ensign proudly displayed the black, green and yellow found in the banner of the African National Congress, the new ruling party, as well as the red, white and blue found in the flags of the colonial powers that added to the nation – the Dutch tricolour and the Union Jack.

The South African flag adopted in 1994 uses colours from the African National Congress as well as the Union Jack and the Dutch tricolour flag.

 - Stuff


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