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Aboriginal designer puts JackJumpers Indigenous jerseys back up for sale

Andrew Mathieson -

The Tasmanian Aboriginal artist whose controversial design for the NBL's Indigenous round was abandoned that also forced retailers to discard stock of the special edition Lutruwita jerseys has turned to selling new orders online.

The result has Rueben Oates, the Huon Valley designer, boasting of the large number of new sales for his replica jerseys that "nearly exploded" his website.

Oates first told followers of his Facebook page on December 6 that "the time has come where I am able to officially announce that…they're back".

This Tasmania Jack Jumpers jersey – the only one from the 10 NBL clubs that was not worn during the Indigenous round from November 2 to 6 – had any last legal impediments preventing their sale removed and ticked off despite past concerns from the Tasmania JackJumpers.

The club consulted with the NBL before withdrawing its Indigenous jersey following a number of leaders in the Tasmanian Aboriginal community that included nine prominent Elders that objected to the design involving dot painting.

They say that the use of dots in Palawa art breaks the protocols of traditional lore and customs, and is a technique from mainland Aboriginal artists, and the practice does not tell the stories of Palawa culture and their pakana past.

The opposition to the design that the dots are "highly offensive" is all but tantamount to accusations of cultural appropriation and misrepresentation of traditional Tasmanian Aboriginal mobs.

The self-described contemporary Indigenous artist strongly disagrees with the notion that a collective Aboriginal group are entitled to control a narrative of how customs is told under Palawa lore, the body of knowledge on matters dealing with stories, beliefs and spirituality.

Oates, who is purportedly claimed to be the seventh great grandson to recognised tribal warrior Chief Mannalargenna from the Plangermaireener clan, has since taken legal action.

He is suing against alleged defamatory remarks following public comments made on behalf of the 39 Aboriginal co-signatories by spokesperson Rulla Kelly-Mansell.

The claims can only be proven to be defamatory, under Tasmanian law, if what was said publicly seriously harmed the reputation of the artist.

A GoFundMe page has been set up for Oates to "cover legal and personal expenses".

Supporters have raised $2,058 from 27 donations towards the page's goal of $30,000.

"I was publicly accused of plagiarism and cultural misappropriation," Oates said in a recent statement.

"The decision to withdraw the jerseys should never have been made.

The Indigenous round jersey designed by Oates has become available for purchase online. (Image: reubenoatsart.com)

"The JackJumpers were influenced by a vocal interpretation.

"Division emerges when the voices of a few are mistaken for the voices of many.

"There shouldn't be such a divide within our Tasmanian Indigenous community.

"All voices should be heard and celebrated together and not torn down.

"We missed out on celebrating Indigenous Tasmania through the Indigenous round."

The National Indigenous Times had reached out further to clarify the legal position of Oates on multiple matters.

Kelly-Mansell, a Tulampanga Kooparoona Niara Pakana man, is also, unsurprisingly, not commenting further until the legal proceedings against him are over.

Hundreds of the jerseys were sold initially after the JackJumpers requested that local retailers pull them off in-store clothes racks last month that forced Oates to consider going rogue and sell them independently, including at markets around Hobart.

Buyers of the jerseys emblazoned with Lutruwita – the Palawa name for Tasmania – across the front have been asked to wear them to the Christmas Day home game in a sign of support for Oates.

The club has since admitted to the National Indigenous Times that it had no entitlement to denounce the sale of the jerseys after pressure from some of the Tasmanian Aboriginal community.

Oates has a "private agreement" with First Ever, the manufacturer of NBL jerseys, did not have to seek permission from the club, and is believed to own their copyright.

"The club is not involved in this agreement," a Tasmania JackJumpers spokesperson revealed.

"Reuben was contracted to design (our) jerseys only and we have been in contact with him throughout the process and the decision to withdraw them."

The JackJumpers refused to confirm whether or not the two parties have parted ways from their partnership – as Oates had not either – after the club initially said it would support the artist.

The decision to dump the Indigenous jerseys from their home game against Brisbane Bullets came only four days before running on the court.

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