I am a wog, and I’m proud of it. I don’t call myself an aussie and I was born in Australia. This may be difficult for some to digest, but that’s how I feel, and I’m not alone is saying it either.
A few weeks ago, I emailed a review of the George Michael concert to the Overland editor, and was politely asked to remove the line ‘every wog and his brother was there’. I thought the editor’s concern that it may offend was understandable, even though I meant it endearingly, so I removed the line without complaint, but it got me thinking about the word ‘wog’ and whether it’s appropriate to use it today. Are the words ‘aussie’ and ‘wog’ just terms my parents tackled back in the 70s and 80s where immigrants from southern Europe were arriving in their droves? Is it a non-issue today, or is it still there but that nobody talks about it? Is it okay to say the word ‘wog’?
It was only a few years ago, in 2005, that Sydney saw an uproar in racial tensions betweens wogs and aussies with the Cronulla Beach riots. Redneck Australians were draped in the Australian flag chanting ‘Aussie, Aussie, Aussie … Oi, Oi, Oi’, and demanding the Lebanese go home, when, in fact, Australia is their home. I remember being stunned by the racism – I thought Australia was past all this, yet here was a community completely segregated.
What perplexed me more was how I didn’t see it coming, and it had me wondering if our society isn’t just a little bit ignorant. Would we rather live in denial than interrupt the flow our daily lives? Do we have a tendency to bury our problems until they’ve reach boiling point?
I can only speak for life in Melbourne today and am in no way insinuating that we have the same problems we had in Cronulla, but I do believe we are still a long stretch, as a society, from embracing multiculturalism. All you have to do is look at what mainstream television is broadcasting: Neighbours, Blue Heelers, Home and Away, and other shows with predominantly Anglo-Saxon characters and drama. The latest Underbelly is surprisingly refreshing in its portrayal of Lebanese characters in Sydney’s Kings Cross, but it doesn’t go far enough. We are shown the family lives of Anglo characters but the family life of the main Lebanese characters is hidden – why?
Travelling back a decade or so, television gave us Heartbreak High, which included characters from different multicultural backgrounds, and before that Acropolis Now, which made fun of Greek culture rather than exploring what is means to be Greek in Australia. Apart from that, there hasn’t been much else. Where are our multicultural shows depicting multicultural Australia? Where are the wogs?
And it isn’t just television, it’s film and books, none of which represent a true, multicultural Australia. Why is this the case? Is It is because there aren’t enough writers from different backgrounds writing our stories? Or is there a reluctance by editors, TV producers and film producers to allow this new voice to come through? Is it fear, racism, or something else?
All I know is that if I was told I couldn’t use the word ‘wog’ to describe myself, it would literally be like someone ripping my identity from me. I use the word endearingly, and if it is said endearingly to me, I don’t mind. Some Anglos may refrain from using the word, but it takes a lot more than not using the word ‘wog’ to be open to other cultures and to truly embrace multicultural Australia.
For anyone into poetry, a poem on my blog on the topic.
Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.
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