• Kamilaroi woman Cheree Toka has led the campaign to see the Aboriginal Flag permanently flown on Sydney Harbour Bridge (NITV News/Ryan Liddle)Source: NITV News/Ryan Liddle
The online petition to fly the flag on top of the Harbour Bridge nears the 90,000 mark, with supporters marching through Circular Quay during NAIDOC Week to make their point.
Ryan Liddle

20 Jul 2018 - 3:56 PM  UPDATED 20 Jul 2018 - 3:56 PM

The Sydney Harbour Bridge, one of Australia’s most defining landmarks, is ubiquitously found on most fridge magnets, key rings and postcards sold in Sydney every year. 

But some say there's something missing from the iron icon: the Aboriginal flag.

There are only 15 days a year the Aboriginal flag is flown on top of the Harbour Bridge, and campaigners are calling for it to fly permanently alongside the Australian and the NSW flags.

Supporters gathered in Circular Quay last Saturday morning, eager to hear young Kamilaroi woman Cheree Toka speak.

"Today's about flying the Aboriginal flag 365 days a year on the Sydney Harbour Bridge," she told the crowd.

"It means so much to me being Aboriginal myself and for my people, and in the spirit of NAIDOC Week, it’s really important to recognise Aboriginal culture." 

She said the defining moment for the campaign was when she was flying over the harbour one day, expecting the Aboriginal flag to be on the bridge - but it wasn't there.

“It was really sad and upsetting and knowing that they take it down after those certain occasions, during reconciliation week, Australia day and NAIDOC week, it was really disheartening," she said.

"If it’s good enough to fly for that, it’s good enough to keep up there.”

The campaign to fly the flag permanently is gaining momentum, with the online petition hosted by Change.org gathering close to 90,000 signatures. 

“We’ve got a bigger following now compared to before, we have a lot more people that are aware of what’s going on now and they realise that the Aboriginal flag must fly more than 15 days a year," Ms Toka said.

While NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian has in the previously turned down the request, the campaign has attracted the attention of Labor opposition leader Luke Foley.

Mr Foley has guaranteed to fly the Aboriginal flag permanently if his party is elected to government.

David Harris, the Shadow Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, attended the march on Saturday.

He said Ms Toka's effort in getting the 'Bridge-ing The Gap' campaign up and running has been exciting to watch.

“Cheree’s energy on this is so impressive - when she first spoke to our leader Luke Foley he rang me and said we had to get on-board with this campaign," Mr Harris said.

"Luke has been a very strong supporter of this campaign, because reconciliation is something that should be in our hearts and minds every single day of the year.” 

Like many new and emerging activists, Ms Toka has been inspired by strong family members.

“I guess my strong advocate would be my mother," she said.

"I really look up to her and I really look up to my grandmother who is the Indigenous person in my family.

"She’s very inspirational in the family, very inspirational in the community, she helps a lot of young children when they’re in trouble with the police, I think she’s really inspirational to me as well as my mum.”

Ms Toka says while it is important for Indigenous activists to be proud of their achievements, there are many more causes including constitutional recognition, treaty and educational reform that need attention and publicity.

“I think we should all come together and advocate together," she said.

"We should always work together when it comes to advocating for certain Aboriginal issues and it’s really important to come together to do so.”

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