The journey to #FreeTheFlag
Cuban painter, Jorge R. Camacho Lazo creates ‘The Night that Hides’ artwork. Contains a “little picture” in the artwork that looks like the Aboriginal flag. Harold Thomas studied fine art at the South Australian school of Art in the 1960’s graduating with honours in 1971 with a special interest in European artwork.
12 July 1971
Aboriginal flag was first flown publicly in Adelaide at Victoria Square on National Aborigines Day.
Jan- July 1972 The front of the Tent Embassy in Canberra before Harold Thomas’s flag was flown later in 1972.
Photo: Aboriginal Tent Embassy from www.koorieweb.org before the Aboriginal Flag was adopted.
Aboriginal activist Gary Foley took the flag with him to the east coast, where it was adopted nationally by Aboriginal Australia in 1972 after it was flown above the Aboriginal Tent Embassy outside the old Parliament House in Canberra.
Harold Thomas asserts his ownership of the flag in pursuit of royalties including seeking money from Aboriginal Hostels and from the Aboriginal Development Commission (both not for profit, Government owned). He establishes a licencing agreement with Flagworld in the mid 1980’s.
The Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation created via an act of Parliament initiated by the Hawke Labour Government.
The Torres Strait Islander Flag was designed by Bernard Namok in 1992 after winning a flag design competition. This flag was proclaimed a "Flag of Australia" under section 5 of the Flags Act 1953 in July 1995. Unlike the Aboriginal Flag, the Torres Strait Island Flag copyright is not owned by the artist, it is owned by the Torres Strait Island Regional Council (TSIRC).
Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation presents Going Forward: Social Justice for the First Australians to Paul Keating. This document contained 78 recommendations, number 66 recommends amendment to the Flags Act to give official recognition to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags.
Aboriginal Flag was proclaimed as a Flag of Australia under the Flag Acts 1953. This was after the image of the Aboriginal flag was beamed around the world when Cathy Freeman draped herself in both the Australian and Aboriginal flags during a lap of honour after winning the 200 and 400 metre finals at the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Canada. Cathy went on to win the 400m at the 2000 Olympic Games and put the Aboriginal Flag on the world stage once again.
Photo: Cathy Freeman carries both the Aboriginal and the Australian flags during a victory lap during the 2000 Olympic Games (photo courtesy of ABC).
9 April 1997
Federal Court of Australia officially recognised Harold Thomas as the creator of Aboriginal flag and not George Brown. This protects the flag under the Copyright Act 1968 and so it may only be reproduced in accordance with this law or with Harold’s permission. The Federal Court decision enabled Thomas to make a new application to determine the remuneration payable by the Federal Government in respect of it’s use of the flag.
Mr Thomas made the decision to award an exclusive licence for the manufacture and marketing of Aboriginal flags, banners and bunting to Carroll and Richardson Flags (now trading as Flag World or Flags 2000). At the same time he awarded a licence to Gooses T’Shirts for Clothing featuring the Aboriginal Flag.
17 Dec 2001
ATSIC made a license agreement with Harold Thomas.
Flags 2000 (trading as Flag World) and Thomas brought a successful action against a man named Mr Smith, who had made and sold copies of the flag without permission.
Birubi Art Pty Ltd (owned by Ben Wooster) awarded sole copyright license holder for souvenir items bearing the flag image, excluding those items specifically listed to Carroll & Richardson (Flag World).
1 Jan 2008
Aboriginal Flag was proclaimed as a Flag of Australia under the Flag Acts 1953 for the second time due to an administrative oversight.
“I, PHILIP MICHAEL JEFFERY, Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia, acting with the advice of the Federal Executive Council and noting the fact that the flag reproduced in Schedule 1 and described in Schedule 2 is recognised as the flag of the Aboriginal peoples of Australia and a flag of significance to the Australian nation generally, appoint that flag, under section 5 of the Flags Act 1953, to be the flag of the Aboriginal peoples of Australia and to be known as the Australian Aboriginal Flag with effect from 1 January 2008.”
26 Jan 2010
Harold Thomas refused to give Google permission to reproduce the design on its website.
Read more: Oh dear: Google flagged after logo dispute
30 August 2017
Birubi Art website displays “A Statement from the Artist” signed by Harold Thomas which suggests that the only two companies that are licensed to produce flag products are Carroll & Richardson and Birubi. Harold is, however, still collecting royalties from Gooses T-shirts.
ACCC announces Federal Court action against Birubi Art alleging misleading claims over authenticity of items sold between 2014 and 2017.
02 May 2018
The Trustee for Gifts Mate (Owned by Ben Wooster) becomes active with ASIC, operating under the business names Creative Souvenirs and Bunji Art.
30 June 2018
Ben Wooster sells nearly all of Birubi’s assets to Gifts Mate. (Assuming this means the license as well, this is not something available as public record.)
28 September 2018
Birubi Arts deregistered from ASIC.
23 October 2018
Federal Court finds that Birubi Art misled consumers over the authenticity of Aboriginal art objects.
29 October 2018
Birubi ceases trading, liquidator appointed.
23 November 2018
Harold Thomas signs exclusive license and agency agreement for the flag on clothing with WAM Clothing who is part owned by Ben Wooster from Birubi Arts.
