Another Major Victory for Harold Thomas

7 September, 2016

Aboriginal Flag Designer Takes Out NATSIAA 2016

Thirty-five years ago, Luritja man Harold Thomas created history.

And in 2016 he created it again.

The designer of the Aboriginal flag has taken out the $50,000 2016 Telstra NATSIAA with a painting dealing with one of Australia’s most controversial issues.

Titled Tribal Abduction, the painting shows a woman clinging to her baby, biting the hand of a policeman who is trying to snatch the child away. A father fights back with a rock, and a nun waits to wrap the baby in a white cloth.

Tribal Abduction by Harold Thomas, Winner 2016 NATSIAA. Image: Courtesy of Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory.

Thomas says the work is about the destruction of an Aboriginal family, and the abduction of children from their families still murmurs deeply in the consciousness of Australia.

Harold Thomas himself was stolen from his family when he was seven, sent to an Anglican institution for Aboriginal boys and later fostered out to an Anglican priest and his family.

He went on to big things, with his design of an Aboriginal flag in 1971, which was created for the Land Rights movement, and is now the most enduring image of Aboriginal Australia.

The Aboriginal flag was first flown in Victoria Square in Adelaide, South Australia, on National Aborigines Day, July 12, 1971 and became an official flag of Australia on July 14, 1995.

It is seen at every Aboriginal event, and flies from thousands of flagpoles around the country.

NSWALC Bridge Walk, Corroboree 2000. Image: courtesy of Phil Mundine.

Tribal Abduction is far more confronting, created by an artist with decades of skill behind him, and not the young art student and activist who designed the simple and strong “red black and yellow”.

The NATSIAA judges say the tension, anger and violence of the theft contrast with the dread and fear of the baby’s parents. It speaks of the legacy of generational trauma, and positions the work as an historical commentary on the ongoing repercussions of colonial brutality.

The panel says Thomas’ newest work “presents a raw truth which provides space for cathartic reflection”.

If you would like to hear some of Harold Thomas’ thoughts on Tribal Abduction, the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory has generously shared an interview conducted by Luke Scholes, MAGNT’s Curator of Aboriginal Art and Material Culture.

It is rather long – so grab a cuppa and sit back!