Last modified: 2006-02-25 by jonathan dixon
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image by Christopher Vance
The aboriginal flag is "per fess sable and gules, a rondel or", in English, it's a yellow circle (the sun) on a horizontally divided field of black (the night sky) and red (the red earth, presumably this was from a group of Northern Territory aboriginals, there's not a lot of that ochre ground here in Tasmania...).
An alternative explanation is that black represents the skin color of the people, red the land, and the yellow disc represents the sun. It is a very common mistake to display the flag upside down. However, various references, from both government and non-government sources, always show the flag black above red
Miles Li, 16 July 1999
There has never been any definite symbolism given to the colours by the flag's supposed designer, Harold Thomas. There are several different interpretations; black has been said to symbolise Aboriginal skin and the night sky. Red can either be the red desert earth of the Aboriginal blood spilt over the last 200 or so years.
David Cohen, 11 September 2000
The judgement of the copyright dispute contains a comprehensive history of the development of the flag design, including explanations of the colours.
Bill Anderson, 21 January 2001
The following is a press release from Australian flag manufacturer Carroll and Richardson, who hold the exclusive licence for the making of Aboriginal flags - a licence granted by the copyright holder, Harold Thomas.
contributed by David Cohen, 11 December 2001
Dear General Manager,
In April 1997 the Federal Court of Australia declared Harold Joseph Thomas to be the author of the artistic work known as "the Aboriginal flag." Mr Thomas, an indigenous artist, designed the flag in 1971 and it has become the symbol of Australia's indigenous people.
Mr Thomas made the decision to award an exclusive licence for the manufacture and marketing of Aboriginal flags, banners and bunting to Carroll and Richardson Flags.
Since 1998, Carroll and Richardson Flags have been advising flag manufacturers not to infringe the Harold Thomas copyright, however some flagmakers have chosen to ignore repeated warnings about infringement and have continued to manufacture and sell Aboriginal flags and banners. Proceedings have been issued against these companies in the Federal Court of Australia, seeking costs and damages.
As a possible purchaser of Aboriginal flags it is important for you to be aware of infringing flags, banners, bunting, and handwaver flags that may be under your control. These items may be in store in your organisation or on a purchasing list with the responsible individuals within your organisation. Aboriginal flag products not manufactured by Carroll and Richardson Flags should be returned to the point of purchase as they could breach Mr Thomas' copyright.
If you wish to purchase Aboriginal flags, banners and bunting for display purposes or for flagpoles, you can do so by contacting Carroll and Richardson Flags direct, or by contacting the Government Info Shop in any capital city within Australia. The addresses of these stores can be found on the website at www.flags2000.com.au. In the Quick Navigation Menu, click on Flags of Australia and scroll down to Australian Stockists.
Flags that have a white 'header' at the left side, or flags that do not show the Carroll and Richardson label could be infringing the copyright held by Mr Harold Thomas.
Carroll and Richardson
image by Dylan Crawfoot
Seen on the news today, Aboriginal protesters in Canberra were flying this variation of the Aboriginal flag while police tried to remove them from outside Federal Parliament House.
Dylan Crawfoot, 11 February 1999
image by Dylan Crawfoot
The Australian newspaper on Tuesday (15 June) carried a January 1972 photo from the Aboriginal Tent Embassy outside parliament house in Canberra. It showed this variation of the Aboriginal flag (which was first flown at around this time) featuring what looks like a spear design. There is no accompanying explanation of the flag, and while the photo is in B/W, I'm assuming the standard black, red, gold colours of the Aboriginal flag.
Dylan Crawfoot 16 June 1999
On 26 February 1979 I received a communication from Ambrose Golden-Brown, an aboriginal educator and a member of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy established outside Parliament House, Canberra in 1972, which remained there until forcibly closed in 1977. The following is substantially based on Ambrose Golden-Brown's letter.
Three flags were flown at the Embassy:
The red/black/green flag was not explained by Ambrose Golden-Brown, but it identical to the African-American flag, and no doubt was derived from it. Protest activism was new to Australian Aboriginals in 1972 and African-American protest provided the obvious model.
The black-over-red flag with the disk was designed by Harold Thomas and submitted in a national competition (details of the competition?). The letter from Ambrose Golden-Brown describes the disk as representing both the sun and the land, and its colour as ochre (one of the basic pigments in Aboriginal painting - however in practice the disk is always a bright chrome yellow). The black represents Aboriginal people. The red is for blood.
The spearhead flag was a separate entry in the same competition(designer?), and was not precisely as reported by Dylan Crawfoot. The field was black over ochre-yellow (not red), and the symbols on it were white (not yellow). The barbed spear (which was couped at the base) represented the European invasion of the Australian continent on 26 January 1788. The four surrounding symbols (which were somewhat thicker than shown in the illustration and rounded at the ends rather than cut straight across) represented "Aboriginal elders discussing the invasion".
The flag with the disk has superseded other designs and is now officially recognised as the Aboriginal flag by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission. The colour symbolism understood at the Embassy in 1972 is not necessarily current, and I have heard both of the alternative interpretations reported by Bernard Booth and Miles Li.
Adrian J. Oudeman, 27 November 1999
image by Antonio Martins, 22 Jan 2006
A curious development in the last 20 years has been the use by Australian radicals and republicans - who commonly share an anti-British stance towards Australian history - of the Australian national flag with the British flag in the canton replaced by the Aboriginal black, red and gold flag. This variant is occasionally flown in political demonstrations and depicted on car stickers.
Adrian J. Oudeman, 27 November 1999