Australia Day Met with Celebrations, Protests

Marking contradictory narratives . . . 

January 26 is officially recognized as Australia Day, the day historically associated with celebrating the Australia that grew from waves of British settlement beginning in the late 1700s. It is also commemorated as Invasion Day by many, in recognition of centuries of atrocities against Aboriginal peoples, including massacres and land confiscation, and in protest of ongoing racism against and mistreatment of Aboriginal Australians. This year, Invasion Day marches were held across the country, with an estimated 4,000 taking part in Sydney.

Purchasing Aboriginal flag copyright . . .

Two days before Australia Day, the federal government announced it had purchased, for A$20 million (C$17.9 million), the copyright to the iconic Australian Aboriginal flag that has been a symbol of Aboriginal resistance and protest since its creation more than 50 years ago. The move is a victory for the 'free the flag' movement that began in 2019 in response to several Aboriginal organizations receiving cease and desist letters from a non-Indigenous-owned clothing company that had licensed the flag’s image. The original artwork on which the flag is based was licensed by its creator for use by a small number of companies. The movement's profile grew in part as Aboriginal sports stars vented frustration that their teams could afford to reproduce the flag on their teams' jerseys while Aboriginal community groups and businesses could not.

Who gets to use the flag, how, and for what purposes?

The government's purchase of the copyright to the Aboriginal flag is controversial. Some feel it is an iconic symbol that all Australians should be free to use. Others believe its copyright should be vested in an Aboriginal body at arm's length from the government, or that copyright should remain with the artist who created it. The flag will now be free for anyone to use without obtaining permission, so long as it is used in a "respectful and dignified way." Adjudicating what that means in practice will likely be contested in the years to come. The irony that the flag's ownership is held by the very government that has perpetrated atrocities against Australia's Indigenous peoples and is accused by many of continuing to systematically discriminate against them is lost on very few.