Story: Coat of arms

Page 3. A new coat of arms, 1956

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The coat of arms was redesigned in 1956.

The lion and the motto

The principal revisions to the 1911 coat of arms were the replacement of the word ‘Onward’ by the more straightforward (and less ambitious) ‘New Zealand’ and the removal of the British lion (holding aloft the British flag) at the top of the shield. These changes allowed the new coat of arms to be more clearly identified as New Zealand’s.

An appropriate symbol?

In 1999, in his final speech to Parliament, Sir Douglas Graham, who as a cabinet minister had been involved in many negotiations over breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi, stated, ‘We are not the same. Maori are Polynesian; they do not regard themselves as European. … [W]ith all of the differences – differences that we should value rather than decry – we nevertheless are all New Zealanders, and we are all proud to be. The coat of arms of this country has a Maori and a non-Maori looking to the future. That is the symbol for us.’1

The warrior and the woman

The two figures at either side of the shield were repositioned – facing each other across the shield, rather than gazing outwards – and redesigned, the Māori made more decorous, the woman more decorative. They no longer stood on an elaborate scroll, but instead were positioned gently atop two fern leaves.

Why was the coat of arms changed?

The change of coat of arms in 1956 was welcomed by New Zealand diplomats wanting a coat of arms less closely linked to Great Britain. Officials had been reduced to writing the words ‘New Zealand’ below the 1911 coat of arms in order to identify the country with which it was associated.

A star of two nations

When the coat of arms was redesigned, Attorney General John Marshall wrote, ‘The first redraft of the design showed the woman … still with what I believe is known in polite society as the fuller figure. I sent it back with the instruction to the designer to make her look like Grace Kelly, then a very superior film star.’2 That year, Kelly married Prince Rainier of Monaco. She is the only former Hollywood star to contribute directly to symbols of the national identity of two countries – New Zealand and Monaco.

There were also aesthetic issues. John Marshall, attorney general at the time, described the old coat of arms’s features as ‘rather banal and uninspiring. It was due for an overhaul. The female figure which featured as one of the supporters was a rather plump matron with her hair done up in a bun on top of her head, gazing into space and holding a disproportionately large New Zealand flag’.3 Marshall thought New Zealand could be more attractively represented, and had the woman redesigned.

Footnotes:
  1. New Zealand Parliamentary Debates, vol. 580, 5 October 1999, p. 19,721. Back
  2. John Marshall, Memoirs. Volume 1. 1912 to 1960. Auckland: Collins, 1983, p. 250. Back
  3. Memoirs, p. 248. Back
How to cite this page:

Stephen Levine, 'Coat of arms - A new coat of arms, 1956', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/coat-of-arms/page-3 (accessed 20 October 2017)

Story by Stephen Levine, published 20 Jun 2012