• A Queensland Aboriginal health organisation are outraged after having to pay thousands in royalties to use the Aboriginal flag. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
An Aboriginal controlled community health organisation that encourages Indigenous people to keep healthy has been forced to pay thousands of dollars in royalty fees.
Brooke Fryer

23 Aug 2019 - 3:26 PM  UPDATED 23 Aug 2019 - 8:05 PM

A Queensland Aboriginal health organisation based in the regional town of Bundaberg is outraged after having to pay thousands in royalties to use the Aboriginal Flag on their clothing.

The Indigenous Wellbeing Centre (IWC) gives away free T-shirts to patients who get their annual comprehensive health check.  

But its had to remove the flag from their prints after they were forced to pay a royalty fee of more than two thousand dollars by WAM Clothing.

Communications manager Janette Young told NITV News they were asked to pay a fee of 20 per cent plus GST to WAM Clothing for the cost of each shirt bought from IWC's manufacturer. 

After Ms Young explained to the non-Indigenous company that the centre were not making any money off using the flag, she said WAM dropped the royalty fee down to 15 per cent.

“This is a real blow, it shows that they are just not interested in giving any leeway, even to a community organisation, to an Aboriginal organisation that is a not-for-profit… that is helping Indigenous people take control of their health and wellbeing,” She said.

If IWC choose to continue using the flag on their T-shirts, Ms Young said they would be paying up to $10,000 a year in fees, something the charity organisation can not afford to do.

“The sad thing is the next shirts after this won’t have the flag on it,” she said.

Tracey Hamilton, Indigenous Health practitioner at IWC and contributing designer of their shirts, said she feels a little piece of her identity has been taken away.

“We're proud of our culture and we’re proud of our flag and someone’s telling us to take it off,” said Ms Hamilton.

WAM Clothing were granted exclusive rights to use the flag on garments from Luritja designer Harold Thomas earlier this year.

Since then the organisation have been enforcing their copyright by handing our ‘cease and desist’ notices to other manufactures.

Despite an outcry from Indigenous communities, WAM Clothing continues to act within their legal rights.

“They are legally entitled to do it and it’s a common thing for licensees to send out those cease and desist notices,” Indigenous lawyer Terri Janke previously told NITV News.

Mr Thomas has since received a backlash of widespread furore from both the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal community after making the decision the flag could no longer be used for free. 

“[We’ve had] Free engagement of the flag for over 40 years, so I don’t think you can turn around now and say ‘hey, I’m going to make you all pay for it,’ which is really quite an untenable situation for Harold to put himself in,” Wiradjuri Elder Jenny Munro told NITV News previously.

But Mr Thomas continues to stand by his decision.

“I can choose who I like to have a license agreement to manufacture and sell goods which have the Aboriginal flag on it,” Mr Thomas said in a statement released through WAM Clothing.

The flag was designed in 1971 as a symbol of the Aboriginal land rights movement, and even though Mr Thomas was accredited for its design, he never sought copyright protection until the 1990s.

In 1997, the flags image was officially protected under copyright law and could only be reproduced with his permission.

There is currently a push to have the Australian federal government purchase the flag and end the current dispute over ownership and reproduction of the flag.

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