Celebrating NAIDOC – Rare Aboriginal Flag footage (1981)


NAIDOC Week 2022 is celebrated across the country and this years theme is Get Up! Stand Up! Show Up!

Special Collections at the University Library is celebrating NAIDOC week by sharing rare footage of the first raising of the Aboriginal flag above Newcastle City Hall on 10 July 1981.

Ceremony Civic Park 1981

This historic footage was located amongst recently digitised NBN news footage, and a story researchers have been trying to locate for years. Thanks to Lillian Eastwood for her research she was able to confirm who the speaker was on the day – Mr Harry Brandy.  Many believe the flag raising ceremony took place in 1977, this footage may confirm it was a few years later in 1981.

To our delight we were able to speak with Harry Brandy and share the footage with him.  He advised the event was of great importance to local Aboriginal people and says it may have been the first time an Aboriginal flag had flown above Newcastle City Hall.

Harry Brandy was thrilled to watch the footage, saying it took him back to the campaigns and advocacy done by local Aboriginal communities in the 1970s and 80s. Harry was President of the Awabakal Co-operative and recalls the community being very active, calling for a national day. He is proud of their achievements and has fond memories of Lord Mayor Joy Cummings who was a strong advocate for Aboriginal rights.

What is evident is that the Aboriginal community were initiators and collaborators on having a national day, not passive recipients of goodwill.

Research shows that Marilyn Rose, Secretary of the Awabakal Newcastle Aboriginal Cooperative forwarded a letter on behalf of the Board of Directors to Ald. Cummings dated 27 May 1981. A motion had been tabled at a meeting of the Newcastle Aboriginal Support Group on 20 May to formally write to Council and request that the Aboriginal Flag be raised over City Hall during National Aboriginal Week from 6 July to 10 July. Attending the meeting were Awabakal Board Members, and Ald. Morris and Manning. Council resolved on the 30 June to fly the Aboriginal Flag.


Newcastle Herald 11 July 1981

Although the above NBN footage and Newcastle Herald article dated 11 July 1981, provide archival evidence the flag was first flown over the city of Newcastle in 1981 there is anecdotal testimonies that situate Ald. Cummings as being the first Lord Mayor to fly the Aboriginal Flag over a City – that local Aboriginal community representatives approached Lord Mayor Ald. Cummings in 1977 to fly the Aboriginal Flag and that the flag was flown.

‘National Aborigines Day’ in 1977 was on the 8 July and question remains whether Alderman Cummings was involved in an earlier Aboriginal Flag raising event in 1977.

According to Margaret Badger (Ald. Joy Cummings daughter)

“The first raising was done without fanfare or pre warning. Mum and the Bishop, in concert with the Dean of the cathedral, decided they would raise the flags simultaneously at 10.00 am at the commencement of NADOC day. A powerful gesture by two of the cities leading institutions. It was a small affair by any account in those days, not the massive weekly celebration it is today. My belief is it was 1978, as this was Alfred Holland’s first year as bishop. He was known to be progressive in regard to women’s rights and indigenous rights. It was an audacious thing to do, and they were quite prepared to carry the flak afterwards. Mum knew that the tent embassy in Canberra flew the flag and a town square somewhere but no public buildings. I remember making a special trip to town just to see it. As it turned out there was less flak than anticipated, and most people were proud that their city had achieved a first. Because the media didn’t know about it in advance, it didn’t create much of a stir.”

As time went on the flag was flown each year and NADOC day became NAIDOC week.

I think the 1981 celebration in Civic Park and the wonderful NBN footage was also the occasion of the first civic reception Mum put on for all Worimi and Awabakal people, men, women and children at city hall. It was a big fully catered event and I remember John Heath, when he presented Mum with the Wollotuka Prize some years later, referred to how important both the flag raising and the reception was. He said, “that day every little Koori kid owned city hall”. Mum was also a member of NASG, founded by Jack Doherty, a marvellous supporter of aboriginal people. For many years, until she died, mum was a contributor to the Jack Doherty University Scholarship fund. “

The question remains unresolved as to the date that Ald. Joy Cummings as the Lord Mayor of Newcastle enabled a process for the Aboriginal Flag to be flown either on City Hall or over the City of Newcastle for the first time. Further research with various lines of inquiry is needed to substantiate the date.

Research of this event is very much a work in progress to draw out as much information from community to substantiate a decisive date of when the Aboriginal flag flew over the city of Newcastle.

If you have any other information, photos, testimonies from anyone who attended the flag raising in either 1977 and 1981 we would love to hear from you.

Many thanks to Lillian Eastwood and Harry Brandy for their research and contributions to this story.

