“The issue is that there is currently no other way to promote or use the flag.”
Queensland-based WAM Clothing says it holds the exclusive worldwide licence for the use of the Aboriginal flag on clothing, via a deal with Aboriginal man Harold Thomas, who designed the iconic flag in 1971. Both the website and T-shirts state that Franklin’s products have been made pursuant to Mr Thomas’ 1971 copyright.
The company issued cease and desist letters to Indigenous people who have looked to sell products with the image of the flag.
Peris’ lawyer, Peter Francis, who is a partner at Francis Abourizk Lightowlers, has written to the Governor-General in a bid to divest WAM of its legal rights.
“I’ve never met [Franklin]. But this is why we’re upset. Everything we’ve been fighting for, for the past 18 months, for him to go and do what he’s doing is a kick in the guts for all of us,” Peris told The Age and Sydney Morning Herald.
“That’s what we’re angry about. If you want to be a leader for our mob, then do right by our mob.
“It was Aboriginal people that gave rise to the flag. We gave it the value. That’s why we’re angry at WAM, who’s profiting off the value of that flag.”
The Aboriginal flag was officially recognised as a flag of Australia in 1995.
In a letter written by Mr Francis, representing Peris, Aboriginal artist Michael Connolly and Aboriginal community healthcare leader Laura Thompson, the Governor-General is told that “the flag has been [mired] in copyright and licensing controversies, which are eroding its legitimacy and causing great distress in Australia’s Aboriginal and wider communities”.
“The essential premise of the free the flag movement is that the rights of all Australians to use the flag should not be constrained by the claims of the copyright infringement and the cease and desist correspondence being issued to various Aboriginal charities by WAM Clothing Pty Ltd and the claimed litigation agents and licensees of Harold Thomas, the copyright holder of the flag,” Mr Francis wrote.
Ms Thompson, a Gunditjmara woman, is among those to have received a “cease and desist” letter, after her organisation Clothing the Gap, which describes itself as a Victorian Aboriginal-owned and led social enterprise, sought to sell products featuring the flag.
A post on WAM Clothing’s Instagram page says that “Harold Thomas will be paid a royalty for every piece of clothing sold by WAM Clothing”.
WAM was founded in 2018 by Semele Moore and Ben Wooster. Mr Wooster also founded Birubi Art Pty Ltd, which is now in liquidation. That business was fined $2.3 million by the Federal Court after being found guilty of misleading consumers into buying thousands of pieces of fake Aboriginal art.
This week marks the 20th anniversary of Peris’ run around Uluru with the Sydney Olympic torch. She was the first runner on Australian soil for that year’s torch relay.
In 1996, she won an Olympic gold medal in hockey before switching to a career in athletics in which she claimed two Commonwealth Games gold medals. She served as a Labor senator between 2013 and 2016.
“There’s nothing greater for me as a sportsperson than seeing a non-Indigenous person on TV in front of millions of viewers, wearing a beautifully designed jumper by an Aboriginal person and you’re wearing our flag,” Peris said.
“And to me, when a non-Indigenous person is wearing our flag that says to me that, that person values, that person acknowledges our history. That’s a very powerful statement. And what WAM is doing is telling people they have to pay for that. Why should they have to pay for that? You don’t have to pay for the use of the Australian flag.
“WAM are profiting from that. You’re profiting from my achievements, [Cathy] Freeman’s achievements, Eddie Betts’ achievements. All of us mob.”
Franklin last week on Instagram threw his support behind the Black Lives Matter movement, which was turbocharged in Australia following the death of black American man George Floyd at the hands of police.
“Justice for all. What’s happening in the US is happening on our own soil and all around the world. Thoughts and prayers are with George Floyd’s family and all affected by this tragedy and the tragedies before his murder,” Franklin wrote.
“In some ways Australia’s criminalisation of its black citizens is even more pronounced than the United States, but we don’t have music, movies and TV shows explaining it to us as regularly.”
WAM and the Swans declined to comment publicly.
Daniel is an Age sports reporter