Let’s talk: are gollywog dolls racist?

A market stall owner on the Mornington Peninsula is facing huge backlash after being ousted by a customer for selling

A market stall owner on the Mornington Peninsula is facing huge backlash after being ousted by a customer for selling tea towels with images of gollywog dolls on them.

Melbourne University pro-vice chancellor Ian Anderson was attending the Easter market on Sunday on the Mornington Peninsula with a group of young aboriginal children when he saw the stand displaying the tea towels.

He says he and the group he was with were sick to their stomachs when they saw the images.

“They have a kind of superficial charm about them, they’re sort of innocent,” Prof Anderson told The Age.

“They’re the sort of thing that is part of kids’ stories. But they are deeply out of place in Australian society.

“What’s at the core of them is a really disturbing stereotype of indigenous Australia, of black people. It’s naive and out of place.”

Image: The Age.
Image: The Age.

Prof Anderson, whose family are Palawa Trowerna from the Pyemairrenner mob in Tasmania, says those kinds of ideas stop Australia moving forward.

“They did not see themselves as an apron-wearing domestic servant, or a naive stupid object for children.

“That’s what’s so jarring about it. It’s almost like a photocopy of an idea from our colonial past.”

Gollywog dolls have been a subject of fierce debate in Australia for some time now with many divided over whether it is just an innocent doll, or a racist and demeaning symbol of our past.

What do you think?

Are gollywog dolls racist? Or is there nothing wrong with them?

  1. Jan Cooke  

    Total over reaction.

    I grew up with a gollywog doll – long before the word “racist” was known. There are a number of shops across Tasmania that sell gollywogs in their shops.

    • Rozlyn  

      I have a couple of these t/towels and I love them. This stall has been selling for a lot of years. What offends me is that people get offended on such silly things. They are t/towels for Christ sake not bloody severed heads. That would be shocking. This over correct ness is bloody stupid. Golliwogs dolls have been loved for probably 100 yrs or more. I had one and it is a doll a rag doll. Please there is a lot more going on in this world that is bloody evil. A t/towel really isn’t in the great scheme of things. Get a life and stop being ridiculous.

    • Elsa  

      I agree wholeheartedly with you. I loved my golliwog dolls! Nothing wrong with them! Those narrow minded people should wake up! They are the racists! Why would someone complain about the golliwog dish towels, they are awesome! And what if they were yellow, red or white? What then? Please get educated!! Why not go on a course to keep your crooked mind busy?!? Love golliwogs xx

    • Pam Woodward  

      Nothing wrong with Gollywog dolls. I loved them as a kid and never even heard the word racist.
      Does that mean we need to ban rag dolls as well because they might offend white folks?
      Don’t be ridiculous, keep it simple folks!

    • Nana  

      I grew up with only golliwogs and a black doll in his little overalls.
      I LOVED these dolls and still do.
      My Grandaughters best friend at school is a little African boy out of her whole class.
      As a baby 18 months old in a shop she chose a dark doll out of them all.
      This is acceptance not racist GET IT RIGHT!
      It is the same people who tried to say Noddy and Big Ears were gay! Why try to single out these things.
      That is saying they think these people are not normal. Get a life!
      I read these books all through my childhood. They were my special books and Little Black Sambo book which has good moral meanings.
      I am now 64 years old and HAVE NEVER thought of these things as racist!
      It is acceptance that everyone is the same.
      Stop trying to make something out of nothing. Get your kids to show you. We are not born racist.

  2. Fran Gray  

    OH MY GOD harden up. Get rid of Golly Wogs! Well get rid of gnomes,(small people might get offended), get rid of barbie(blondes might get offended). Golly wogs are golly wogs that’s all. Maybe professor you need to not read anything into it.

    • Gintra Alyta Murphy  

      I agree! When will this stupid debate stop?! The PC Brigade are at it again. Why can’t a toy just be a toy, without reading something more into it?

    • Donna Gibbs  

      Totally agree i have part aboriginal children and we love golly wogs i have over 100 of them

      • An angry black girl  

        If you have Aborginal children, you’ll know we don’t like being called part. Better fix that or you’ll have your “part” race card removed.

        (note the capital A)

    • Sue  

      Totally agree my golliwog was in the jam. The world is crazy shouldn’t getting your land back be more important that getting rid of a childhood image that meant nothing and wasn’t racist. If that is how you teach the next generation avoid Melbourne University at all cost.

