Black for our people. Red for ochre and earth. Yellow for the sun, giver of life.
Indigenous artist Harold Thomas said that in designing the Aboriginal Flag, he was representing Aboriginal people, and our spiritual, timeless connection to the land.
When he raised the flag in 1971 at a land rights rally in Victoria Square/Tarntanyangga, Adelaide, on then-National Aborigines Day, it immediately resonated with our people.
Every time over the past 50 years that the Aboriginal Flag has flown, it has grown in significance and meaning for our people.
Today, the Aboriginal Flag remains the most powerful symbol of our culture and people – proudly flown by Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians alike.
So when copyright issues restricting its use became known, I knew that it was imperative that our Government acted.
While flying the flag was open to everyone, licencing agreements required anyone wanting to reproduce the flag, in any medium, to seek permission and pay fees.
A number of organisations decided to stop using the flag and many others were inadvertently breaching copyright laws, unaware of the arrangements in place.
In 2019, I met with Harold Thomas and following that meeting the Morrison Government started discussions with him and the licence holders seeking to resolve the issues around the use of the flag.
At the time, we were not seeking to procure the copyright, but support Mr Thomas to maintain the integrity of the flag and allow freer use.
The Government’s position all along was to not compulsorily acquire the flag – dispossession was never an option. It would have been an affront to every artist and Aboriginal person in this country.
It became evident over time that our Government would need to play an ongoing role and, with Mr Thomas’s agreement, discussions turned into negotiations to secure the copyright.
To do this, we also had to discharge the three existing licence arrangements, which included estimating the potential revenue over the life of the contracts and reaching agreement with the licensees on appropriate compensation for them giving up their exclusive rights.
This was challenging, as there were differing views on whether value was increasing or decreasing over the course of the negotiations.
The intrinsic value of the Flag also had to be considered.
This has been a long road navigating the complexities of copyright and contract law and trying to value something that is priceless to our nation.
But the result has been worth the wait.
The Aboriginal Flag is now freely available to be used, reproduced, communicated and shared by all Australians.
It will now be managed in a similar manner to the Australian National Flag, where its use is free, but must be presented in a respectful and dignified way.
Now that the Commonwealth holds the copyright, it belongs to everyone, and no one can take it away.
Harold speaks with great pride about how much his design has been embraced and we all look forward to honouring the Flag and its place in our society.
I was 20 when the Aboriginal Flag emerged in the fight for land rights. And when I joined in the marches at the time, I felt a sense of pride with the Flag in my hand.
I am reminded of all the moments over the subsequent decades where Mr Thomas’ work was present.
I think of the Sydney Harbour Bridge being flooded in black, red and yellow during the walk for reconciliation at Corroboree 2000.
Cathy Freeman’s victory lap at the Sydney 2000 Olympics.
Street art in Redfern.
On the footy field during the Indigenous Round.
Flying in front of our public buildings. Flying proudly at embassies.
The Aboriginal Flag evokes 65,000+ years of continuous connection with our land.
It speaks to us, and speaks of us.
It gives us strength and represents our pride.
It is a symbol that can now be celebrated and shared by all Australians- growing in strength and meaning for generations to come.