• Just before show time Jony Berry was asked to remove the Aboriginal Flag at this years Mr World by the events organisers. (Supplied )Source: Supplied
A national costume representing Jony Berry's identity needed a quick fix ahead of his debut at this years Mr World as he was told to remove the Aboriginal flag.
Brooke Fryer

14 Sep 2019 - 4:32 AM  UPDATED 14 Sep 2019 - 4:32 AM

Jony Berry says he was making the final preparations for his entrance at the Mr World beauty pageant in the Philippines when asked to remove the Aboriginal flag from his stage costume.

The three-week competition began in August with candidates from over 70 countries modelling their national costumes on opening night.

Mr Berry, who is of palawa and Portuguese heritage, was representing Australia in the competition and wearing both the Aboriginal and Australian flag.

His full-length satin robe showed the Aboriginal flag on the rim, cuffs and back while the Australian flag was featured on his shoes.

However,  Mr Berry, 25, told NITV News that just before showtime the large flag embodied on the back of his robe, containing a ‘Free the Flag’ message, was asked to be removed by the event's organisers.

“It was really sad and quite soul crushing… especially to think for the first time in a very long time, the Aboriginal flag was represented in that industry [especially] for the first time for males,” he said.

“It wasn’t to do with any negativity of people not liking the Aboriginal flag it was the fact that Aboriginal people can’t maintain their basic human right of their cultural identifier.”  

Mr Berry said growing up in a mixed cultural home taught him how to “accept, embrace and represent” every culture, so it was only fitting to share both flags on the global stage.  

“I used both flags,” he said.

“Australian Aboriginals were the first Australians and the first nations…so for me it would have been absolutely crazy to not take the Aboriginal flag.”  

Mr Berry said being a palawa man has helped him build resilience.

“The palawa people were the first genocide of the Aboriginal people in Australia and it was quite a harsh run for the palawa people in Tasmania," he said. 

"But we still have community, culture and we still support each other massively and that is a treasure that can never be taken away,” he said.

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Cloak design

The designer of the costume, Paul McCann, said he wanted to create a luxe version of the Lionel Rose boxing robe that embodied sentimental meaning to both himself and Mr Berry.

“When creating the idea of a national costume, for me, I felt that wearing the Aboriginal flag to marches, seeing it flying over bridges and government buildings, that’s a huge connection for me and something I personally identify with ... I wanted to incorporate that on to the design on the cloak,” he said.

“A lot of us wear that flag when we are not just protesting but celebrating.”  

The robe also incorporated fur representing the palawa people and a hand-painted black and white symbol of a united Australia.

Mr McCann said after the design was modified under the request of the event’s organisers, the message wasn't “showcased to the best of its ability”.

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