The Aboriginal flag has just turned 50 years old, but it is an anniversary that so far has passed without fanfare.
A last minute date change and an ongoing copyright dispute appear to have stifled any celebration of the well-known symbol synonymous with indigenous rights campaigns.
The red, black and yellow flag was first raised at a land rights rally in Adelaide in July 1971. For many decades, July 12 has marked the anniversary of its creation by Luritja artist Harold Thomas. But late on Friday, the federal government issued a short statement acknowledging that the date is incorrect. The flag’s true birthday is July 9.
“During the last half century, [the flag] it has grown in importance and stands as an enduring symbol of Aboriginal strength, representing Aboriginals and their continuing spiritual connection to the land, ”said Indigenous Australians Minister Ken Wyatt. “Harold Thomas, a Luritja man from central Australia, gave all Australians a gift with his powerful design that helped Aboriginal Australians unite under one flag.
“From flying over the Aboriginal tent embassy in Canberra to being wrapped up in it by Cathy Freeman after her victory at the 2000 Sydney Olympics and being carried on countless marches for Aboriginal rights, the flag has been inextricably linked with our history, colors and design have become iconic. “
But underneath was a “note to the media”: “The date of the first flag-raising is incorrectly recorded as July 12 in several places, including the 2008 Explanatory Statement for the official proclamation of the Aboriginal flag. The Australian government is working to update them to reflect the true anniversary of July 9. “
So the iconic flag, seen in the crowd at Ash Barty’s legendary win at Wimbledon over the weekend, just turned 50 on Friday and no one was there to celebrate. Why not?
Copyright negotiations continue
The symbol’s recent past has been fraught with controversy.
In 1997, the federal court officially recognized Harold Thomas as the sole author of the design. As such, Thomas may license other parties to make copies of the flag or reject the permission entirely.
In November 2018, Thomas granted an exclusive license to a non-indigenous company, WAM Clothing, to reproduce the flag’s design on clothing, physical and digital media. WAM Clothing issued infringement notices to the AFL and NRL, as well as many small Aboriginal non-profit organizations for their prior use of the design.
Amid growing anguish and confusion over who could use the design freely, a parliamentary inquiry was organized to look at copyright and licensing agreements. Its final report called the actions of WAM Clothing “strong hand”.
“WAM Clothing’s conduct, in particular its approach to enforcing its rights as a licensee, was raised during the course of the investigation,” says the report, released in October last year.
WAM Clothing is partially owned by Ben Wooster, whose previous company, Birubi Art, was fined a record $ 2.3 million by the federal court after discovering that he had violated consumer law by selling fake Aboriginal art.
The Minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt, has long said his agency is in “silent talks” with the parties involved, including Thomas, about ways to solve the problem, but has said it is “extremely complicated.”
These “negotiations” have been going on for more than two years.
“The Australian government continues its negotiations with Thomas and the Aboriginal flag licensees to resolve public concerns related to its use so that all Australians can freely celebrate and honor the integrity of the flag,” Wyatt said on Friday.
The lack of resolution has been a source of frustration for those who say that the longer the problem drags on, the deeper the damage to the “deep and intrinsic importance to Aboriginal people and their lives” of the Aboriginal flag.
“At present, the extent to which the anguish and anguish expressed by many Aboriginal people about the flag, its use and its future are being weighed in negotiations is opaque,” the parliamentary report said.
Labor Sen. Malarndirri McCarthy said she was deeply disappointed by the lack of progress to date.
“I was hoping this would be fixed before the 50th anniversary of the Aboriginal flag, but the copyright issues surrounding the reproduction of the Aboriginal flag remain. I am deeply disappointed as chair of the Senate Select Committee on the Aboriginal Flag that we have not been able to resolve this, especially on the 50th anniversary.
“There has been little update from Minister Wyatt and the NIAA on where the negotiations are, despite a Senate investigation into the matter and questions raised in Senate Estimates.”
Most submissions to the parliamentary inquiry suggested that the preferred outcome was one in which Thomas voluntarily allowed the Commonwealth government to acquire existing copyrights and / or licenses through a negotiation process. But there was no clear consensus on what to do in the event that a negotiated outcome could not be achieved.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism