In Alice Springs, a town marred by deep-seated racial divides, something as simple as flying the Aboriginal flag can become a flash point for civil unrest.
Though the proposal may seem simple in theory, the reality is anything but.
For more than a decade, supporters have been lobbying the local council to fly the flag on Anzac Hill, a sacred site and military memorial.
Despite receiving endorsements from traditional owners, the RSL and Department of Veterans Affairs, every motion has been defeated.
Now, on the eve of what proponents hope to be the final hurdle towards recognition, the very man who designed the Aboriginal flag is calling on council to take heed.
“I was born on the banks of the Todd River, in the days when separation of kin was at its peak,” said Harold Thomas, a Luritja descendent from central Australia.
“Non-Aboriginals, that is whites, lived in town, and people of my colouring lived on the outskirts.”
It was the legendary sunrises and sunsets, seen from the top of Anzac Hill, that inspired him to design the internationally recognised symbol of Aboriginal strength.
Mr Thomas cannot fathom why the very site that launched the design now refuses to acknowledge it.
“I lived amongst the redness of the earth, it’s so powerful. As a child it was part of my identity, the red rocks and red desert, the yolk of the sun, it was just a part of me,” he said.
“I think it would be a fine thing for the flag to be raised on Anzac Hill.
“The traditional owners want it there, it’s a sacred place for them, and they’re willing to share it.”
A community divided
The latest motion, to be debated on Monday night, has been put forward by Arrernte councillor Catherine Satour.
Flying an Aboriginal flag at the war memorial, she said, would be recognition of the Aboriginal men and women who fought and died in battle.
“It’s a symbol of empowerment for the traditional owners, the Arrernte people,” Ms Satour said.
In February, the Alice Springs Town Council agreed to consult traditional owners on the issue.
In a show of hands, all traditional owners who were present at the consultation unanimously voted to fly the Aboriginal flag at Anzac Hill.
The Alice Springs Town Council voted against it.
“I’ve gone and spent a lot of time at local shopping centres, sat down with people and asked their opinion,” Deputy Mayor Jamie de Brenni said.
“I’ve talked to a lot of Indigenous people about it, and the community isn’t comfortable with it, so I will not be supporting the motion as is.”
It is a consensus at odds with both the RSL and Department of Veterans Affairs.
In May 2017, Acting Deputy Commissioner of Veterans Affairs Lance Johnson wrote to council.
“The proposal to fly the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags alongside the Australian and Northern Territory flags on Anzac Hill would be most appropriate,” the letter read.
The council also sought the position of the RSL.
Alice Springs branch president Dave Batic told civic leaders he supported flying the flag to commemorate a specific event as a symbol of “unity,” but did not back moves to permanently erect the flag at Anzac Hill.
‘The flag represents us Aboriginal people’
It is a position consistent with that of the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.
The Australian War Memorial flies the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flag for NAIDOC week and at special ceremonies to commemorate Indigenous soldiers.
Last month, Mayor Damien Ryan, Deputy Mayor Jamie de Brenni, Councillor Jacinta Nampijinpa Price, Councillor Matt Paterson and Councillor Glen Auricht voted against flying the Aboriginal flag at Anzac Hill at any time, which includes NAIDOC week.
Councillor Price, who describes herself as Warlpiri-Celtic, said she would not support a flag on Anzac Hill because the issue was “too divisive”.
She said she could not be certain the traditional owners who were invited to share their views truly represented the opinions of local Aboriginal people.
Councillor Matt Paterson said he had an Indigenous friend who served in the Army, who would prefer “only the Australian flag” be flown at Anzac Hill.
But while council debates the issue, local Arrernte woman Shirleen McLaughlin has taken matters into her own hands.
Ms McLaughlin knows she may get fined for sticky taping an Aboriginal flag to a tree at the war memorial, but she said it was worth the risk.
“The flag represents us Aboriginal people, we live in this town and it’s important for it to be up here, for us to be able to see our flag flying,” she said.
Mr Ryan declined to be interviewed ahead of the vote.