Brought to you by Newscorp Australia

Olympic gold medallist Nova Peris leads fight to ‘free’ Aboriginal flag from copyright restrictions

Ally Foster, August 1, 2019 7:00PM

Print Article

An Aboriginal traditional dancer with the Aboriginal flag, performing at the Gulf Country Frontier Music Festival in Gregory Downs, Qld in 2018. Picture: Lyndon Mechielsen media_cameraAn Aboriginal traditional dancer with the Aboriginal flag, performing at the Gulf Country Frontier Music Festival in Gregory Downs, Qld in 2018. Picture: Lyndon Mechielsen


Reading level: orange

Australian Olympic gold medallist Nova Peris is leading the fight against a clothing company that bought the copyright* to the Aboriginal flag.

WAM Clothing was given exclusive* rights to use the Aboriginal flag on clothing by Luritja* artist Harold Thomas, who designed the flag in 1971.

Designer of Aboriginal flag Harold Thomas during 30th anniversary of the creation of the Aboriginal flag celebration parade in Adelaide 08 Jul 2001. aborigine media_cameraArtist Harold Thomas at a parade in Adelaide in 2001 celebrating 30 years since he designed the Aboriginal flag.

WAM Clothing has reportedly sent several “cease and desist*” notices to Aboriginal-owned businesses that use the flag on clothes, along with the AFL, which uses images of the flag on club jerseys for its indigenous round.

Ms Peris this week took a petition with about 50,000 signatures to a group of Labor politicians.

Speaking to ABC Radio, the 1996 Olympic gold medal winner explained if she was competing today, she would have to get WAM’s permission to wear the flag on her clothing to race or face legal action.

“We pretty much have to get down on one knee and beg them to use our flag. We have to pay to use it,” Ms Peris said.

Jack Peris media_cameraNova Peris with her 15-year-old son, Jack Peris, who has been included in the AFL’s Flying Boomerang squad, the national junior indigenous AFL team. Picture: Aaron Francis

“In 1995 there was a proclamation* made by the Governor-General to claim this flag as the flag of the Aboriginal people. So it was a flag before a legal copyright came over the top.

“We want equal rights to our flag like other Australians have equal rights to their flag.

“When you look at that flag it’s symbolic of us as a race of people that goes back 50,000 years, even though it’s only 48 years old.”

media_cameraA member of the public is seen with the Aboriginal flag during The City of Sydney’s annual NAIDOC in the City event in Hyde Park, Sydney, July 13, 2019. NAIDOC week celebrates Aboriginal and Torrens Straight Islander cultures and traditions. Picture: AAP

She criticised Mr Thomas’ decision to licence the flag to WAM, which was founded by non-indigenous owners Semele Moore and Been Wooster in 2018.

“(Mr Thomas) basically said, ‘This is my flag, this is my dreaming, this belongs to my family’, and so Aboriginal people across the country are like, ‘What the hell? How do you say that?’

“We the people have made that flag and elevated it to its status* today.”

The petition was started in June by Spark Health, an Aboriginal-owned and run business that focuses on indigenous health and welfare. Spark Health is one of the companies threatened with legal action.

It uses the Aboriginal flag on its Clothing The Gap products, which help raise money to go back into the Aboriginal community.

The petition calls for the licensing agreement to be changed.

“This is not a question of who owns copyright of the flag. This is a question of control,” the petition reads.

“Should WAM Clothing, a non-indigenous business, hold the monopoly* in a market to profit off Aboriginal people’s identity and love for ‘their’ flag?

“We believe that this control of the market by a non-indigenous business has to stop.”

However, WAM Clothing said in a statement it had reached out to Spark Health and offered to discuss a resolution* but received no reply.

Aboriginal Flag media_cameraSpark Health co-founders Laura Thompson and Sarah Sheridan are facing legal action over using the Aboriginal flag in its Clothing the Gap products. Picture: Aaron Francis

WAM Clothing also confirmed it was in discussions with the NRL and AFL about the use of the flag on clothing.

The company noted that before it entered into the licence agreement with Mr Thomas he was not receiving recognition or royalties from the majority of companies reproducing the Aboriginal flag.

“We’re pleased that Harold is now starting to receive his rightful recognition and subsequently royalties for his copyright,” the statement read.

“WAM Clothing has obligations* under its licence agreement to enforce Harold Thomas’ copyright, which includes issuing cease and desist notices.”

The company also included a statement attributed to Mr Thomas.

“It’s taken many years to find the appropriate Australian company that respects and honours the Aboriginal flag meaning and copyright, and that is WAM Clothing,” the flag designer said.

“The Aboriginal flag is doing its job as it was intended to do, to bring unity* and pride to all Aboriginals.

“At times we get the few who snigger and are disenchanted*. I can’t satisfy all black people who wish to break up the Aboriginal unification*.”

