Flying the Aboriginal flag for the first time!

Date: Jun 17, 2021

Publication Type: Blog

Subject: Land Rights

From 12 July, the exhibition 'Black, Red & Yellow: Unity and Identity' commemorating the 50th anniversary of the first raising of the Aboriginal flag will open at Library & Archives NT.

Part of the Redfern mural that reads '40,000 years is a long, long time, 40,000 years still on my mind'.

On a cold morning in Victoria Square in Adelaide the Aboriginal flag was flown for the first time on 12 July 1971 - 50 years ago. 

The flag, designed by Luritja man, Harold Thomas, was raised on National Aborigines Day—four years before NAIDOC became an annual weekly celebration.

It was not until it was adopted—largely at the urging of activist Gary Foley—by the 1972 Aboriginal Tent Embassy in 1972 that it slowly became recognised as the flag representing all Aboriginal people in Australia.

The symbolic meaning of the flag colours (as stated by Harold Thomas) is:

  • Black – represents the Aboriginal people of Australia
  • Yellow circle – represents the Sun, the giver of life and protector
  • Red – represents the red earth, the red ochre used in ceremonies and Aboriginal peoples’ spiritual relation to the land

Townsville Aboriginal and Islander Health Services.

By the late 1970s/early 1980s it was increasingly being used by Aboriginal organisations and individuals in posters and murals, and by the early 1980s on T-shirts. From the early to mid 1980s Aboriginal artists were incorporating the flag in fine artwork. Land Rights News did not start depicting the flag until the mid-1980s.

But of course flags did not arrive with Europeans and the planting of the British flag on so-called Possession Island by Captain Cook. For many hundreds of years, in developing trade and ceremonial relationships with the Macassans, Aboriginal people from north, north-east and eastern Arnhem Land, along with Groote Eylandt, have incorporated flags in ceremonies.

In 1995 the Commonwealth Government recognised the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags as official Australian flags.

In 1997 the Federal Court recognised Thomas as the copyright holder in the flag’s design, which has caused considerable controversy as he has in recent times, via his licencees, increased pressure on many Aboriginal organisations to pay for use of the flag on t-shirts and other items.

Townsville Aboriginal and Islander Health Services.