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Aboriginal flag to permanently replace state flag on Sydney Harbour Bridge

Oscar Holland, CNN

Australia’s Aboriginal flag will replace the New South Wales state flag on Sydney Harbour Bridge, after officials scrapped a 25 million Australian dollar ($17 million) scheme that would have accommodated both.

In a statement announcing the decision Monday, New South Wales (NSW) Premier Dominic Perrottet said the landmark will provide an “everyday reminder of our nation’s rich history.”

The state government first announced plans to permanently install an Aboriginal flag on the iconic bridge — alongside both the national and state flags — earlier this year, when it pledged to build a third 20-meter-tall (66-foot) flagpole.

The state allocated funds for the project as part of the Closing the Gap initiative, a nationwide drive to close the health and life expectancy gaps between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and non-Indigenous Australians.

But the scheme’s multi-million-dollar price tag raised eyebrows among many Australians — including Perrottet, who expressed his surprise at the figure.

When asked in June why the flagpole cost so much, the premier told reporters, “I don’t know, but it does apparently.” He then joked: “I’ll go to (hardware store) Bunnings myself and climb up there and put the pole up.”

Perrottet reportedly ordered a review into the costings. In a press release announcing the new plan on Monday, state Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Ben Franklin said the money would be reallocated to other initiatives that will “deliver real outcomes for Aboriginal people across NSW.”

Increasingly prominent

Designed by Indigenous artist Harold Thomas in 1971, the Aboriginal flag is currently flown on the bridge for 19 days every year, including during NAIDOC (National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee) Week, which concluded Sunday.

The decision to install it permanently follows a five-year “Fund the Flag” campaign and petition that attracted over 175,000 signatures.

Officially recognized since 1995, the red, black and yellow flag has become an emblem for Aboriginal Australians and is often seen flying from government buildings. But its use was long compromised by a commercial dispute, after a company that licensed the image from its creator began demanding payments from various organizations using it.

In January, following the high-profile “Free the Flag” campaign, Australia’s national government purchased the copyright in a deal worth more than 20 million Australian dollars ($14 million), making it freely available for public use.

The design’s yellow circle represents the sun, with the black stripe symbolizing Indigenous people and the red portion relating to their blood and the earth.

The NSW Flag is meanwhile based on the British Blue Ensign used by various countries and territories that are — or were once — associated with the United Kingdom. As part of Monday’s announcement, officials said they would instead create a new home for a “prominent” state flag at a new downtown redevelopment project.

Earlier this month, officials in the neighboring state of Victoria announced that the Aboriginal flag would also fly permanently above Melbourne’s West Gate Bridge.

Top image: The Aboriginal flag seen flying alongside the Australian flag on Sydney Harbour Bridge during Australia Day celebrations in January 2022.

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