For over two years we have been fighting to see the Aboriginal flag free from the restrictions of copyright. The Government's announcement today (25th Jan, 2022) sees the iconic flag, that has become a symbol of Aboriginal Australia, freed and available for public use after its designer, Luritja man Harold Thomas, agreed to transfer its copyright to the Commonwealth following long negotiations.
This is an enormous collective win for everyone who has been a part of this movement. Public advocacy has paid off. The flag is now back in the public domain where it belongs as the public symbol that all flags should be.
To the Aboriginal Community organisations, the Aboriginal Community leaders, the people who gave evidence at the Senate inquiry, the 165,000 supporters that signed the Pride not Profit petition, the countless people that wrote to their MPs, to the sporting clubs, and many politicians across all parties – thank you, together we have created real change.
For everyone that has received a Cease and Desist for the use of the flag, or was forced to ask permission for its use and pay a fee to celebrate it – we are so glad that the chains of the copyright have been released. Let us not forget that WAM Clothing and Gifts Mate held worldwide exclusive licenses for the use of the Aboriginal flag whilst Director of both companies, Ben Wooster, still owes $2.3 million to the ACCC for exploiting Aboriginal art and culture.
Today we have finally seen some closure on an issue that should have been addressed when the Aboriginal flag was proclaimed in 1995 as an official flag of this country.
The journey of a truly free flag still continues with technicalities behind the agreement still unclear, but this is a giant leap for flag equality from what we have seen in recent years.
In the past two years we have seen so many incredibly creative iterations of the Aboriginal flag whilst working around the copyright. We are so excited to see the Aboriginal flag return to Communities and to see people wear and celebrate it without fear of retribution.
We won’t ever forget seeing Free the Flag tees and conversations swarm the AFL's Sir Doug Nicholls Round of 2020 or the countless submissions to the Senate Enquiry. There are so many moments to reflect on in this campaign.
When we moved in to our Sydney Road space on Wurundjeri Country, one of the first things that we did was install a giant Free the Flag billboard. Today we got to spray paint a ‘D’ to make it Freed the Flag. The celebration on the street, the cars cheering us on from the traffic – this really is a win for everyone.
The campaign was joined early by Nova Peris and Michael Connolly, and we have had such incredible pro-bono legal support from the FAL team. When asked to reflect on what the flag being freed meant to them, they shared these thoughts…
“There is no greater feeling than equality. For the first time, we as Aboriginal people have something of equal value. I’ve been fighting discrimination for 25 years during my sporting career and as a Senator, and the flag is something that has been so close to me as an Aboriginal person, but most importantly as an international athlete and now I have sheer delight that we have something of equality in this country.” Nova Peris OAM OLY (Gija, Yawuru, Iwatja & Gagudju)
“Now we have a flag for our future generations and this copyright saga one day will become just a blimp in its iconic history. The fear and worry of using the Aboriginal flag and breaching copyright is no more. We are so excited to see the Aboriginal flag celebrated and again and make a return to sporting fields, uniforms and grassroots Community spaces.” Laura Thompson, Clothing The Gaps Co-Founder & CEO (Gunditjmara)
“This is the greatest day of our lives and now as Aboriginal people we have had a win for something that is very special. Our people have been buried with this flag and now we don’t have to get permission to use it. We have had to ask for permission to use everything else, our land, our language, our culture, and now we don’t have to ask permission any more to at least use our flag.” Michael Connolly, Dreamtimme Kullilla Art (Kullilla & Muruwari).
“The task that began in 1995, when the Aboriginal Flag was proclaimed as a Flag of this Nation, has been completed. Now the Flag is free to do its job. The Flag can used without licence, fee or threat of litigation and be what it was always intended to be: a flag that truly represents the Aboriginal and wider Australian communities.” Peter Francis, FAL Lawyers as pro-bono legal support to the Free the Flag campaign.
When we wear our values on our tees in political fashion that sparks conversations, we can influence social change and we have seen the outcome of that today.