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98/101/10 Artwork, framed design for Australian flag, natural ochre with acrylic binder on paper, Rover 'Joolama' Thomas, Warmun community, Northern Territory, Australia, 1996. Click to enlarge.

Australian flag artwork

Designed by Rover Thomas in Australia, Oceania
This is one of a group of artworks related to the issue of the Australian Republic and the associated design of a new Australian flag - an issue of great significance for the Australian people. The design forms part of that debate and serves to document the development of, and discussion and debate surrounding, its design. Flag designs must address multitude complex issues to produce an inspirational and enduring symbol for the Australian people. Eventually such a flag will be a singularly important design of its time.

A diversity of artist-designed flag designs were displayed in the Australian flag exhibition held at the Sherman Galleries in Sydney during February 1996. This exhibition included 70 Australian artists. The breadth of artist participation and the variety of views presented was an important outcome of the show. Significant Australian themes, motifs and iconography emerged - both traditional and contemporary (including the Southern Cross constellation, the Eureka Flag and Aboriginal iconography).

Most of the artists included in the exhibition extended their normal artistic practice to participate in the show - making a design concept, rather than an artwork which could potentially be translated into a national flag. Each artist approached the brief issued by the Sherman Galleries as artists not graphic designers and therefore also brought their individual artistic sensibility to the issue.

Australian culture has always been officially and symbolically represented by the national flag, firstly the British Ensign and subsequently the Commonwealth Blue Ensign. Not since the formation of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901, the political upheaval and heightened self-awareness of the Whitlam era (1972-1975) and the subsequent public competition held for the design of a new flag (30,000 entries were submitted), was interest in the design of the Australian flag so impassioned as around the time of the Sherman Galleries exhibition.The stage was set for continued reform and questioning of established Australian institutions.

The Bicentennial Celebrations in 1988 provided a forum for the issues of Aboriginal rights, and the 1993 Native Title Act formalised some of these concerns. This political and cultural environment, coupled with the focus of the Labour Government's heightened profile in the Republican debate, placed the design of the new Australian flag centre stage.

It is clear that the design of a new Australian flag will be the single most significant Australian design of its time and with implications for the future.

This flag is indicative of the current concerns and responses of contemporary Aboriginal artists like Rover Thomas and Gordon Bennett to the issue of the design of a new Australian flag. Several non-Aboriginal artists (Su Baker and Marion Borgelt) have also alluded to the Aboriginal experience in their choice of colours (red, yellow and black). The issue of cultural diversity also featured in the exhibition, with the inclusion of artists like the Chinese artist Ah Xian.

The Museum identified designs for the new Australian flag as a specific area for representation within their collection. The National Museum of Australia collects the ensigns themselves as does the Australian War Memorial, along with some original satirical designs published in the 1980s magazine 'Matilda'. In 1993-94 the National Museum of Australia organised an exhibition in 1993-1994 entitled 'Flying the Flag'.

Within this framework, Rover Thomas's artwork for a flag design, fits into a long tradition of discussion around the representation and identity of and for Australia and Australians in an international, national and local context.


Object No.


Object Statement

Artwork, framed design for Australian flag, natural ochre with acrylic binder on paper, Rover 'Joolama' Thomas, Warmun community, Northern Territory, Australia, 1996

Physical Description

Artwork for Australian flag, natural ochre with acrylic binder on paper, with brown ochre coloured background on which a large circle with six radiating roundels is placed off centre. The large circle is light brown and the roundels white. This formation and the entire work is bordered with a line of white dots. The design is distinctively Aboriginal in choice of themes, materials and colour palette, but the large circle and its six roundels are also reminiscent of the Southern Cross constellation. The precise medium is natural ochre with acrylic binder on paper. The design on the reverse of the work is of interest and represents Thomas's initial thoughts on the subject of the design for an Australian flag.


The front of the work remains unmarked
paper label back of frame u.r. "57. Rover Thomas / Courtesy Utopia ArtSydney / $4,000 / SOLD"



453 mm


886 mm



Rover Thomas (1926-1998) was born in the Kintore Ranges in the Northern Territory. His art is preoccupied with the painting of dreamings of areas within the territory. Using only ochres he has developed a colour-field style in which large areas of the canvas are outlined and taken up by a single colour, quite different to the dot style of the Central Desert artists. With work of this type he was one of three artists who represented Australia in the 1990 Venice Biennale.

The work acquired is distinctive of his style expressing bold forms, an unfaltering line and an interplay between broad areas of natural colour. In a written statement about the work, Utopia Art Sydney (the Gallery representing Thomas) write, 'At the focus is a large circle which represents the Warmun Community, where he lives. The other roundels that radiate from the central space are Neighbouring communities, Port Keats, Kununurra and Darwin are three such communities ...'. Mention is also made that the design is evocative of the Southern Cross constellation. The design on the reverse of the work is of interest; Utopia Art Sydney write that this design was Thomas's original but then describe it as 'inappropriate as a flag and also inappropriate for general display'. (Please refer to artist's statement on the blue file).

Made specifically by Rover Thomas for the exhibition 'Flagging the Republic' held at the Sherman Galleries in Paddington, Sydney in February 1996.



Acquired from the 'Flagging the Republic' exhibition displayed at the Sherman Galleries, Sydney.


Credit Line

Purchased 1998

Acquisition Date

6 August 1998

Cite this Object


Australian flag artwork 2020, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 11 August 2020, <>


{{cite web |url= |title=Australian flag artwork |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=11 August 2020 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}

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