July 01, 2024 / by Danny Mavis

Australia has two flags that represent the Indigenous people – the Aboriginal and the Torres Strait Islander flag. They have both become recognised symbols of the unity and identity of Australia’s First Nations People. On 25 January 2022, the Aboriginal flag copyright was transferred to the Commonwealth after a Senate Inquiry in 2020 and a lengthy consultation process. That means that now the design can be reproduced by the public on various mediums, such as sports apparel, from jerseys to shirts, and more – it can be painted on sports grounds, included on websites, in various artworks, used digitally and in any other medium without any fear of legal threats. 

It holds a lot of significance and meaning, and emblematises the country’s rich Indigenous history and culture. Today, it is the dominant Aboriginal emblem and an official national flag, a symbol of Aboriginal Australia that holds special legal and political status worldwide. You can get the Australian Aboriginal flag from its exclusive licensed manufacturer and provider on flags and pennants, banners and buntings. It is produced in a range of sizes, materials and finishes to suit your needs.

The Origins 

person setting up Australian aboriginal flag
source: pinimg.com

The flag was designed in 1971 by a Luritja man and a member of the Stolen Generations, Harold Thomas from Central Australia. In 1970, a year of heightened activism and an intensified struggle for Indigenous rights, as a graduate of the South Australia School of Art, he attended a protest march. There, he was struck by the fact that Aboriginal people of Australia had no symbol of their own around which they could rally, which inspired him to design the flag. 

He chose red, black and yellow as colours that would be more striking at protests, but they have a deeper meaning. The design is simple, yet profoundly symbolic. It’s a coloured rectangle divided horizontally into halves, the top half is black, the lower half is red and there is a yellow circle in the centre. The black represents Aboriginal people, the red represents the earth and the spiritual relationship between the land and the people, and the yellow circle represents the sun, the giver of life. 

The Australian Aboriginal flag was first raised on 9 July 1971 at a land rights rally on then-National Aborigines Day in Victoria Square, Adelaide. From that day, it has become an enduring symbol of Aboriginal strength and the Aboriginal ongoing spiritual connection to the land. In 1972, it was used at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra and since then Aboriginal people have continually harnessed the potency of this emblem as a symbol of their resistance. Many Indigenous artists, designers, cooperatives, businesses and land councils have incorporated it in logos, referencing a common Aboriginal identity.

In 1994, the Commonwealth took steps to give the flag legal recognition. On 14 July 1995, together with the Torres Strait Islander Flag, it was recognised as an official Flag of Australia by the Australian Government under the Flags Act 1953. It was the same year when Cathy Freeman captured global attention during the 1994 Commonwealth Games by waving both the Aboriginal and the Australian National flags after winning the 200-metre sprint.

In 1997, the Federal Court of Australia recognised Harold Thomas as the author of the flag, which means that it was protected under the Copyright Act 1968 and can be reproduced only following this legislation or the author’s permission. In 2000, the National Indigenous Advisory Committee campaigned for the Aboriginal flag to be flown during the Olympic Games, and the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games heeded the call and the flag was raised at Olympic venues. The same year, it adorned the Sydney Harbour Bridge during the 2000’ March for Reconciliation. 

During the flag’s 30th anniversary celebration in 2001, it was carried by thousands of people from the Parliament of South Australia to Victoria Square. In alignment with the recommendations of the Council’s Reconciliation Committee, the flag has been permanently flown in Victoria Square in front of the Adelaide Town Hall since 8 July 2002. In February 2022, the NSW Government announced that the flag would be permanently flown from the Harbour Bridge. Today, it is flown or displayed around the country at Aboriginal centres, councils, government buildings, businesses, schools and homes. 

What Does It Represent?

sunset as a presentation of the Australian aboriginal flag
source: aussievibes.co

The significance of the flag goes beyond its visual elements. It stands as a testament to the legacy of people who have preserved their ancient customs and have been guardians of their sacred lands for ages. It serves as an emblem of identity, but also as a symbol of identity, resistance and unity, and hope overall.

The Australian Aboriginal flag represents the First Nations People of Australia and the long and complex history of Indigenous rights, resistance and the continuous struggle for recognition and justice. As one of the many countries with a history of colonisation, Australia bears the scars of cultural dislocation, oppression and suppression of the Indigenous population. The flag stands as a powerful reminder and emblem of the Indigenous people’s past, present and future.

Final Thoughts

More than an emblem, this flag is a pulsating heartbeat that resonates with the echoes of ancient tales and looks ahead with hope. As Australia moves forward, it promises to remain a powerful reminder of the rich Indigenous heritage and a symbol of a more inclusive future.