History of the Aboriginal flag

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Aboriginal Flag Senate Enquiry

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Flag rights journey in detail

We are an Aboriginal social enterprise using fashion to unite and influence social change.

We never realised the conversation and debate that we would create, once we placed our Aboriginal flag on our tee!  

june 2019

Did you know the Aboriginal flag was copyrighted?

Well it is, and we have been served a 'Cease and Desist' notice from WAM Clothing for celebrating the Aboriginal Flag on our 'Clothing the Gap' products we were given 3 working days to sell all our flag stock. Otherwise, we faced legal action.

Currently, WAM Clothing hold an exclusive world-wide licensing agreement with the Flag's copyright owner, Harold Thomas, to reproduce the Flag on clothing. This is not a question of who owns copyright of the Flag. This is a question of control.  Should WAM Clothing, a non-Indigenous business, hold the monopoly in a market to profit off Aboriginal peoples' Identity and love for 'their' flag?

Unite with us to #FreeTheFlag and see the Aboriginal Flag celebrated, shared and worn for #PrideNotProfit as we lobby government and relevant bodies for action.

Photo: Sianna Catullo (Head of Brand and Marketing, Clothing The Gaps)

Cease and Desist

How did this all start?

We were served a'Cease and Desist'fromWAM Clothingon the 6 June, 2019 for celebrating the Aboriginal Flag on these 'Clothing the Gap' products and given three days to stop selling our merch.

Due to the Cease and Desist, we were no longer able to sell these products on our website:

Photos of our illegal products (L-R): Our NAIDOC hoodie with all the mob names in the background, our flag tee (even though we thought we had sufficiently altered the original flag design) and our flag beanie.

WAM Clothing 

WAM Clothing hold the exclusive world-wide licensing agreement with the Aboriginal Flag's copyright owner, Harold Thomas, to reproduce the Flag on clothing, physical media and digital media. We wrote to Harold Thomas in August of 2018 to ask for permission to enter a licensing agreement to use the Flag on clothing, however we received no reply.

Photo: (L-R) Ben Wooster  (WAM Clothing, Birubi Arts and Giftsmate), Harold Thomas (Flag Artist) and Semele Moore (WAM Clothing).

Sharing On Our Socials

The following day after receiving our letter, we went to the public via our social media to share our story and experience.

Our Petition Goes Nuts

Our #PrideNotProfit petition gathered momentum quickly and we are now up to nearly 50,000 signatures of support.

Media Storm

The small team at Spark Health Australia did lots of media including appearing on SBS, ABC, The Australian, the Age, NITV, and on The Project, discussing who Owns The Aboriginal Flag?

Laura Thompson on Channel Ten, The Project TV

Lawyers galore and taking on The GAP

We were really surprised by how many intellectual property law firms reached out to support us after the media storm by offering to work pro-bono on the Aboriginal flag copyright issue. It was the vibe and energy we received from the team from the very beginning that helped us decide to work alongside FAL Lawyers on this issue. FAL Lawyers also agreed to work with us on a pre-existing trademark dispute against GAP Clothing .

Photo: (L-R) Laura Thompson and Sarah Sheridan (founders of Spark Health and Clothing The Gap).

Gap Inc. owns the rights to the word “Gap,” so the company was acting within its rights to send the cease-and-desist notice to us because we used the word "Gap" in our branding 'Clothing The Gap'. Obviously, our name is a play on the Australian government initiative "Closing the Gap" but, this trademark dispute continues with this billion-dollar U.S. clothing giant and we will challenge them in the tribunal mid year, 2020 with the support of FAL Law. 

Read more: Aboriginal firm denied right to use flag and use of word 'gap'

Peter Francis and his team from FAL Lawyers have been on this journey with us since June, 2019. We are incredibly grateful to this firm not just on our behalf of Clothing The Gap but, on behalf of Aboriginal people across the country for their work and efforts to help free the Aboriginal flag forallAboriginal people.

Photo: Laura Thompson, Peter Francis (FAL Law), Jon Faine (ABC Radio), Sarah Sheridan (Clothing The Gap).

WAM Clothing, Ben Wooster and Fake Aboriginal Art

The #PrideNotProfit petition's support grew, questioning why WAM Clothing, a non-Indigenous business, hold the monopoly in a market to profit off Aboriginal peoples' Identity and love for 'their' flag? We believe that this control of the market by a non-Indigenous business has to stop and that the flag should be free for all to use and celebrate without fees or royalties. Even more unsettling is the fact that Birubi Arts (recently fined $2.4m by the ACCC for dealing in fake Aboriginal Art) and WAM Clothing share Ben Wooster as a Director. Wooster has a clear history of exploiting culture and identity for his own financial gain.

Photo: Lena Charles, Sarah Sheridan, Laura Thompson, Nova Peris, Destiny Peris and Jessica Peris.

Harold Speaks Out

Harold Thomas, Luritja artist and copyright owner of the Aboriginal flag had been quiet in the media in frenzy other than speaking with CAAMA Radio in Darwin on the 24 June, 2019 after he meet with Minister Ken Wyatt on 20 June, 2019. He responds to his critics and is clearly fired up about the personal attacks on his credibility through social media since the petition started. He also without mentioning names in the interview, made untoward comments about Laura Thompson, who is leading the Free The Flag campaign and questioned her Aboriginal identity and connection to Community. He also called everyone who signed the petition "foolish". 

The CAAMA interview lasts approx. 25 minutes however, it's worth a listen to gain some insights into Harold Thomas's perspectives on the issue.

WAM Clothing also released a statement on the 11 June after Laura appeared on Chanel Ten, The Project TV. They claimed it was directly from Harold Thomas: “As it is my common law right and Aboriginal heritage right, as with many other Aboriginals, I can choose who I like to have a licence agreement to manufacture goods which have the Aboriginal flag on it.

“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."

Photo: Harold Thomas courtesy CAAMA Radio.

Free The Flag journey- Part 2

The Free The Flag movement builds momentum