When Indigenous artist Harold Thomas raised his Aboriginal Flag design in 1971 at a land rights rally in Victoria Square, Adelaide, on then-National Aborigines Day, it immediately resonated with Australia’s First Nations people. And every time over the past 50 years it has flown, it has grown in significance and meaning.
Learn More About the Aboriginal Flag
Artwork by Sarrita King
When copyright issues restricting its use became known to current Minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt AM, it began a lengthy consultation process to support Mr Thomas to maintain the integrity of the flag and allow freer use.
On the 25th of January 2022, it was announced that the Aboriginal Flag copyright had been transferred to the Commonwealth. The Australian government paid $20.05 million to Mr Thomas and licence holders to extinguish most of the licences and secure copyright.
A commercial company will keep its exclusive licence to be able to manufacture Aboriginal flags for global commercial use, but the government said the company would not stop people from making their own flags for personal use.
Gadigal Artist and former Aboriginal Art Association of Australia board member Kate Constantine gave evidence at the Senate Enquiry leading to this outcome. She said “it was extremely important for me to be part of this discussion. Our flag holds so much value for the Aboriginal people, one of strength, power and love, it’s a national shame that the copyright for the flag itself wasn’t considered in 1995 when it was ratified as an official flag of the nation by the Commonwealth.
"This has caused much pain, heartache and divisiveness within our community. I am hopeful that this outcome allows our people to again be proud of our flag, and I would also like to think that this payout represents to Aboriginal artists a benchmark for the fair payment and treatment of their artworks copyright.”
So how did they come to the amount of $20.05 million? In an opinion piece Mr Wyatt explains that they had to discharge the three existing licence arrangements. This included estimating the potential revenue over the life of the contracts and reaching agreements with the licensees on appropriate compensation for them giving up their exclusive rights. The intrinsic value of the Flag also had to be considered. No small feat I’m sure!
Mr Thomas has said he hoped Australians would use the flag with respect and pride. “I am grateful that my art is appreciated by so many, and that it has come to represent something so powerful to so many.
“The Flag represents the timeless history of our land and our people’s time on it. It is an introspection and appreciation of who we are. It draws from the history of our ancestors, our land, and our identity and will honour these well into the future.”
With this news, it certainly is a symbol that can now be celebrated and shared by all Australians– growing in strength and meaning for generations to come.