Luxury Chanel boomerang causes Indigenous art law controversy


Written by Lily Greer

Produced for online by Lily Nothling

A $2000 boomerang designed and sold by French label Chanel has sparked the debate over the creative ownership of Indigenous art.

The luxury artefact has prompted Bob Katter to renew calls for Federal legislation outlawing fake Indigenous art and goods from being sold in Australia.

Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Mr Katter says Chanel’s version of the Aboriginal hunting tool is a lie to the people who purchase it.

“They think they’re buying a piece of very valuable Indigenous culture that may not be around for a lot longer,” he says.

Mr Katter says he is not impressed by the number of “inauthentic” items masquerading as traditional Australian souvenirs.

He says out of three souvenir shops in Cairns visited by one of his senior officers, up to 95 per cent of the Aboriginal goods on the shelves were made overseas.

“This is cause for national shame,” he says.

Indigenous Art Code CEO Gabrielle Sullivan says although she does not agree with all aspects of Katter’s proposed legislation, the changes would return creative ownership of traditional art to First Australians.

Ms Sullivan says her organisation, which works with the Ministry of Arts, would also like to see a focus on consumer education.

“We’d like to see more invested in a consumer campaign, so we can educate consumers about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art and celebrate what’s so fantastic about it as well,” she says.

North Queensland artist Bibi Barba says it is easy to pick a traditional artwork from a recreation because there is not the same history or skill invested in the copies.

“It really shows no respect when you get [this] fake art coming into the country,” she says.

“It’s pretty sad from an artist’s perspective because as artisans, we make things with our bare hands and it’s knowledge that’s passed down through our work.”

She says it is not just the artists who are disadvantaged, but also the tourists who miss out on hearing real Indigenous stories when they invest in fake art.

A Chanel spokesperson told Fairfax Media the fashion label is “extremely committed to respecting all cultures and regrets that some may have felt offended”.

The legislation has been put before parliament but Mr Katter says the coalition has demonstrated little support.

He says his party will a wait a few more weeks before dividing the house on the issue, but if the speaker does not allow a debate, they will dissent from speaker’s rule and call for a vote.

“Those that want to vote to help First Australians, over here,” he says.

“Those who want to look after foreign corporations like Chanel, that are making money out of our first Australian people, you stand over there.

“It’ll be interesting to see which side of the parliament the LNP stands on.”