The AFL’s Sir Doug Nicholls Indigenous Round is set to kick off on Friday with what seems to be one glaring omission: the Aboriginal flag.
That’s because it’s copyrighted, and rights to use the Aboriginal flag on clothes belong exclusively to a company called WAM Clothing
“It’s disappointing that there is copyright over the [Aboriginal flag] and it can’t be used freely as an expression and emblem of cultural pride,” Aboriginal Swans player Buddy Franklin told the Herald Sun ahead of the first match.
The idea of copyrighting the flag goes back decades when its designer, artist Harold Thomas, sought to be credited and protect the flag from misuse. It was only recognised by the Australian government as an official flag in 1995.
However in 2018, the clothing rights for the flag were sold to WAM, despite the company not being Aboriginal-owned.
What’s more, WAM Clothing co-founder Ben Wooster was previously persecuted for selling fake Aboriginal souvenirs which were actually made in Indonesia.
Shortly after WAM acquired the licence, the Queensland-based company started going after anyone who was using the flag on clothes without their permission, including the AFL and NRL, which is why they’re unable to legally use it at the coming matches.
Now some players are even calling for a protest at the game.
“I’m calling on all supporters coming to the ground this weekend to bring an Aboriginal flag in support of what is happening,” former Aboriginal Essendon player Michael Long told the Herald Sun.
“That flag belongs to all Aboriginal people – not just to any individual.
“It is something that we fought for with the racial vilification of players who played the game and athletes like Nova Peris and Cathy Freeman – they have flown the flag for Aboriginal people.”
Nova Peris has herself has been campaigning for the flag to be exempt from copyright since last year, but to no avail.
At around the same time, Aboriginal social enterprise Spark Health also launched a Change.org petition to change the licencing agreement, which so far has over 100,000 signatures.
The Torres Strait Islands flag isn’t copyrighted in the same way and will be visible during the Indigenous Round. But as it stands, the only Aboriginal flags at this weekend’s AFL matches will be the ones spectators bring along with them.