Fake Aboriginal art scandal rocks Commonwealth Games

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Commonwealth Games organisers have been accused of supporting the fake Aboriginal art trade with their choice of the official games Aboriginal merchandise supplier.

With the growing campaign against fake Aboriginal art, pressure was on the Commonwealth Games organisers to make sure that authentic souvenirs were sourced for sale as official Commonwealth Games merchandise. It was later revealed that the official supplier of Indigenous souvenirs, Jabiru Australia, which also goes by the name of Jabiru Boomerangs is not an Indigenous owned company and does not have any Indigenous full-time staff.

Many Indigenous people are questioning how the company was chosen to become a supplier as the company fails to meet the Commonwealth Games ethical principles set out by the Games Organising Corporation. Under the rules, the selected company should have 51% Indigenous ownership and/or 75% Indigenous staff. A former Aboriginal artist that previously worked for Jabiru Australia, Janelle McQueen, said it is impossible that the company meets these requirements because artists are not paid full-time wages, they are only paid per item. McQueen also alleges that some of the artists employed by Jabiru Australia have serious question marks around their claims of Aboriginality.

According to the Commonwealth Games online gift shop, 12 Indigenous items are currently listed by 3 separate Indigenous artists who are recognised as Indigenous.

Sadly sources from a recent Sydney Morning Herald report alleged that Jabiru Australia does import products from Indonesia, however these claims are strongly denied by John Palombo who is the owner of Jabiru Australia. It is interesting to note however that the Jabiru Boomerangs website has not been accessible in the lead up to the games, with some people suggesting that this is where you will find many of the fake and imported Aboriginal products such as goodwill stones that do not exist in our cultures.

The recent investigation by the Sydney Morning Herald found that around 80-90% of Aboriginal art sold in Australia is imported from Indonesia and China. Selling fake Aboriginal art is not illegal in Australia unless the seller tries to claim that the art is authentic Aboriginal art. However retail outlets have been exploiting this law with misleading claims such as “Indigenous styles”, “Australian artists”, “handmade with traditional native Australian art”.

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There are also claims that another major supplier of Indigenous souvenirs, ‘Birubi Art’, imports Indigenous products on a large scale from Indonesia. Ben Wooster from Birubi Art openly admits that they have trained a partner group of Indonesian artists to copy the style of Birubi’s most popular artist, Trisha Mason.

But there are even allegations that Trisha Mason who’s artworks can be found in almost every tourist shop around Australia is not Aboriginal herself. These claims come from Michael Connolly, a respected Aboriginal artist, musician and now businessman who is fighting against the fake art trade to allow a new generation of genuine Aboriginal artists to be able to make a living from Aboriginal art which is something that large wholesale companies are making very difficult to achieve.

If you’re wondering what you can do to raise awareness about this issue, you could start by sharing this article. You can also read about the full Investigation by the Sydney Morning Herald here.

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