‘History has been made’: Aboriginal flag rights purchased by Commonwealth
25 January 2022 at 6:00 pm
The announcement follows a two and a half year campaign by fashion social enterprise, Clothing the Gaps
First Nations businesses and advocacy groups are celebrating following a copyright deal allowing the Aboriginal flag to be reproduced on apparel and merchandise without permission.
On Monday, the Morrison government announced it has paid more than $20 million to obtain the copyright to the flag, as well as terminate commercial licences owned by companies that limited the reproduction of the symbol.
Designed by Luritja artist Harold Thomas in 1970 to represent Aboriginal people and their connection to the land, the emblem has been an official national flag since the end of the last century – but its copyright remained with Thomas.
And when in 2019 Thomas sold the rights to use the flag on clothing to non-Indigenous company, WAM Clothing, many First Nations organisations and businesses took issue with not being able to freely use the design.
The company threatened legal action against businesses or organisations (including the NRL and AFL) that used the flag on clothing.
Federal Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt said that this latest deal meant all Australians were now free to use the flag to celebrate Indigenous culture.
“Now that the Commonwealth holds the copyright, it belongs to everyone, and no one can take it away,” Wyatt said.
As part of the agreement, all future royalties raised by the flag will go to NAIDOC.
The long fight pays off
One group that spearheaded a two-and-a-half-year long campaign to free the flag from private ownership is Aboriginal-owned and run fashion social enterprise, Clothing the Gaps.
During this time, the brand ran a line of “Free the Flag” clothing and accessories, launched an online petition that attracted over 165,000 signatures, and drew support from the AFL, Olympian Nova Peris, and Labor Senator Malarndirri McCarthy.
A growing awareness of the issue also prompted a Senate Inquiry into the Aboriginal Flag in 2020.
The brand thanked all their supporters via Instagram.
“It’s been a huge journey! It’s been officially 960 days since we launched the Free The Flag campaign and today we get to celebrate it being free,” the post said.
“Whether you wore a tee and had important conversations, signed the petition, wrote to your MP or booked a session with us! None of this would have been possible without you all.”
Some advocates remain wary
While many are celebrating the announcement, some remain critical.
Bundjalung woman Nessa Turnbull Roberts, a writer and human rights advocate, said that just two days out from 26 January, she would count the wins when communities won.
“We are worth more than $20 million,” Turnbull Roberts said in a post to Instagram.
Dominic Guerrera, a Ngarrindjeri person who works as an Aboriginal health educator and student support officer, echoed these same sentiments.
— Dominic Guerrera (@GuerreraDominic) January 24, 2022
“How can the flag represent Aboriginal sovereignty when it’s now owned by the colony itself,” Guerrera said via Twitter.