AussieBum CEO Sean Ashby says a large red boulder-like graphic on the men's underwear company's Australia Day 2016 advertisement is "just a mountain" - not Australia's iconic large rock, Uluru.
“It wasn’t Uluru,” he told NITV News. “And it was pointed out to me that it looks like Uluru, and I was like, ‘oh s***, yeah’.”
An Indigenous male caricature standing on one leg, a dot-painted boomerang, kangaroos, and an AussieBum model wearing underpants printed with the same images, also feature in the ad.
NITV’s Nathan Appo was part of a social-media chorus of Indigenous Australians criticising AussieBum for its Aboriginal-themed Australia Day campaign and underwear.
"You know, we're not dumb," NITV’s Nathan Appo said.
“If you have a look at that, your first instance and thought [is] that’s Uluru, OK. It’s not a mountain, that’s something sacred.
“Passing it off as saying it’s just a mountain, it just doesn’t fly."
The red boulder-shaped graphic is also planted with an Australian flag.
“Having that flag on the top of [the red boulder-like graphic], come on, you know, that’s in poor taste. That’s very disrespectful,” Mr Appo said, referring to the Union Jack, a reminder of British colonialism.
AussieBum CEO Sean Ashby said when he received an email from a customer pointing out they deemed the campaign offensive, he realised he had been naïve and within 24 hours withdrew the campaign.
He added the underpants would be “destroyed”.
“I wasn’t aware that there was this racial rift between Indigenous and other Australians, and the reasons behind it relating specifically to Australia Day,” he said.
“The moment I became conscious of what that was about - I think we did the right thing – that was, to shut it down.”
He also expressed remorse about the campaign.
“The last thing I want to do is create a divide, I feel terrible setting up something like this,” he expressed.
But he added he was hesitant to apologise after a customer demanded one through email.
“Asking to apologise ... that’s kind of like asking me to apologise for what happened in that generation [of colonisation],” he said.
Some social media users expressed sympathy towards AussieBum.
Mr Ashby suggested there was potential to provide more information about Indigenous affairs to non-Indigenous Australians on and offline.
“If the Indigenous community had a platform that was accessible and well-promoted, then people like me would click in to see that. There’s not a lot on social media,” he said.
“If there could be a day that could be used as a point of conversation, such as an Indigenous Day, that to me is showing equal respect.”
"We got to understand that it's probably true, the education around Australia Day and our people, our history, is not there."
Nathan Appo says Mr Ashby’s call for more education is fair.
“We got to understand that it’s probably true, the education around Australia Day and our people, our history, is not there – whether people don’t want to know about it or don’t want to learn about it – they don’t have that education around it, and I think it is upon us to do that,” he said. “That’s a role we need to take on.”
The Indigenous community expressed offence in the lead up to Australia Day in 2015 when Meat & Livestock Australia circulated an Australia Day advertisement that did not feature Indigenous people in its representation of the country.
Many Indigenous Australians recognise January 26, the official date to celebrate the nation, as the same date in 1788 that they lost their land, many of their people and cultures.
Some refer to it as Survival Day, to celebrate their resilience through colonisation. Others have named it Invasion Day, seeing it as the time the British took over their lands without permission.