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Denis O'Reilly Endorses NZFlag.Com Campaign

Denis O'Reilly Endorses NZFlag.Com Campaign


Denis O'Reilly, Consultancy Advocacy & Research Trust (CART)

"Here I go. Here's my flag story. I love Aotearoa. My tipuna, Denis O'Reilly emigrated from County Kerry on the ship Otaki and landed at the Port of Timaru in February 1876. The family moved inland and settled in the Fairlie District near Lake Opuha, Ashwick Flats.

Considering the political issues of the time my tipuna would have had little affection for the Union Jack and indeed my Dad told me of stories of the Irish Irregulars in the Mackenzie country who refused to fight for the British Crown during the First World War.

But a generation later the O'Reilly's were willingly lining up with the other young men of our nation to fight under our current flag, including the Union Jack or not, as attested to in these days by the War Monument at Ashwick Flats.

Over time something had happened. Perhaps it was the balance provided by the cross of the Southern skies, but in any case our family had become less Irishmen and more New Zealanders. A decade or so before my ancestors left Ireland my children's Maori tipuna, Tareha Te Moananui MP, the first Maori to speak in the New Zealand Parliament, had accepted at his home pa of Waiohiki, a flag from Mother Mary Aubert.

It was fifty two feet long, red, and in French silk. Aubert decorated this flag with a number of icons, signifying her view of the trials and tribulations of the Maori and the potential for resolution. This flag was captured by Te Kooti and became his battle standard, "Te Wipu", the whip.

In recent years the icons on that flag have been picked up by artists, notably Para Matchitt, as symbols of Maori resistance and renaissance. You can see them on the pou decorating the footbridge crossing the motorway to Frank Kitts Park and the Boatshed on the Wellington waterfront.

These symbols, designed by a Frenchwoman, and intended to represent one thing had been taken by Maori and used for a quite different purpose.

As a young man in Wellington I was right into protest, lining up alongside Dun Mihaka to hassle the Queen and generally support the Maori renaissance. Fast forward a few years and I find myself in the role of Manager of Marketing and Communications for the Department of Internal Affairs custodians of the nation's flag.

For my sins of protest in earlier years I was given the job of organizing Waitangi Day commemorations at Waitangi and elsewhere. I can remember that, in 1995, when a guy trampled on the New Zealand flag on the marae at Te Tii Marae during the welcome for the Prime Minister, I felt really pissed off and had to be restrained from crossing the marae atea and recovering it.

The design on the flag had little to do with my feelings, it was the "us", both Maori and Pakeha, I felt was being trampled upon.

During the recent hikoi to Wellington over the foreshore and seabed issue I felt quite at home marching under the notional "Maori Independence" flag. I considered that the "us" side of the Treaty equation had trampled on the Maori side.

Just recently I returned to Fairlie to bury the oldest member of the O'Reilly clan. I took my eldest son and eldest grandson. After the funeral mass the family was hosted at the Mackenzie Pipe Band Hall.

The pipes and drums were brought out, and the proceedings of the evening followed a form as natural to the O'Reilly's of Pakeha blood as to the O'Reilly's of Maori blood. Though the symbols on the walls were a world apart from the decorations at Waiohiki, here in the shadow of Aorangi the Gaels and the Maori were as one, New Zealanders all, and I wondered how we might express that in future by way of the colours that we fly and the values they intimate."

- Denis O'Reilly 26 October 2004


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