The New Zealand Herald, 21 August 2004.
Rugby writer Peter FitzSimons is a former Wallaby lock
I′ll take a Dennis Lillee long run-up to this one if I may.
Twenty-odd years ago, I was playing rugby for the Italian rugby club of Rovigo, while Gary Whetton was playing for Treviso. It was a home game for Rovigo and the stands were packed. Alas, 30 seconds after the kick-off, Gary retrieved the ball, smashed through our forward pack - including me - palmed off the five-eighths and then out-ran our winger to score under the posts. Standing behind the goal-posts, I will never forget the accusing looks of my team-mates. Translated, their looks said: "Well, that′s what their foreign player has done for them, now what are YOU going to do for us?"
The short answer was not much, but at least I learned a few things in Italy. One lesson occurred at a dinner party not long afterwards, when all of these northern Italians were outdoing themselves telling jokes about the southern Italians and how stupid they were, etc, as everyone fell about laughing till they teared up. Trying to get into the spirit of it, I told an Irish joke, but substituted the words for the southern Italian instead of Irish ...
Nothing. Stone-cold nothing. They were allowed to tell the most slanderous jokes against their own people, but they′d be God damned if they were going to put up with a straniero (foreigner) trying to do the same. The lesson was that one must tread very carefully when, as a foreigner, you wander into matters concerning another country′s nationality.
But how funny I should say that. For I gather there has been some hoopla in New Zealand recently about whether or not the New Zealand flag is still relevant, and whether at sporting events such as the Olympics the kiwi symbol is more popular and suitable.
Right then. While it is absolutely none of my damn business, might I, with infinite care, say that I agree?
Oh. I see. You′d sooner put hot knitting needles in your eyes than read one more word about my views on the New Zealand flag? Fair enough. Well, this may be more to your liking. Let me attack the Australian flag.
At the Bledisloe Cup a couple of weeks ago in Sydney, there were two enormous dummies adorned in the New Zealand and Australian flags. At least I think. But which was which? The dominant feature of both models was the enormous Union Jack, a scattering of stars beneath and to the side. It was all so reminiscent of Jerry Seinfeld′s comment when he came to the Sydney Olympics: "I love your flag. Britain at night".
The time has come for we Australians to get rid of the wretched Union Jack off our flag. You lot do what you damn well please, but not only does the Union Jack on our flag assert the primacy of Anglo citizens, but at things such as the Olympic Games it is too damn confusing trying to work out whose flag represents whom! Why do you see the symbol of the boxing kangaroo so often?
But there is at least one lighter side to the issue. I refer to a terrific television advertisement for the Guardian newspaper′s Olympic liftout, running in Britain.
The opening scene is of an English athlete standing proudly on the victory dais, about to receive a gold medal.
In the television control room, though, Greek technicians are frantically racing around trying to find the tape of the English national anthem as it is not something they ever expected to need.
As the time ticks on, the athlete twigs that something is amiss as the Union Jack is raised but still no God Save The Queen. Suddenly something warbles through ... the New Zealand anthem, prompted by confusion over the Union Jack in the flag on the tape′s cover.