What’s With Australia’s Obsession With Racist Dolls?

'Golliwogs' are back in the news again.


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An alderman for a Hobart city council has released a media statement explaining why he made a Facebook post commending a storefront for displaying racist Golliwog figures.

Brendan Blomeley, alderman for Clarence city council, posted the photo to his Facebook page yesterday of a storefront in the town of Richmond with several Golliwog dolls in the window.

Blomeley’s caption said that it was “Wonderful to know that the PC Brigade haven’t taken total control!”

The alderman has since released a media statement including a non-apology that ultimately defends his decision to have published the Facebook post.

“I am not a racist and indeed, I have a proud record of working to achieve harmony and acceptance in our diverse community,” Blomeley said.

“So, if my post has caused anyway genuine offence, then of course I apologise. However, it seems to me that the politically-correct brigade seek to find offence under every single rock in their pursuit to cancel culture.”

Blomeley then goes on to explain that he grew up with a Golliwog doll beside his bed and believed they were intended as a ‘protector of children’ and not as “some believe, a sign of racism or disrespect to people of different race or skin tone”.

The History Of The Golliwog In Australia

Associate professor Clare Corbould specialises in African American history at Deakin University and she told Junkee that Golliwogs have a long history of offensively caricaturing black and Indigenous people in advertising, film, and television.

“How any white Australian could possibly be unaware of that history of that type of denigration is beyond me, especially for somebody of his [Blomeley’s] age,” she said.

“[Golliwogs] represent that history of Indigenous people being told that they were ‘savage’ and that being used as justification for terrible treatment, especially policies of assimilation and the stolen generation.”

This is far from the first time that some Australians’ continued acceptance (and outright support) of Golliwogs has gained media attention.

In fact, about one month ago, One Nation’s Pauline Hanson posted a photo of herself to social media wearing a mask with a Golliwog print on it.

In 2016, former Victorian premier, Jeff Kennett, was broadly criticised for his defence of a Melbourne toy shop that was selling Golliwogs and drew attention to his personal collection of about 50 dolls.

Bizarrely, Kennett said that he hoped the Australian of the year at the time, David Morrison, would stand up for the dolls as part of his commitment to inclusion and diversity.

“I hope he will give all Golliwogs and Golliwog lovers great hope that by the end of his term, golliwogs will again be able to walk the streets freely without being abused,” Kennett said.

Kennett’s defence of the dolls received particular attention because he named one of the dolls in his collection ‘Buddy’, after the Indigenous AFL player Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin.

Current Drag Race Down Under contestant, Karen From Finance,  apologised a few years ago for a photo of her childhood collection of Golliwog dolls — and a tattoo that she had of one of the dolls.

She had the tattoo covered over and erased years before appearing on the show and described it as an “irresponsible and stupid” decision to have it done in the first place.

Criticism of continued Golliwog sales has continued to crop up in various news stories over the past decade or so.

A Canadian backpacker pointed out they were being sold in Featherdale Wildlife Park’s gift shop in 2009, a writer pointed out they were being sold in the post office in Sydney airport in 2016, a Melbourne woman made headlines in 2018 for criticising their sale in far north Queensland, and last year a Uniting Church charity shop in Victoria removed Golliwogs from the shelves after they were urged by a church committee to consider why they might cause offence.

Golliwogs Are Still Popular In Australia

Only a few years ago, Elka, an Australian soft toy manufacturer, were releasing new ranges of their ‘Golly’ dolls and shipping hundreds of thousands of the dolls around Australia every year.

In 2018, the national sales manager of Elka, Jan Johnco, said that the doll was “wholesome and lovely” and said that its critics “need to get a grip”.

“We’re talking about an innocent, benevolent, beautiful black doll,” Johnco said.

Elka then announced in 2019 that the company would likely discontinue sale of the dolls, with Johnco saying that the dolls were a cause of offence because people “don’t want to hear the truth about them.”

However, even with the Elka dolls discontinued, a quick Google search for Golliwog dolls will reveal multiple Australian sites where dolls, jewellery, craft, and homewares of Golliwogs are available for purchase.

Why Are Golliwogs So Offensive?

The Golliwog is recognised as a deeply offensive racist caricature that degrades people with darker skin tones.

The characters, inspired by blackface minstrels, first appeared in a children’s book, written by illustrator Florence Kate Upton, in 1895.

Upton herself described the character as “ugly” and the first pages of the book describe the Golliwog as a “horrid sight, the blackest gnome”.

The name itself inspired the racial slur “wog”, which is an extremely derogatory term for dark-skinned people in the UK.

Golliwogs they started to appear as a pop culture figure throughout the early 20th Century on things like food jars, postcards, key chains, and in the form of soft toys.

They also appeared as a chocolate biscuit manufactured by Arnott’s from the 1960s before they were renamed Scalliwags in the mid 1990s.

Golliwogs have long been widely condemned by black and Indigenous advocates.

Aboriginal actor, Shari Sebbens, told Yahoo News Australia in 2019 that the dolls make Indigenous people feel dehumanised, saying they infantilised people of colour and conjured feelings about Australia’s colonial history and the “culture of oppression” for First Nations people.

Corbould told Junkee that these characters were specifically designed to instil the idea that darkness was ugly.

“Racism takes many forms and one of them is denigration in order to justify exploitation of labour and people,” she said.

Is Defence Of Golliwogs Becoming More Popular?

Corbould told Junkee that she has a sense that defence of Golliwogs is really becoming divided along political lines and their continued appearance in media is a sign of political polarisation.

She said that it’s become a form of conservative outrage from “white people, when equality feels like loss to them.”