Mr Thomas has licensing agreements with two other companies — one to reproduce the flags and another to reproduce the image on objects.

The flag was designed by Harold Thomas, a Luritja man of Central Australia, and was first flown on National Aboriginal Day in Adelaide in 1971.

The flag is a coloured rectangle divided in half horizontally, the upper half black and lower red. A yellow circle sits at the centre of the rectangle.

Mr Thomas said the colours of the flag represent the Aboriginal people of Australia, the red ochre colour of earth and a spiritual relation to the land and the sun, the giver of life and protector.

media_cameraThe Aboriginal flag.

Aboriginal athlete Cathy Freeman attracted criticism at the 1994 Commonwealth Games by carrying the Aboriginal flag as well as the Australian national flag during her victory lap after winning the 200m and 400m sprints.

In 1995 the Aboriginal flag was recognised by the Australian Government as an official ‘Flag of Australia’ under the Flags Act 1953.

At the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Ms Freeman won the 400m gold medal and again carried both the Australian national flag and the Aboriginal flag, as well as her yellow, red and black running shoes when she ran a victory lap. This time, instead of being criticised, she was widely congratulated for both her sporting achievement and for carrying the Aboriginal flag.

Source: Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies

Athletics - athlete Cathy Freeman holding Aboriginal and Australian flag after winning 400m final race at Olympic Games in Sydney 25 Sep 2000.  flags media_cameraCathy Freeman holding the Aboriginal flag and Australian national flag after winning the 400m final the at Olympic Games in Sydney, September 25, 2000.

Nova Peris is 48 years old and was born in Darwin.

In 1996 she became the first indigenous Australian to win an Olympic gold medal, as a member of the Hockeyroos team in Atlanta, US.

She was 1997 Young Australian of the Year.

She then switched to running. In 1998 she won Commonwealth gold medals for the 200m and as part of the 4x100m relay team in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

At the 2000 Olympics in Sydney she reached the semi-final of the 400m and was a member of the 4x400m relay team, which placed fifth.

In 2013 she was elected to the Senate for the Northern Territory, the first indigenous woman elected to federal parliament.

Source: Australian Olympic Committee

29/09/2000. Day 14. Jana Pittman passes to Nova Peris Kneebone in the 4x400m heats. 2000 Olympic Games. Sydney Olympics. media_cameraJana Pittman passes to Nova Peris in the 4x400m relay heats at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.


  • copyright: a legal right to restrict other people’s use of an artwork
  • exclusive: the only one allowed
  • Luritja: an indigenous nation of people of parts of NT and WA
  • desist: stop
  • proclamation: public or official announcement
  • status: official classification of something
  • monopoly: one person or company has all the rights
  • resolution: agreement
  • obligations: the things someone should do
  • unity: being in agreement as one
  • disenchanted: fed up; has lost hope
  • unification: bringing everyone together


PM wants national day for indigenous Aussies

NZ says Australia should change its flag

Hobart could be known as nipaluna

Queues of climbers spoil Uluru and parklands

Student’s anthem protest


  1. What did the Governor-General do about the Aboriginal flag in 1995?
  2. What is a benefit of the copyright agreements for Harold Thomas, who designed the flag?
  3. Describe the Aboriginal flag and what it represents.
  4. What did Cathy Freeman carry on her victory lap after the 400m final at the Sydney Olympics?
  5. What Olympics and Commonwealth gold medals has Nova Peris won?


1. Form an opinion
Where do you stand on this issue?

To form an opinion on an issue like this it is important to look at all points of view and the reasons people hold that point of view.

Create a two-column chart, labelled WAM CLOTHING and NOVA PERIS

Read through the article carefully and note down under each heading any reasons or evidence that supports their stance on the issue.

For example: Under WAM CLOTHING — you could write Harold Thomas was the artist who designed the flag and deserves to be recognised and to collect royalties.

Under NOVA PERIS — you could write WAM Clothing was not founded by indigenous Australians.

Can you add any more points to support either side of this issue?

To finish, write a paragraph outlining your opinion of this issue. Do you think this clothing company should continue to have copyright of the Aboriginal flag or should the copyright should be lifted? Include the reasons you believe justify this opinion.

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Personal and Social Capabilities, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures, Intercultural Understanding

2. Extension
Use your opinion to help you write a letter to the Labor politicians either in support of the petition or against it. Make sure you include reasons why you hold this opinion. Use emotive language to help convince the reader to agree with you.

Address your letter correctly.

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Personal and Social Capabilities, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures, Intercultural Understanding

After reading the article, with a partner, highlight as many pieces of punctuation as you can find in green. Discuss how these are being used, where and how often. What level of the punctuation pyramid is the journalist using in this article?

HAVE YOUR SAY: Share and explain your opinion on whether the clothing company should be able to restrict the use of the Aboriginal flag.
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

Extra Reading in civics