The Aboriginal Flag represents not only the First Nations people of Australia but also the long and complex history of indigenous rights, resistance against colonisation, and the continuing struggle for recognition and justice.
Australia, like many other countries with a history of colonization, bears the scars of cultural dislocation, oppression, and the suppression of its indigenous populations. The Aboriginal Flag stands as a potent reminder and emblem of the indigenous people's past, present, and future aspirations.
Who designed the Aboriginal Flag?
The Aboriginal Flag was designed by Harold Thomas, a Luritja man from Central Australia, in 1971. The flag features three horizontal bands and its design is simple, yet profoundly symbolic:
Black at the top, representing the Aboriginal people.
Red at the bottom, representing the earth and the spiritual relationship between the land and the people.
A yellow circle in the center, symbolising the Sun, the giver of life.
What makes the Aboriginal Flag special?
The Aboriginal Flag's significance is not limited to its visual elements however. It stands as a testament to the legacy of a people who have thrived against adversities, preserved their ancient customs, and have been guardians of their sacred lands. The flag serves not just as an emblem of identity, but also as a beacon of hope, resistance, and unity.
Flashback to the tumultuous 1970s, an era punctuated by heightened activism and an intensified struggle for indigenous rights. In this landscape, the Aboriginal Flag emerged as a symbol of hope and protest. The Aboriginal Tent Embassy of 1972, a landmark movement, adopted this flag, catapulting it to national and global prominence. Through the decades, the flag has been hoisted in various arenas—from protests for land rights to marches demanding justice, marking significant milestones in the Aboriginal quest for self-determination.
The Flag Today
Today, the Aboriginal Flag has seamlessly woven itself into the Australian socio-cultural fabric. No longer relegated to indigenous events or spaces, it stands tall beside the Australian national flag on numerous public edifices. Its profound influence permeates contemporary culture—manifesting in fashion, inspiring artists, and serving as a rallying point for various causes. However, like many emblems bearing profound socio-political significance, the Aboriginal Flag hasn't remained untouched by controversy. The heart of the matter revolves around the flag's design rights, held by Harold Thomas. The subsequent debates and discussions centered on copyright issues, culminating in calls to transition the emblem into the public domain. Advocates argued that this move would ensure that the flag remains an unrestricted symbol, free for all Aboriginal Australians to use, cherish, and celebrate.
Free the Flag
Through decades, it's been hoisted at pivotal events, like the Aboriginal Tent Embassy protest in 1972, and worn by iconic figures, such as Cathy Freeman during her victory lap at the Sydney 2000 Olympics.
Despite its public significance, the flag remained under copyright, as it was a unique artistic creation. Thomas had sealed a licensing pact with Flagworld, an Australian flag manufacturer, during the mid-1980s, and later granted WAM Clothing exclusive rights for its apparel use. These deals led to confrontations between WAM Clothing and several organizations, such as the AFL, NRL, and even Indigenous initiatives like Clothing the Gap.
The "#freetheflag" MovementWhen Clothing the Gap received a cease-and-desist letter from WAM Clothing, it sparked an online crusade against the commercial monopolization of the flag. The campaign questioned whether a non-Indigenous company should profit from the Aboriginal identity and their flag. Their petition garnered massive support, thrusting the matter into the national spotlight.
Is the Aboriginal Flag now free?
In a monumental turn of events, the Australian Federal Government acquired the copyright of the Aboriginal flag for $20 million in January 2022. This move, intended to make the flag accessible without the looming threat of copyright infringement, had a split response. While many hailed the decision, others like Senator Lidia Thorpe voiced concerns about the colonial undertones of the government's acquisition. The "freeing" of the Aboriginal flag has ushered in a new chapter in the annals of Indigenous rights in Australia. While it offers an immediate respite from copyright tussles, it also propels forward the conversation on cultural ownership and respect.
The Aboriginal Flag is not merely an emblem—it's a pulsating heartbeat. A heartbeat that resonates with the echoes of ancient tales, reverberates with contemporary aspirations, and looks ahead with hope and unity. As Australia marches forward, this flag promises to remain a constant—a reminder of its rich indigenous heritage and a symbol of a more inclusive future.
- Neale, M. (1995). Urban dreaming: understanding the city. Australian Aboriginal Studies, (1), 42.
- Thomas, H. (2000). The Aboriginal Flag. In B. Attwood & S. Arnold (Eds.), The Black Rainbow: Essays on the present, past and future of Aboriginal Australia (pp. 32-39). Melbourne: Melbourne University Press.
- Gardiner-Garden, J. (2003). The Aboriginal flag. Current Issues Brief, 10, 1-13.