Rear Left

Of Wogs and Golliwogs

Posted in Race/ism by rearleft on June 18, 2009

There are certain things that it seems that Australia has not received the memo on. Glitches in the cultural continuum that send a jolt of culture shock through my system and let me know that I am in thoroughly americanized space, but not the US.

Being a new parent, I spend a fair amount of time browsing through childrens’ shops for cute new clothes or toys for Ramona. Many average mall baby/toy shops stock some version of the Golliwog.


As racist as the US is institutionally, this type of “Sambo” minstrel character is generally understood for what it is, a deeply insulting racist caricature from a bygone era. Apparently not here in the supposedly progressive Australia.


Until recently, Arnotts, an Australian company iconic for its Tim Tams, Iced VoVos, and many other baked confections sold biscuits called “Golliwogs”. (NOTE: I tried to find an image of this, but was amazed to find that I could not. Australians not so good with uploading? Arnotts on an aggressive revisionism campaign? weird…) In a seriously half-arsed PR move, “Golliwogs” became “Scalliwags” when Arnott’s sought to expand business in the US (maybe? not great sources on this).


Not only is the Golliwog still alive in Oz, it has spawned descendants. In Australia, dark-skinned people, particularly immigrants (often southern Europeans, Arabs), are often referred to as “Wogs”. “Wog” is a shortened form of “Golliwog”, first used by British troops to refer to Arabs, and later becoming a more general slur against people of colour. It is reported that in the 1960s soldiers from the Argyll and Southern Highlanders Regiment would display a Robertson’s Golly Badge for each Arab they had killed in Aden (Yemen), a British mandate until 1967.

Jason Di Russo remarks on the morphing context of the term “wog” over the past 20 years in his well thought out essay in The Australian. Russo does a good job of pulling the ridiculous framing of the Chk-Chk Boom non-story into focus. The story here is not whether or not Clare Werbeloff witnessed a shooting (she did not), it is the normality of white Australia’s caricatures of people of colour.

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17 Responses

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  1. mextremist said, on June 24, 2009 at 2:35 AM

    are mexicans wogs?

    • rearleft said, on June 24, 2009 at 3:32 AM

      While all vaguely brown and/or immigrant people fall within the wide and fuzzy bounds of wogdom, people from the Americas are a bit of a stretch. That said, your average “skip” (supposedly perjorative term for white Australian) doesn’t draw much of a distinction between one brown person and another.

      There actually has been a lot of talk about Australian racism against your peeps, after Sol Trujillo, the former boss of Telstra (the previously nationalized telecommunications network) complained in an interview with the BBC about his racist treatment by the Australian media and politicians. As a joke in response to that story, Rove (Australia’s equivalent of Letterman or Leno) hung a Sol Trujillo pinata and invited guests to take a crack at it (Kelly Clarkson got the first blow in). In effect, they lynched an effigy of a Mexican and beat it with a stick. Just a joke, mate…

      I’d link to the clip if i could find it, but YouTube’s taken it down for violation of terms of service. I wonder if it was for the lynching imagery.

  2. Ben said, on July 17, 2009 at 9:55 PM

    I think it prudent to point out something, that idiotic chk chk boom girl, is actually a “wog”

    although the term here wog does mean as you say, the term is no longer used as a racial slur like it once was.. although still occasionally the term is used in a derogatory fashion I have never heard it used that way and I’m born and raised here.

    • rearleft said, on July 18, 2009 at 7:24 PM


      I’m interested in hearing what makes Clare Werbeloff fall into the wog category for you. Is it her place of birth? Her ethnicity? I have no idea of what either is…

      I would disagree that the term no longer has a derogatory meaning. I think that it is just entirely acceptable to use this particular racist slur in polite Australian society, much like the way that folks see nothing wrong with giving their kids Golliwogs as toys.

  3. ana_au_ said, on September 9, 2009 at 8:59 PM

    I’ve noticed the golliwog appearing in the so called indie arts and crafts world, related I guess to its’ vintage ‘value’ (racism died with whalebone only to re-appear with even more value….?!).

    I’ve seen this “Mr. Golly” in a store on King Street in Newtown, as well as here online: As you’ll see, it is the creation of the Misses White.

    • rearleft said, on September 9, 2009 at 11:04 PM

      “Made by White”… perfect.

      Not to mention all the talk of “KILLING” and “…you’ll wear them to death.”?


