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The day the Aboriginal flag was missing from the big AFL Dreamtime game

Mark Knight, August 27, 2020 6:30PM Kids News

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Part of Mark Knight’s cartoon. media_cameraPart of Mark Knight’s cartoon.


Reading level: orange

The AFL’s Sir Doug Nicholls Round celebrates our indigenous AFL players and Aboriginal culture.

The centrepiece of the round is the big Dreamtime game at the MCG where Essendon takes on Richmond before a packed stadium and a pre-game festive celebration of Aboriginal dance and music.

But due to the coronavirus restrictions and the Stage 4 lockdown in Melbourne, footy games are being played interstate. It was decided that this year’s Dreamtime game would be played in Darwin at the local oval there.

The Northern Territory has the highest population of our First Nations people in Australia and what a thrill it would be for the indigenous round’s biggest game to be played on their country and in front of a crowd full of local Aboriginal people.

When the indigenous round arrived last weekend and the Dreamtime game was played at TIO stadium in Darwin we witnessed a great spectacle. Aboriginal footy stars such as Essendon’s Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti and Richmond’s Daniel Rioli and Marlion Pickett played to a packed house. There was no mistaking the delight on their faces including the hundreds of children as they watched their heroes play in front of them rather than on TV.

But there was one thing missing during the whole event. A major part of Aboriginal culture was nowhere to be seen on the ground or on the player’s specially designed team jumpers. And that was the Aboriginal flag.

The Aboriginal flag has become such a part of our First Nation’s people’s culture and campaign for recognition and it was a shock that the flag was not there. Why? It was not on the football ground or player’s jumpers because its copyright* had been sold to a clothing company and to display the image of the flag the AFL had to pay a licencing fee to that company. The Aboriginal flag is actually owned by the artist who designed it more than 40 years ago, Luritja man Harold Thomas. As he is the creator of the flag he can grant* licences to companies to commercially use the flag or he can refuse someone using it. He has copyright over it for 70 years after his death!

There is a campaign by Aboriginal leaders to “Free the Flag” and make it available freely to everyone, just like the Australian flag. To assist in that campaign, the AFL decided to not pay the copyright fee this year, but this meant they could not use the flag during the indigenous round.

I was urged to draw a cartoon about this on the day of the big game. I thought I would draw the footy ground in Darwin and I painted a big Aboriginal flag on the ground as there would normally be. I wanted to add some of the indigenous footy stars running onto the ground. Tipungwuti is great to draw with his long dreadlocks flowing in the breeze as he runs and I also added Daniel Rioli. I drew them running out onto the ground over the large Aboriginal flag. My punchline had to be the flag itself. My idea was about how shocking I thought it was that a national symbol of Aboriginal culture could be owned by an individual (even if they were the creator) and sold for commercial* gain.

Mark Knight’s cartoon. Right-click and open in new tab for full-sized image. media_cameraMark Knight’s cartoon. Right-click and open in new tab for full-sized image.

When thinking of an idea I recalled that the copyright symbols we see on most things we buy are made up of a ‘C’ inside a circle with the word copyright following. And it just so happens the Aboriginal flag consists of a large yellow round sun in a black sky over a red landscape. In my cartoon the yellow sun became a big copyright logo. It turned the flag from a symbol of indigenous pride into a commercial commodity*. That was the cartoon’s intended message.

The two Aboriginal footy players, Tipungwuti and Rioli, who are running onto the ground, look shocked and bemused*. As they should be.

Just like the shock a lot of Australians felt that day.

AFL Rd 13 - Fremantle v Sydney media_cameraSpectators wave the Aboriginal flag at the AFL match between Fremantle Dockers and Sydney Swans at Optus Stadium on August 22, 2020 in Perth, WA. Picture: Getty Images


  • copyright: the legal right to own an idea such as in a painting, play, song or software
  • grant: give or allow
  • commercial: to do with making money
  • commodity: a product to be bought and sold


Fight to free Aboriginal flag from restrictions

A long line of reasons to leave halftime alone

Dreaming of an Uluru without climbers


  1. Who drew this cartoon?
  2. Which two AFL teams are depicted?
  3. What is the meaning of the C in the middle of the flag?
  4. Which state or territory is Darwin in?
  5. Where is the Essendon versus Richmond Dreamtime game usually played?


1. Aboriginal flag
Read Mark’s explanation about how and why he drew this cartoon and write two, three or four short sentences, just to make sure you understand what the cartoon is saying.

Now write a caption for the cartoon to make the meaning of the cartoon clearer for younger students or those who haven’t been following this issue.

Time: allow at least 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum links: English, Humanities, Visual Arts, Critical and Creative Thinking

2. Extension
Look through the most recent stories on Kids News and choose one to draw a cartoon about. Use Mark’s three-step process to get started:

What is my subject?

What do I want to say about this issue?

How do I say it? Do I use visual metaphors (an image that the viewer is meant to understand as a symbol for something else), multiple panels or symbolism (when one idea, feeling or emotion is represented by something else such as a: picture, character, colour or object)?

Time: allow at least 40 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum links: English, Humanities, Visual Arts, Critical and Creative Thinking

Describe It
Look at the cartoon and make a list of 5 nouns that you see. Then describe those 5 nouns with 5 adjectives.

Be specific and add where those nouns using prepositions and another noun.

Now choose your favourite bundle and put all the words together to make one descriptive sentence.

HAVE YOUR SAY: How do you feel about someone ‘owning’ 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