Harold Thomas (activist)

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Harold Thomas speaking with Jane Lomax-Smith at an event in Adelaide commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Aboriginal Flag, 8 July 2001,

Harold Joseph Thomas (born c. 1947) is an Aboriginal Australian artist and activist descended from the Luritja people of Central Australia. He is best known for designing and copyrighting the Australian Aboriginal Flag.[1]

Thomas designed the flag in 1971 as a symbol of the Aboriginal land rights movement. In 1995 the flag was made an official "Flag of Australia". He was later involved in a high-profile case in the Federal Court and the High Court, to assert copyright over his design.[2]

Visual art[edit]

The Australian Aboriginal Flag as designed by Harold Thomas.

In 1965 Thomas won a scholarship to study at the South Australian School of Art. He graduated with Honours in 1969. He absorbed everything about the history of art but his main influences were painters Caravaggio, Goya, Delacroix and Turner. He also liked the light treatment achieved by plein air painters in late 19th-century Europe. Thomas's paintings celebrate the landscape and wildlife of Northern Australia. He lives just outside Darwin in the Northern Territory.

Thomas's oils, acrylics and watercolours are highly collectable and available from Territory Colours in Darwin.

In 2016 his painting Tribal Abduction, a scene of an Aboriginal baby being torn by police from its mother's breast, won the top prize of $50,000, the Telstra Art Award, in the 33rd Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards (NATSIAAs).[3][4][5]

Google dispute[edit]

In 2010 Thomas was involved in a dispute with Google over its intended use of a 12-year-old Australian girl's artwork incorporating the Australian Aboriginal Flag into its logo. Thomas refused to allow Google to use the image featuring the flag after negotiations over compensation failed, resulting in a modified design in which the flag was not used. Thomas claimed that Google had opened negotiations with a request for free use of the flag and, while he allowed free use to non-commercial operations that gave health, educational, legal and other assistance to Aboriginal people, he charged a fee to commercial operations. He described Google's subsequent offer as a "pittance".[6]

Thomas has since given exclusive commercial rights to three companies, "one to reproduce flags, and the others to reproduce the image on objects and clothing".[7]


  1. ^ "Harold Thomas – Creator of the Aboriginal Flag". ABC. 25 March 2002. Archived from the original on 6 June 2014. Retrieved 15 July 2014.
  2. ^ "Federal Court declares Aboriginal artist owner of copyright in Aboriginal flag" (PDF). Australian Copyright Council. May 1997. Archived from the original (PDF) on 27 September 2007. Retrieved 15 July 2014.
  3. ^ Cuthbertson, Debbie (5 August 2016). "Harold Thomas wins $50,000 Indigenous art award with stolen generations painting". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 7 August 2016.
  4. ^ Harmon, Steph (6 August 2016). "The truth hurts – Harold Thomas wins award with Aboriginal art that is raw and real". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 August 2016.
  5. ^ Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards 2016.
  6. ^ Moses, Asher (26 January 2010). "Google Doodle For Australia Day Missing Aboriginal Flag". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 15 July 2014.
  7. ^ Higgins, Indigenous Affairs reporter Isabella (11 June 2019). "Football codes, Aboriginal designers told to stop using Aboriginal flag over copyright use". ABC News. Retrieved 11 June 2019.