An image released by the ACCC in connection with an investigation into Birubi Art. Picture: Supplied
An image released by the ACCC in connection with an investigation into Birubi Art. Picture: Supplied

Aboriginal crafts ‘made in Indonesia’, ACCC claims

A Redcliffe-based souvenir supplier who blew the whistle on "fake indigenous art'' is being prosecuted for allegedly selling "Aboriginal boomerangs" made in Indonesia.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) today launched Federal Court action alleging that Birubi Art sold 18,000 "Aboriginal" boomerangs, didgeridoos, message stones and bullroarers made in Indonesia.

The products were displayed with the words "Aboriginal Art", "Australia'', "handcrafted'' and "hand painted''.

"We allege that Birubi's conduct is damaging as it is likely to mislead consumers into thinking they are buying genuine handmade Aboriginal art when they are not,'' ACCC Commissioner Sarah Court said today.

"This has the potential to undermine the integrity of Aboriginal art and negatively impact indigenous artists.''

But Birubi Art director Ben Wooster told The Courier Mail today that some products were made in Indonesia under licence, with the consent of the Aboriginal artists.

"We do have a licensing agreement with Aboriginal artists - they were made under licence,'' he said.

An image released by the ACCC in connection with an investigation into Birubi Art. Picture: Supplied
An image released by the ACCC in connection with an investigation into Birubi Art. Picture: Supplied

In its statement of claim, filed in the Federal Court, the ACCC alleges the products were manufactured in Indonesia.

"Neither the products nor the relevant labels or packaging included any reference to them being made in Indonesia,'' it says.

"The artwork or designs on each of the products reproduced visual images, symbols and styles which are recognised as being characteristic of Aboriginal art and/or artwork painted by indigenous Australians.''

Ms Court said that in the lead up to the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast next month, souvenir sellers must ensure that products sold as "indigenous cultural objects or art'' are authentic.

Mr Wooster told The Courier Mail he was too busy to comment on the ACCC action but he has told a federal parliamentary inquiry into Aboriginal art that "authentic artists … are all the victims of fake, and ripped off art''.

"Quite frankly there is an extraordinary amount of product for sale on Australian retail tourist outlet shelves purporting to be 'Aboriginal art' that is completely devoid of any input from any indigenous artist, ever,'' his submission states.

Mr Wooster told the inquiry he opposed a ban on imports of indigenous art, on the grounds that Australia does "not have the natural resources available''.

"The market simply cannot be fed only by what can be produced ethically and responsibly here in Australia,'' he said.

The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet told the inquiry that Aboriginal items can still be "authentic'' if made overseas under "an appropriate licensing agreement with an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander artist or designer''.



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