The Aboriginal flag at the entrance to RMIT University was temporarily flown upside down today, following its absence after NAIDOC Week.
Catalyst was contacted by a student who said the Aboriginal flag had been reflown above Building 2 today, only for it to be the wrong way up.
At 2.26pm the flag was taken down and readjusted. Catalyst has footage of the flag being raised again—this time the correct way.
The incident is part of a drawn-out process between RMIT and the university’s Ngarara Willim Centre for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, who have previously raised issues over where the Aboriginal flag is placed and the fact the university does not fly the Torres Strait Island flag except during certain cultural days and events.
In a statement provided to Catalyst yesterday, RMIT said it was unaware the Aboriginal flag had not been reflown on Building 2 this year, “resulting in the appearance that the Aboriginal flag had been simply taken down”.
“This does not reflect the instructions given to Security this year and appears to be an oversight,” a spokesperson said. “Events and Venues has emailed Security and requested that this be rectified immediately.”
In a statement, the Ngarara Willim Centre said it had received a number of enquiries and complaints from students and Indigenous community members regarded the positioning of the Aboriginal flag at RMIT as well as the absence of a Torres Strait Island flag.
“The flags demonstrate, to both RMIT students and the wider community, the University’s recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” the statement read. “Flying both flags promotes a sense of community partnership in addition to demonstrating RMIT’s commitment towards Closing the Gap and broader reconciliation and anti-racism movements.”
The Ngarara Willim Centre pointed out that while the city campus flies the Aboriginal flag, it is not in an easily visible location at the entrance to the university.
“We acknowledge the presence of the Aboriginal flag flown on top of the Emily McPherson building alongside the Australian and RMIT flag, but note the continued absence of the Torres Strait Islander flag,” the statement read. “This building is not a prominent position at RMIT and therefore the flags that are displayed often go unseen.”
Catalyst understands The University of Melbourne, Monash, Swinburne and La Trobe universities all fly both the Aboriginal and Torres Straight Island flags in prominent positions on or at the entrance to their campuses. The Ngarara Willim Centre expressed disappointment that this was not the case at RMIT.
“Ngarara Willim would like to see RMIT follow the lead of other Universities and Government organisations in Melbourne who proudly display all three flags in prominent areas at their institutions,” the statement read. “It is our hope that this issue could be resolved quickly but also appropriately by not only reinstating the Aboriginal flag that was taken down but displaying all flags in a prominent positions at all our local campuses.”
RMIT University Student Union President James Michelmore told Catalyst it is disappointing RMIT does not fly both the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island flags prominently at the entrances to all campuses.
“Melbourne, Monash, Swinburne, LaTrobe and others are all putting us to shame on something so simple but so important,” he said.
Michelmore said RUSU’s ultimate goal is to see both the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island flags flown alongside the national Australian flag outside each campus.
“We understand that current space limitations mean there is only space for two flag poles at the entrance to Bowen Street, and that this has been the excuse for not flying the additional flags in the past,” he said. “As a university of technology and design, the Student Union believes RMIT can surely devise an amicable solution that would see all the flags flown prominently.”
RUSU is currently running a campaign to see RMIT fly both flags, with a petition planning on being delivered to the Acting Vice-Chancellor this week.
RMIT does not fly the Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander flag at its Brunswick or Bundoora campuses except on Sorry Day and Reconciliation and NAIDOC weeks.
By Broede Carmody
Photograph via Flickr.