      • Emma  

        Hi Sue, it’s a terrible characterisation of what a black person looks like. I’m yet to see a flat faced doll, paper white with thin lips in a matching tracksuit…because that would be a stereotype of a white person. It’s a very damaging image, why can’t gollywogs be replaced with an accurate representation of a black person?

    • Julie  

      I have a golliwog doll sitting in my bedroom. Reminds me of the one my Nana won for me at Bingo when i was 10. Lovely memories not racist at all

      • Margaret Hewens  

        I agree with you 100%. Some people are the fun police.

    • Lorraine Whittard  

      For God sake I grew up do,letting Golliwogs, not once did I think of them as another race, just A GOLLIWOGS, cute and beautiful. What is happening to us. I work with all races on nursing and we all joke and laugh with each other about our differences in ways and skin colour, but we are all close to each other, and help one another. My grandchildren are aboriginal, and I am so proud of them and their heritage, but see absolutely nothing wrong with this, not
      R do I think of them or their extended family when I see a GOLLIWOG

    • Tilricia  

      I’m a blackfella and SO sick of P C

  3. Lemrac Renrez  

    We had gollywogs growing up and loved them. Never had a racist thought or anything in our bones. We loved them like you would a teddy bear. Still love them.. Get a life !

    • Dorothy Harrison  

      I loved my Golly Wog as a child and still love to see them. Never been racist or will be. Just enjoy them.

  4. Diane Irwin  

    I grew up with the Golliwog story books that I checked out at the school library as a child in Dee, Oregon, USA! I loved any stories about babies or children……we never heard the word “racism”! I am a quilter and recently found material made with pictures on golliwogs that I bought because they were cute, depicting children at play…….some people certainly over react rather than look at the historical significance !

  5. Megan Lowndes  

    As gollywog dolls did not originate in Australia I am wondering how the professor can justify the connection back to our Aboriginal culture and consider them ‘racist’. Maybe he should look inside himself and consider just who was being ‘racist’ in this instance.

    • peter nortje  

      I agree with you. long live the gollywog

    • Michael  

      My exact thoughts. Maybe we should also ban the 50s song “Good Golly Miss Molly” as well because it says “golly”. The racism card is over people

    • An angry black girl  

      The comparison to white dolls so many people have commented in this is completely redundant. White dolls have no negative history or connotation. The issue is what they represent (blackface and racial stereotypes), these are the reasons they are bad. They were never innocent dolls. The history behind them we know was to create the absolute image of an African. Other examples is picaninnies, minstrels and mammy figures, sure they are more American but they gained just as much publicity in Australia. And so did the racial slurs. The story of The Little Black Sambo was also indian (note the tiger) but somehow this turned into a African child??? This is about people who are part of majorities need to stop accusing minorities of begging for sympathy. Stop telling us what we can be offended by and what we can’t, absolute truth is, people not of colour will never know the fear that runs through your body when you would confront someone about a race issue. It seems white people kick up a stink more then black people do. What this argument comes back to is, why is golliwogs racist then? And if your “build a bridge” mind can also “build a bridge” to my side to understand, to listen, is the creators made these things racist, your ancestors you also quickly jump to defend, they should be blamed, not minorities. It would be absolutly terrible if the minorities made you feel uncomfortable because you’ve never had to think about this. (*clears throat* white privilege). If there was no blackface and stereotypes, maybe Golliwogs would be accepted. But because of the history majorities created, this can’t be so. So dear white people, build a bridge and get over it, racism exists and i can be offended by anything i want to no matter how “subtle”. Just because I’m Aborginal, does not mean i will only stand for Aborginal rights, but for all rights, that all humans deserve.

  6. I do not find the gollywog doll degrading or racist . Then it could also be called racist if it was an embroidery of a white doll on an tea towel. Nobody gets upset about that . There is a girl figure with a large sunbonnet on she is white and she is used on towels and tea towels,

    • Don Lerwiis  

      maybe not racist, but that little white girl on the apron according to some would surely be sexist

  7. lindsay clarke  

    well said all you people the pro anderson has lost the grip of his hand

  8. Linda Reid  

    I grew up with Gollywog’s they are Beautiful…I know a shop that sells them …..just made Beautiful…….these winging people are a pain in the Ass…..

