The federal government has bought the copyright for the Aboriginal Flag after long-running negotiations with its owner.
Harold Thomas, a Luritja artist, created the red, yellow and black flag in 1970 in a design he says represents the land and Aboriginal people’s timeless history on it.
“It is an introspection and appreciation of who we are. It draws from the history of our ancestors, our land, and our identity and will honour these well into the future,” Thomas said.
The transfer will allow Thomas to keep his moral rights over the flag while the commonwealth will use all future sales of the flag it receives to support the National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee.
Thomas has also indicated he plans to use $2 million to establish an Australian Aboriginal Flag Legacy not-for-profit to make periodic disbursements.
Prime minister Scott Morrison said the flag would be managed in a similar way to the Australian Flag.
“Its use is free, but must be presented in a respectful and dignified way,” Morrison said in an announcement the day before Australia Day.
“We have sought to protect the integrity of the Aboriginal Flag, in line with Harold Thomas’ wishes. I thank everyone involved for reaching this outcome, putting the flag in public hands.”
Indigenous Australians minister Ken Wyatt said the flag now belonged to everyone and “no one can take it away”.
“The Aboriginal Flag is an enduring symbol close to the heart of Aboriginal people,” Wyatt said.
“Over the last 50 years we made Harold Thomas’ artwork our own — we marched under the Aboriginal Flag, stood behind it, and flew it high as a point of pride.”
A $100,000 annual scholarship for students to develop Indigenous governance and leadership will be offered by the government in Thomas’ honour.
The National Indigenous Australians Agency will now create an online history and education portal for the flag.
The government will also display a Harold Thomas painting recognising the flag’s 50th anniversary and transfer of copyright.