‘Racist’ hot air balloon nicknamed ‘Golly’ pulled from festival

A hot air balloon named "Golly" has been axed from a Canberra event for fear it may offend some members of the community. Source: Facebook/ Kay Turnbull

A hot air balloon nicknamed “Golly” has been pulled from a Canberra festival after organisers claimed it could be considered racist by some members of the community.

The balloon, which traditionally goes by the name of Black Magic, but is sometimes referred to as “Golly” by members of the public, was axed from the upcoming Enlighten Festival.

The ACT Government, which is in charge of the eight-day festival, claimed the balloon has the potential of offending some, including the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community, due to its likeness to the golliwog.

Director of Events ACT Jo Verden explained they don’t want to offend anyone by creating an event that isn’t inclusive and welcoming to all.

“Progressing reconciliation between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the broader Canberra community is a key priority for the ACT Government,” she said in a statement obtained by Starts at 60. “The use of words and/or visual depictions that may be considered racist and offensive by many in our community, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Canberrans, is not supported.”

Speaking on radio station 3AW on Wednesday, the balloon’s owner Kay Turnbull, who has flown Black Magic in the event since 1996, claimed it wasn’t necessarily meant to depict a golliwog.

“We simply put eyes and a smiley face on it because it’s a very happy balloon,” she told host Tom Elliott. “We’ve flown at every Canberra festival there ever has been, we have been flying this design of balloon since 1996.”

She added: “In 20 years since we’ve been flying them nobody has ever, ever complained”.

Since the decision was handed down on Wednesday, many Aussies have taken to social media to express their outrage. The majority claimed it was completely unnecessary, considering it a case of PC gone mad.

“Anyone offended by this balloon should take a long hard look at themselves, and then take another look at the balloon,” one person wrote on Twitter. “It is a black hot air balloon with big eyes and a nice smile, partly dressed with a bow tie – not a racist balloon.”

Another said: “It’s not racist or offensive, it’s just a black balloon with a smiley face on it. The world has truly gone mad. People being offended over nothing. It’s crazy just like the Mary Poppins and miners controversy claiming it’s blackface”.

While a third added: “How ridiculous! I think people need to develop a sense of humour”.

This isn’t the first time Australians have been caught up in a racism storm over golliwogs. Last year the Royal Adelaide Show came under fire after three controversial golliwog dolls won the top three prizes on a handicrafts display, sparking outrage on social media.

The show was forced to remove the offensive dolls and issue a public apology after they were branded racist by an Indigenous community group on Facebook.

Deadly Yarning from South Australian Aboriginal Communities group shared photos of each of the three dolls on their page, slamming the show for ever allowing them to appear, while other attendees claimed they should be “ashamed of themselves”.

“When you go to the 2018 Royal Adelaide Show Royal Adelaide Show only to see #Racist Dolls being awarded 1st 2nd and 3rd places in the Judging… WTH,” the Facebook page’s organisers wrote on the since deleted post.

Meanwhile, another Twitter user added pictures of the dolls too, writing: “The Royal Adelaide show should be ashamed of itself for allowing racist dolls to partake in competitions and be given awards – #Gollywog #Racism.”

Following the backlash, the show itself apologised in the comments section of the post and wrote in a statement: “There are variety of traditional dolls entered in the handicrafts competition including Parisian dolls, Japanese dolls and African dolls, however the dolls above have been removed from the display. No offence was intended.”


Golliwog dolls were created by American-born cartoonist Florence Kate Upton and first appeared in popular culture in the late 1800s.

They first faced criticism in the ’60s, with some saying they were a racist characterisation of African American slaves and performers. They are still sold in a few Australian stores and in many other parts of the world, while activists continue to fight for their removal from sale and most modern parents shun them as toys for their children.

What are your thoughts on the festival’s decision to axe the Black Magic balloon from the event? Do you think it was the right decision?

Leave your comment

Retrieving conversation…