The symbolic meaning of the flag colours (as stated by Mr Harold Thomas) are:
- Black: Represents the Aboriginal people of Australia
- Yellow: Represents the Sun, the giver of life and protector
- Red: Represents the red earth, the red ochre and a spiritual relation to the land
The flag was first flown on National Aborigine’s Day in Victoria Square in Adelaide on 12 July 1971. It has also been used in Canberra at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy since 1972.
Cathy Freeman caused controversy at the 1994 Commonwealth Games by waving both the Aboriginal flag and Australian National flag during her victory lap of the arena after winning the 200 metres sprint. The protocol at the time was that only a country’s national flag is meant to be displayed. Despite strong criticism, Freeman again carried both flags again after winning the 400 meter race.
The decision in 1995 by Prime Minister Paul Keating to make the Aboriginal flag a national flag (and later on the Torres Strait Islander flag) was opposed by many in the community, but successive governments have not overturned that decision and the Aboriginal flag now sits proudly alongside the Australian National Flag (blue ensign) and the Torres Strait Islander flag.
In 1997, the Federal Court of Australia declared that Harold Thomas was the owner of copyright in the design of the Aboriginal flag, and thus the flag has protection under Australian copyright law. Mr Thomas had sought legal recognition of his ownership and compensation following the Federal Government's 1995 proclamation of the design. His claim was contested by two others at the time, Mr. Brown and Mr. Tennant. Since then, Mr Thomas has awarded world rights solely to Carroll and Richardson Flagworld Pty Ltd for the manufacture and marketing of the flag.
The National Indigenous Advisory Committee campaigned for the Aboriginal flag to be flown during the 2000 Olympic Games. SOCOG announced that the Aboriginal flag would be flown at Olympic venues. The flag was also flown over the Sydney Harbour Bridge during the 2000 ‘March for Reconciliation”.
On the 30th anniversary of the flag in 2001, thousands of people carried the flag from the Parliament of South Australia to Victoria Square. Since 8 July 2002, after recommendations of the Council's Reconciliation Committee, the Aboriginal flag has been permanently flown in Victoria Square and the front of the Adelaide Town Hall.
Many buildings in Australia now fly the Aboriginal flag (and Torres Strait Islander) as well as the Australian National flag. Various councils in Australian towns fly the Aboriginal flag from the town halls.