Please leave a comment or contact us HERE if you have further information.

7 thoughts on “Celebrating NAIDOC – Rare Aboriginal Flag footage (1981)

  1. I believe that this information is incorrect. It may have been the first time that council flew the flag for a week. The first NADOC (no ‘I’ in those days) Flag Raising Ceremony on City Hall was indeed achieved by the Awabakal Co-op and Lord Mayor Cummings. It occurred in 1978 and was the first of any council in Australia. Those who witnessed it may recall that in the excitement of it all, the flag was actually positioned the wrong way up!

    1. Thanks Margaret and John. We haven’t been able to find any news reports about the 1977 Flag raising. Might it have occurred on the Sunday 10 July 1977? We did find a Newcastle Herald story 18 June 1977 p.8 titled “Churches back Aboriginal Day” stating that the Australian Council of Churches’ executive had decided to support the observance of a “National Aborigines Day” for the forthcoming Sunday on July 10. The other possibly relevant story was published in the Newcastle Herald on 11 July 1977 p.7 reporting the actions of a Sydney group of Aboriginal people led by Mr Paul Coe who painted an Aboriginal flag at the Kurnell monument to Captain Cook’s landing and proclaimed sovereignty. If you have any further details, or evidence of the Newcastle flag raising in 1977 please let us know. Hopefully our colleagues at the City of Newcastle Library, who hold the records of Lord Mayor Joy Cummings may be able to find further evidence within the Council archives.

      1. Not surprised that you found nothing for 1977 as I contend that it was 1978. Given that National Aboriginal Week traditionally ran from the week commencing the first Sunday in July I believe that we raised the Flag on the Town Hall with Mayor Cummings on Friday 7th July. It was a controversial action at the time and highlighted the vision and resilience not only of the small number of us involved in the Goori community, but also of people such as Joy Cummings, Stan Masterson and George Mulholland. From memory (which is fading with time) I believe the event was covered by the NMH and also The Newcastle Star. The climate in which this monumental event took place is further highlighted by the fact that around this time Frank Arkell, the Mayor of Wollongong, showed his disdain for the Goori Flag by publically burning it. Of course Mayor Cummings also received a lot of heat over the ensuing years for her public display of solidarity.

  2. To establish the exact date, it may be useful to contact the Dean of the Cathedral for their records. The flag was raised on both city hall and the cathedral simultaneously. It was a show of unity by the city’s two powerful institutions, for justice for First Nations people. I do remember it being a national “first”. And I remember my mother’s (Joy Cummings) joy when it went up over city hall. In 1977, it may have been raised for a day, subsequently for the week on all NAIDOC Weeks.

  3. Thanks John and Margaret that information is appreciated and helpful as the reason for the blog is to clarify the correct date. 1977 and 1981 were always problematic.

    Joy Cummings’ Lord Mayoral terms were 9/74 to 9/76 and 9/77 to 16/4/84, if those dates are correct then Joy Cummings could not have been Lord Mayor of Newcastle on the 8 July 1977 (National Aborigines Day), unless she was acting in some capacity. In 1981 four local Councils (Maitland, Cessnock, Dungog, and Newcastle) flew the Aboriginal flag during National Aboriginal Week. If this is correct other Councils should have also been acknowledged as ‘first’.

    Finding the NBN footage brought the matter of the flag and when it was first flown at Newcastle into question again. The notion of the flag being flown in 1977 also continues to find its voice. Last year Newcastle Council Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes raised the Torres Strait Islander flag for the first time over City Hall and stated that Joy Cummings had flown the Aboriginal flag for the first time in 1977. In 2017 Newcastle Council also marked the 40th anniversary of the Aboriginal flag being raised over City Hall.

    It’s an interesting query and probably now is time to confirm the narrative and the date, and to acknowledge rightly all those involved. If it was 1978, or another time, it would be great to access any available photos, media articles, etc to help validate the timing of this significant act.

    1. Lillian, I think John is right and 1978 was the big year. Still a first for a public building. I also remember Mum held a Civic reception at city hall for men, women and children at the flag raising. Other reason for 1978 was that Alfred Holland was by then Bishop and very amenable to infigenous and women’s rights. He may have had influence with the dean. The local history section of the library in Laman Street holds 10 scrapbooks year by year, date by date. Everything that was printed on mum was cut out and pasted in them. They have probably not been digitised. You can ask for them to be retrieved but I’d start with 1977 and 1978. It was such early days. I will have a further look in mum’s randomly organised records. She would write speech notes on the back of bus tickets. There are errors re mum’s life in the Wikipedia page which I have been meanibg to amend. Pre computers, it happened.

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