First Nations artists cheated by fake souvenir trade

Handmade dillybag from Wadeye and Kimberley boabs, the real deal.

Up to 80 percent of supposedly First Nations souvenirs sold in Australia in a tourist market estimated to be worth millions of dollars are fake, a federal parliamentary inquiry has found.

The Indigenous Affairs Committee said in a report last month (December) it was concerned Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples were missing out commercially to cheap overseas imports.

It recommended a series of actions to counteract the fake souvenir trade.

These included a probe into the First Nations arts and crafts market by the Productivity Commission aimed at working out economic opportunities for Indigenous peoples.

Committee chair and Liberal MP Ann Sudmalis said committee members had visited gift shops in popular Sydney tourist areas and witnessed the fake trade first hand.

“What also became clear during this inquiry is that most buyers of these souvenir-type products are likely unaware that they are predominantly inauthentic,” she said.

“Indeed most non-Indigenous Australians and visiting tourists cannot readily distinguish authentic First Nations art and craft from imitation products.”

Ms Sudmalis said Australia lacked accepted industry standards for authentic souvenirs.

She said there was also a lack of effective education in the souvenir market.

“First Nations artists and their communities feel completely disrespected and cheated by what is going on at the moment, particularly in the souvenir trade,” she said.

“They feel that their cultures are being stolen through the supply of these imitation products. In addition, they are being denied the opportunity to make a living from the obvious interest and market demand for First Nations art and craft.”

“This unacceptable misappropriation of First Nations cultures cannot be allowed to continue unchecked.”

The committee also recommended that the Indigenous Art Code be properly funded to encourage responsible retail and supply practices and that Indigenous art centres be better resourced.

It said a certification trade mark scheme for authentic arts and crafts should also be developed.

The report said no accurate data on the size of the markets for First Nations art, including souvenirs, bought by domestic and international tourists was available, but it was likely to run into millions of dollars.

By Wendy Caccetta  

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