For more than two years, we’ve been fighting to free the Aboriginal flag from the restrictions of copyright. Last night it was announced the iconic flag – which has become a symbol of Aboriginal Australia since it was first flown at a land rights rally in 1971 – has finally been freed.
That means the flag is now available for public use after its designer Harold Thomas agreed to transfer the copyright to the Commonwealth government following long negotiations.
This is an enormous collective win for everyone who has been a part of this movement. The advocacy has paid off – the flag is now back in the public domain where it belongs and returned as the public symbol all flags should be.
The flag copyright agreement saw the federal government terminate the commercial license agreement held by WAM Clothing, among other things. Let us not forget that WAM Clothing and Gifts Mate held worldwide exclusive licenses for the use of the Aboriginal flag on apparel and media, and the director of both companies, Ben Wooster, still owes $2.3 million to the ACCC for exploiting Aboriginal art and culture after a court found his previous company, Birubi Art, had breached consumer law.
Today we finally see some closure on an issue that should have been addressed when the Aboriginal flag was proclaimed an official flag of this country in 1995. While the journey of a truly free flag still continues as some technicalities behind the agreement are still unclear, this is a giant leap for flag equality.
In the past two years we have seen so many incredibly creative iterations of the Aboriginal flag to work 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. There are so many moments to reflect on in this campaign and we cannot wait to celebrate together.
When we moved into our Sydney Road space on Wurundjeri Country, one of the first things we did was install a giant “Free the Flag” mural. Today we got to spray paint a “D” to make it “Freed the Flag”.
The celebration on the street, the drivers passing and cheering us on – this really is a win for everyone.
Senator Nova Peris and artist Michael Connolly joined our campaign a while ago, 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
“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 – the land, our language, our culture – and now we don’t have to ask permission to at least use our flag.”
Michael Connolly, Dreamtimme Kullilla Art (Kullilla & Muruwari)
“Now we have a flag for our future generations and this copyright saga will 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 it celebrated and again make a return to sporting fields, uniforms and the grassroots community spaces.”
Laura Thompson, Clothing the Gaps co-founder and CEO (Gunditjmara)
“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 be used without license, 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
To the Aboriginal community organisations, the Aboriginal community leaders, the people who gave evidence at the senate inquiry, to the 165,000 supporters that signed the Pride not Profit petition, the countless people who wrote to their MPs and to the sporting clubs and many politicians across all parties – thank you, together we have created real change.
For everyone who has received a cease-and-desist order 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.
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.
Clothing the Gaps is an Aboriginal-owned-and-led fashion label and social enterprise based in Melbourne. Its mission is to promote “equity so that Aboriginal people feel seen and heard ... and add years to Aboriginal people’s lives”.