It’s not just plastic boomerangs that are fake. It’s cheap imported boomerangs from South-East Asia such as Vietnam and Indonesia. If you look at the image, only the boomerangs at the top right were made in Australia.

It’s not generally known, but an extraordinary statistic that emerged from the evidence given to a recent Parliamentary Inquiry was that 80% of the souvenirs sold in Australia purporting to represent First Nations cultures are in fact imitation products with no connection to Aboriginal peoples. The Inquiry recommended a new law to protect Indigenous Cultural Intellectual Property.

In the meantime, the prosecution of Birubi Art, a significant manufacturer and seller of artefacts with Australian Aboriginal Designs, was reaching its conclusion in the Federal Court of Australia.

Justice Perry found that the artefacts, their labelling and their packaging gave the misleading impression that they were made in Australia and had been painted by Australian Aboriginal persons. In fact, 50,000 boomerangs, bullroarers, didgeridoos and message stones it sold had been painted with traditional Aboriginal designs in Indonesia by Indonesians.

On 26 June 2019, Justice Perry ordered Birupi Art to pay a fine of $2.3 million for breaches of the Australian Consumer Law.

But it’s a Pyrrhic victory, because Ben Wooster, the owner of Burubi Art had already put the company into liquidation. Before doing so, he transferred the artefacts business to a new company. The business is continuing to operate in Kippa-ring in Queensland. Currently, he is pursuing clothing sellers for unauthorised use of the Aboriginal Flag emblem on clothing, claiming exclusive rights to the emblem from the designer.

We can only hope that this episode will be enough to prompt the Federal Government into introducing proper protection for Indigenous Australian culture, especially its artwork and designs.

For my case note on the Federal Court decision click Indigenous Australian artistic designs are protected by a new court ruling

Anthony J Cordato, Travel Lawyer, Sydney

Boomerang display at Melbourne Souvenirs