THE Royal Show is a delightful festival of anachronisms.

There’s wood chopping, sheep shearing, displays of needlecraft, crochet and patchwork quilts.

There’s thread spinning and bread baking and jam making, and the hard-working women of the CWA serve up the best scones in town at a price that even seems unchanged since the 1970s. It’s all brilliant fun.

But there’s one old-fashioned relic I was utterly shocked to discover proudly on display at the Show this week, instead of being consigned to the rubbish bin of history where it belongs: the golliwog.

With their frizzy hair, googly eyes and clownish lips, golliwogs are a grotesque, racist caricature of black people. Modelled on the African-American minstrels of the 19th and early 20th centuries, they are a caricature of a caricature. They are “blackface” embodied in a children’s toy.

They have no place in Australia’s modern, multicultural society.

And there they were at the Royal Show, four of them, proudly displayed in a glass cabinet among the handmade crochet and lace. All three prize-winning entries wore red jackets, bow ties and stripey pants, just like blackface minstrels. How quaint. How appallingly racist. How offensive and upsetting this display must be for indigenous visitors, for our many African-Australian residents.

I wondered if perhaps the golliwogs were the creation of some guerrilla arts activism group, a sort of ironic statement on racism in the 21st century. But no, there’s an official category in the Royal Show’s “Open arts and crafts” prize section, listed under “teddy bears and friends: Class 264 - golly (Traditional children’s soft toy)”.

See, we don’t call them “golliwogs” anymore, we call them “golly” dolls, and say they’re “traditional”, which apparently makes them OK.

The Royal Show isn’t the only offender here. Last week I saw golliwogs for sale in a Norwood newsagency, this time labelled as “rag dolls”. Handy for all those needing to buy racist memorabilia with their X-Lotto tickets and craft supplies.

Defenders of “golly” dolls say they are innocent relics of a bygone era and shouldn’t be seen as racist, which is a bit like saying the swastika should no longer be seen as offensive because it’s more than 70 years old. It’s an utterly ignorant stance. We know golliwogs are racist.

We knew it in the 1990s when Arnott’s renamed its golliwog biscuits “Scalliwag”, before discontinuing them altogether.

We knew it in 2009 when Aussie toy shops ditched their golliwogs after that infamous blackface minstrel act on Hey Hey It’s Saturday.

We knew it in 2010 when Oprah Winfrey’s production company told a Melbourne toy store to remove its “mammee dolls” from display before her much-hyped visit.

We knew it in February when Canberra Hospital was forced to remove golliwogs from its gift shop after a deluge of complaints.

We knew it in June when Australia Post swiftly removed golliwogs from sale in their Sydney airport shop after being shamed on Twitter.

We knew it in July when the Advertising Standards Board ruled a Victorian lolly shop’s golliwog logo “humiliates and ridicules”.

In a wider stance, we knew it in August when that misguided mother sent her child to school in blackface for book week in Perth.

How many times do we need to be told?

Just as minstrel shows mocked and ridiculed black people as stupid, lazy buffoons whose only skills were entertaining white people, so golliwogs carry the same message.

The last thing I want the gloriously old-fashioned Royal Show to do is get with the times, but it should at least ditch the golliwogs.


First published in The Advertiser on September 9, 2016. CLICK HERE to read the original article.