Originally designed for the land rights movement in 1971, the Aboriginal flag has come to represent Aboriginal People Australia-wide since being adopted as an official “Flag of Australia” in July 1995.
But when the flag’s designer and copyright holder since 1997, Luritja artist Harold Thomas granted non-Indigenous company WAM Clothing the exclusive worldwide licence to use on clothing, physical and digital media in November 2018, organisations and companies using the flag on merchandise began being served cease and desist letters for permission to use it. This included the AFL and NRL, with both making the decision not to enter into an agreement with WAM Clothing.
WAM Clothing is owned by Ben Wooster of the now defunct gallery Birubi Art, who was fined $2.3million in 2018 by a Federal Court for selling fake Aboriginal artwork made in Indonesia. He has since admitted in the Senate inquiry that WAM Clothing products are also produced and printed in Bali.
Indigenous Australians Minister Ken Wyatt says the federal Government is in conversations with the copyright owner of the Aboriginal flag and is attempting to broker a deal around its use, with a committee looking into copyright and licensing arrangements to allow the design to be freely used by all Australians.
The consensus of the Senate inquiry is that the flag should be controlled by an Aboriginal body in the future.
Today on the show we speak with Kullilli and Murruwari man Michael Connelly, owner of Queensland-based Dreamtime Kullilla Art, for some background, including his own experience receiving a legal letter from WAM Clothing.
Image: the Aboriginal flag flies proudly over recent Black Lives Matter protests in Tarntanyangga