    • Jayjen  

      Love to know where I can buy one. Hey Prof. harden up. Why is it only golliwogs? Why not white dolls, blonde dolls, redheaded etc. etc> Golliwogs did not originate in this county and were around long before these bigots came out and said how bad we were to have them. I am 70 and they were around long before I was a child. Long before racist became a part of the everyday vernacular. I am not racist – there are plenty of white folk I don’t like!!

  9. Glenda Faber  

    For goodness sake! Please don’t have anything with white people on because that is racist too. My two golly wogs have pride and place on my rocking chair. Get a life professor .

    • Mary Birtles  

      I stopped making the dolls but was asked to bring them back

    • Barbara  

      I also have a family of golly wogs, pride of place at the front door. Golly. Dad, Golly mum and golly daughter, the daughter has herself a little golly wog doll too. Humm must be about time to ad another to the family maybe a golly son. What does everyone think?

  10. Oh come on. We grew up with Gollywogs. Why does everything now have to have a racist tag? It appears that white people are the minority and that we can’t do anything for fear of being called a bigot or racist. What about the reverse racism we white people endure. I have a black doll from my childhood called Topsy. Should I divest myself of her for fear of hurting someone’s feelings?

    • Emma  

      Denise, I think you should ask yourself why you used the phrase ‘reverse racism’….there is no such thing as reverse racism, the fact that you attribute racism to people who are not white says a lot. I’m not saying you are a racist person but it’s food for thought. We grew up with a lot of things that are now considered offensive, sexist or racist behaviour. For example, women could not work once they had children. We grew up with that, but I’m glad it’s changed…

  11. Graham Wilson  

    Why is everyone OUTRAGED these days? No one is slightly annoyed or a little upset. If the professor is “Sick to the stomach” about a figure that is not even of Australian origin and a harmless and very friendly looking doll, he needs to get a better perspective on the world and focus on real problems within our community.

    • Christine mckay  

      Oh Graham, I do agree with you. Next they are going to ban barbie dolls because it stereotypes people with anarexia, or a doll with red hair is poking fun at red haired people. Get out there and realise not everything is about you and your people. A doll is just a doll be it red haired or black. It’s only a doll and it’s only adults who think like this not children. They learn from adults.

    • Lawrae davis  

      I think “slightly miffed” or “kinda put out a bit” does not sell newspapers or grab attention like “absolutely outraged ” does. The people probably are mildly vexed….but again….No SALE.!!!!

    • The only reason gollywogs are racist is because of the narrow minded people and politicians who introduced them into the racist war. They are just very cute black dolls that we all loved growing up and still love as a grandmother and I have got one for my grandchildren who also love them, and they haven’t been taught to be racist, so they are not effected by the colour of the doll, they think they are just the same colour of people from a lot of countries all around the world. Innocence is beautiful until racist idiots destroy it.

  12. [email protected]  

    What a load crap, they are based on the American negro, nothing to do with Aboriginals. I have a black Cockatoo, and I call him a black buzzard, am I racist? You have to be so careful of what you say in public, one wrong word, and some minority group, has you up, before a judge.

    • Michelle cook  

      People need to stop there bloody whining over nothing,Hollywood,ba ba black sheep are not being racist,I grew up with them & my kids did to & I would like to believe my grandkids will,so go and find some real stuff to whinge about

    • Rachel  

      I hope your black cockatoo isn’t in a cage. They were given wings to fly. Not to be caged

    • Shirl Blake  

      What was the name of the cute little black girl ? I am thinking Topsy???
      She was in story books About the 50 ies

    • Sue Waldron  

      Your right it’s American so unless we hear from them Australian stay out of it

    • jrffi, don’t call the parrot a white buzzard or that would be racist. Then what about Barbie and Ken, Superman and Batman, Action Man and GI Joe, Cinderella and Snow White – I bet every indigenous child knows all of them and has not a racist thought about playing with them. But, oh help, it’s a black doll which must have racist overtones. GET A LIFE PROFESSOR.

    • Jack Dice  

      I made a golly wog for a dark skinned friend of mine for her little girl ,they loved it ,in this world our girls have white dolls ,where can little dark girls find a dark skinned doll for her to play with .OR IS SHE ONLY ALOUD. TO PLAY WITH WHITE. DOLLS .GET a Grip on your Selves its idiots like these who are making us \out as racist ,We are not

    • Faye Wittmer  

      Apparently the GOLLYWOG doll originated in the Middle East during the 1st world war ,the Pommy soldiers took them home for their children from Egypt etc

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