Earlier this year I wrote of the origin of the Aboriginal and the Torres Strait Island flags.
It was with immense pleasure that I paid tribute to South Australian Harold Thomas by making specific reference to his eye-catching 1971 design: the black represents the Aboriginal people, the red the earth and their spiritual relationship to the land, and the yellow the sun, the giver of life.
Today the black, red and yellow evokes as much pride and passion to Aboriginal people throughout the nation as the red, white and blue of the United State’s flag does for their mob. Cathy Freeman personified that passion when she had sporting giant Nike design her running shoes in the colours when she ran the famous lap to take out the prestigious blue ribbon Sydney Olympic 400 metre race.
Many of our high profile Indigenous athletes today also chose to make statements of pride in their racial origin by wearing the colours on their shorts, shirts, hats and even tattoos on their body. Brisbane Lion’s Chris Johnson is one such athlete who chose the latter statement as a permanent public reminder to the broader community.
Regrettably when I acknowledged the late Bernard Namok in the same article, as the originator of the Torres Strait Island flag, I erred when I made mention of him as a 15-year-old school boy when in fact he was an adult when he was inspired to create the flag’s design in 1992.
Several days after the publication of the article I received a strongly worded letter from Mrs Bakoi Namok who took umbrage at my inaccurate reference to her late husband and added that her children were also distressed by the error.
In the next edition of the Koori Mail I made a public apology and corrected my unintentional but nevertheless poorly researched error. My source for both flags at that time was the AIATSIS Indigenous Encyclopaedia.
Despite the apology my mistake played on my mind for quite some time and I vowed that if I ever had cause to visit the beautiful Torres Straits again I would make a special effort to meet with Mrs Namok to express my regret in person.
Not only did I succeed in fulfilling my long-held goal on my latest trip to Thursday Island, in the first week in December, I was also most fortunate and very grateful to other members of the Namok family, Kernisha and Bernard jnr., who joined their mother and gave their time to share their intimate stories of their father’s celebrated achievement.
In the same way to Aboriginal people showing public pride in their flag so too do Torres Strait Islanders, in particular high profile athletes: Adelaide Crow’s Andrew McCleod and Brisbane Bronco’s Sam Thaiday both have body tattoos of their flag to tell the world the immeasurable pride they have in their origin.
During my informal meeting with the Namok family at the T.R.A.W.Q. Community Council Inc. office, coincidentally next door to their residence where the flag was designed, I was privileged to be handed the original hand written address made by the late Bernard Namok on May 29, 1992.
In his humble address Mr Namok penned, in part, the following words:
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