  4. […] In fact, I came across a blog taking about these antiquated toys here. […]

  5. Auswin said, on October 9, 2009 at 7:44 AM

    I think you will find that Arnotts is no longer an Australian owned company, bought out by the americans many years ago.

  6. […] previously mentioned the prevalence of the Golliwog figure in Australia in these pages. Last week, on a reunion show of […]

  7. Sophie said, on December 3, 2009 at 12:28 AM

    I am so sick and tired of comments that are opinions only and have nothing to do with fact.

    The term WOG as used by the British Troops was never an abbreviation of Golliwog – it was an abbreviation of the descriptive term “Workers of Government”. The Arabs and Indians who assisted the British troops during the 2nd world war wore uniforms stating that they were “Workers of Government” thereby allowing them access to restricted areas.

    It was also customary for gifts of dolls to be given as departing gifts to friends. These dolls had black hair and resembled the GALLI dolls from America and so the dolls were called golliwogs – simply meaning dolls from the workers of government.

    The term WOG became an insult much later – but the dolls do not depict that slur.

    • rearleft said, on December 3, 2009 at 4:57 AM

      Sophie, While there is no clear evidence to prove that “wog” is derived from “golliwog”, it seems the most plausible etymology to me (and the publishers of all the dictionaries I could find, for what it’s worth).

      The “Worker of Government”, “Worthy Oriental Gentleman”, “Westernized Oriental Gentleman” theories seem totally baseless. I’d be very interested if you had any references to back your claim.

      The excerpt from the OED on this page, , is uselful for its list of early appearances of the term.

  8. vee said, on December 14, 2009 at 9:35 AM

    As a half-caste person who has herself been referred to as a “wog” due to the colour of her skin, I wish people would just move on. I’ve bought and consumed so-called “scalliwag” biscuits and I’m deeply disappointed that they’re no longer available. They tasted good and they were perfect for recipes that required crushed cocoa biscuits. Who cares what they looked like. Seriously, people need to just get over it. Accept the past and move into the future. If there’s actual hate/resentment being expressed, then that’s a problem. All this PC crap though is just clogging the airwaves when we could all be doing something far more productive.

  9. MsM said, on September 22, 2010 at 7:06 AM

    I agree with the intent of this article, but there are historical inaccuracies about the origination of the term WOG. Being that I was called this amongst other slurs whilst growing up in the 1980’s in Australia I have researched and this is indeed a falsehood.

    There is no question that these images are rooted in prejudice, ESPECIALLY the Arnott’s ‘Scallywags’. What is really profound about this image is the Gollywog on a crocodile. Those well-versed in ‘Black Americana’ (the term they use to label this type of cultural propoganda by non-black folks about black folks) will know that this is a common motif in the genre…no idle coincidence, indeed…deeply rooted in White Supremacist stereotypes of black folks…

    • rearleft said, on September 22, 2010 at 7:30 AM

      Thanks for the comment @MsM.

      If you have any good resources from your research on the history of the term “wog” I’d be happy to share them here. I’m far from certain about the connections I made in the post above, they’re all made from internet searches and nothing deeper. That said, the connection between the Argyll and Southern Highlanders Regiment and the Robertsons pins seems pretty solid to me.

      But seriously, I’m no expert on this, but I am genuinely interested about digging deeper. There is so much that just gets absorbed into white culture that needs to be interrogated.

  10. MsM said, on September 22, 2010 at 7:10 AM

    Also note how the white dolls have dots for eyes and and small mouths as their features where the Gollywogs have bulbous eyes and thick, red-painted outlines around the mouths…and people still don’t think this is rooted in white supremacist images? SERIOUSLY?

    I do want to move on…move on from this idiocy of ignoring this type of legalized minstrelsy…if they began selling plush toys of kike dolls or swastikas I have no doubt the uproar would be enormous but when it’s black folks, Native American folks etc in toys, no one seems to care at all…smh…

  11. rearleft said, on September 14, 2011 at 11:04 PM

    two comments deleted from this post today.

    i’m open to critique, disagreement, but not to people using this blog as a platform for promoting their own bad art or attacking other commenters.

  12. Jemima said, on September 4, 2012 at 5:03 AM

    You said you had tried to look for an original Arnott’s ‘Golliwog’ packet but had no luck. I believe i’ve found a picture if you’re still interested:

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