Australian federal government backs campaign to secure licensing rights for Aboriginal flag design


16 September 2020

A campaign to secure the licensing rights for the Aboriginal flag has received federal backing, as the Australian government begins negotiations with the non-Aboriginal clothing company which currently holds the rights.

The flag was originally designed by Luritja artist Harold Thomas in 1971. Thomas granted the exclusive rights to reproduce the flag to Birubi Art, a Brisbane gallery owned by art dealer Ben Wooster. That same year, Wooster was fined $2.3m for selling inauthentic Aboriginal artworks made in Indonesia. Birubi Art was dissolved, and the rights to the Aboriginal flag were transferred to Wooster’s new company, WAM Clothing.

Thomas has not made any statement as to his decision to sell the flag’s licensing rights in 2018.

This week, Wooster told the Guardian that the products made by WAM Clothing featuring the Aboriginal flag are also made in Indonesia.

A campaign to #FreeTheFlag, and secure it for the public domain, have been underway for the last few years. It gained particular traction last month, when the Australian Football League was fined for using the design on uniforms and merchandise sold during the 2020 “Indigenous Rounds”.

All clubs in the league subsequently launched a petition in support of the #FreeTheFlag movement, demanding that the design should be in the public domain. It currently has 150,000 signatories.

First used at the 1971 National Aborigines Day march in Adelaide, Thomas’s flag design has been used in a range of rallies, demonstrations, posters, and by Aboriginal organisations. It became an official Australian flag in 1995.