In the article, 'Tempers Fray as Flag Fight Unfurls' published by Leisa Scott in The Courier Mail on 18 Jan, 2020 it reveals for the first time the details on the contract between WAM Clothing and Harold Thomas. Harold sold the licensing rights to WAM Clothing for a $20,000 lump sum plus royalties over 10 years.
Harold Thomas contacts Gooses Tshirts and advises that he is withdrawing their licence arrangement because his son is now involved in the business. WAM contact Gooses soon after and demand all stock is to be sold within a very short timeframe or they face legal consequences. Gooses forward their final royalties to Thomas in January 2019.
6 June 2019
Spark Health Australia (trading as Clothing the Gaps) and the major sporting codes such as AFL and NRL received a cease and desist from WAM clothing.
Campaign to #FreeTheFlag begins led by Laura Thompson at Clothing The Gaps. Michael Connolly from Dreamtime Kullilla-Art were issued with cease and desist notices from WAM Clothing as well as Harold Thomas to cease using the flag in all print, digital, physical media and social media platforms as they were deemed to be framing in a negative light.
Ingenious sporting teams begin to replace the Aboriginal flag logo with the Free The Flag logo on their uniforms. This logo is available for free download from our website.
7 June 2019
WAM Clothing expands its license from Clothing to also include physical and digital media. View all the details of the exclusive copyright agreement here which includes the license of the Aboriginal Flag emoji. WAM have applied to Unicode for the Aboriginal flag emoji but, were rejected.
11 June 2019
WAM and Harold Thomas release a statement after Laura Thompson from Clothing the Gaps appears on Channel Ten, The Project TV.
Harold Thomas remarks in this statement “It’s taken many years to find the appropriate Australian company that respects and honours the Aboriginal Flag meaning and copyright and that is WAM Clothing. I have done this with Carroll & Richardson, Gifts Mate and the many approvals I’ve given to Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal organisations who have deep interest in the Aboriginal plight. The Aboriginal Flag is doing its job as it was intended to do, to bring unity and pride to all aboriginals. At times we get the few who snigger and are disenchanted. I can’t satisfy all black people who wish to break up the Aboriginal unification.”
24 June 2019
Harold Thomas speaks out on CAAMA Radio in Darwin about the #PrideNotProfit petition started by Spark Health and the Aboriginal Flag copyright issue.
25 July 2019
Court found Birubi Art and Ben Wooster breached Australian consumer law. Birubi art Fined $2.3 million fine by the Federal Court for selling thousands of pieces of fake Aboriginal art.
28 July 2019
Laura Thompson (Clothing the Gaps), Nova Peris (former Senator and Olympian) and Michael Connolly (Dreamtime Kullilla-Art) travel to Canberra to lobby politicians. The #PrideNotProfit petition was tabled by Labor MP Ged Kearney in the Senate with over 47,000 signatures.
24 July 2019
Carla Scotto a non-Indigenous Melbourne based climate change illustrator reaches out to Clothing The Gaps to allow us to use her 'Always Was, Always Will Be' art exclusively on our tees, instead of the Aboriginal flag. This went on to be our best seller!
1 August 2019
A motion about the Aboriginal flag copyright was passed unanimously in the Senate by Senators Siewart, Hanson Young and Dodson that (a) notes: (i) that, in 1995, the Aboriginal Flag was recognised as a 'flag of Australia' under the Flags Act 1953 (ii) that the designer of the Aboriginal flag owns the flag's copyright and has licensed the rights to use the flag on garments to a company which is now requiring people to ask for permission to use the emblem and pay a fee, (iii) that the license has now been expanded to physical and digital media, (iv) that many First Nations communities feel they are at the mercy of a company seeking to profit from their flag and (v) the concerns in many First Nations communities that their flag is licensed to a company; and (b) recognises that the Aboriginal flag is one of Australia's national symbols and a central part of first people's National identity and that the flag should be about people and pride not profit; and (c) calls on the Federal Government to do everything they can to ensure that all First Nations peoples and communities can use the flag whenever they want without cost or the need for consent.
25 Oct 2019
ATSIC agreement is tabled in the Senate Estimates committee followed by a discussion about the government policies and beliefs about the Aboriginal flag copyright issue.
17 March 2020
WAM Clothing releases their new range of 'Always Was' NAIDOC tees that look remarkably like the Clothing The Gaps x Carla Scotto range.
Photo: L-R WAM Clothing tee, Clothing The Gaps Tee.
19 March 2020
Carroll and Richardson (Flagworld) with the exclusive license to reproduce the Aboriginal flag on flags, banners and buntings is seeking to sue the operators of the Free the Flag website for alleged copyright infringement for selling flags featuring a reworked version of the Aboriginal flag.
Flagworld is also seeking to sue a Queensland-based company called Nichoff Inc for copyright infringement for allegedly selling flags on eBay featuring Mr Thomas' design with no changes.
THE JOURNEY TO #FREETHEFLAG CONTINUES...
To see a more detailed account including videos and links to agreements please visit The Clothing The Gaps Flag Rights Journey webpage.
Please note: This document is a work in progress. If you believe there to be any inaccuracies, omissions or have any suggestions please don’t hesitate to email firstname.lastname@example.org
Help required: If anyone has time and would like to help by referencing this timeline with the source list in the timeline available for download please email email@example.com this would be an incredible help as we continue to roll out this national campaign with no financial supports.
Download the Aboriginal Flag timeline with a complete list reference list.