R is for racism

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Fair Dinkum, definition: used to emphasise or seek confirmation of the genuineness or truth of something.

Australia Post is currently advertising a collection of Fair Dinkum Aussie Alphabet stamps, which their website describes as a: light-hearted look at Australia through our cultural icons, inventions, places, characters, flora, and fauna and more. It explores our unique brand of “Aussie” humour and showcases our ability to laugh at ourselves. Each letter of the alphabet has its own stamp that is filled with elements starting with that letter.

I saw this stamp collection advertised at my local post office and thought it was an interesting insight into the myths we buy into about Australia identity. Of the 19 stamps I could locate to view online, here is a breakdown of the gender representation:

Female characters (3):

  • J for jillaroo
  • R for refrigerator
  • Z for zoo

Male characters (11):

  • A for aussie roolz (their spelling. Coolz)
  • B for beach
  • G for galah (as in acting like one)
  • N for N.S.W (surf lifesavers)
  • O is a dude in a driza bone and akubra. Okka bloke?
  • S for surf and sand
  • T for tradie
  • U for ute
  • V for veggie garden
  • X for x-ray
  • Y is a man in singlet and undies. Yobbo?
  • C is for camping shows a man and woman.

Animal characters (4):

  • E for emu
  • L for lizard
  • Q for quokka
  • W for wombat

I would like to point out that more animals have their own stamp than women. The male characters outnumber female ones by nearly 4 to 1. In terms of representation, the few female characters that there are, are mostly doing doing interesting, active things; the jillaroo is laughing and Bindi Irwin is studying birds at Australia zoo.

The R stamp (reprinted here on the home page), however, contains the only Indigenous character; a woman peering passively into a grubby refrigerator, while a poster of Uluru/ the red centre spills out onto the floor. Juding by the look of this fridge she is clearly not located in a kitchen of a high socio-economic home.  Theres a bottle of alcohol, probably rum, on the shelf in the fridge. And something in the door which looks like an aerosol can.

Whereas the white female characters are smiling and engaged, this one is staring, slack jawed away from the viewer and into a fridge that actually contains no food. Meaning that within this stamp collection Indigenous women are represented only in the domestic sphere, which is hugely problematic considering that during colonisation Indigenous women were forced into domestic servitude and slavery in the homes of white women.

The historical context, in which this image was created that cannot be ignored. Even the letter of the stamp R is the first letter in the word race. But it looks more like racism. Who can say which parts of this image are deliberate and which were unconscious, but artists pay attention to detail and someone at Australia Post gave this stamp the ok. I am ashamed that this image will be pasted onto letters and parcels and shipped around the world.

There is a sinister undercurrent to these seemingly harmless images. Looking back fondly at a time when men were men and women, gays and other ethnicities were invisible. Recreating and reinforcing tired, inaccurate ideas about Australian identity that are frankly boring and in some cases harmful.

The Guardian recently published a gallery of new stock photos that reflect a diverse and realistic portrait of Australia. These included; a surfer in a burka, an indigenous mother and daughter embracing on a beach and two men holding hands. Im not saying we can’t hold on to cultural icons and characters, but they can no longer be only embodied solely by white men. Fair fucking dinkum!

 

2 comments

  1. Thanks Sasquatch. There are clearly some big problems with this stamp. And maybe a bigger problem in that no one else seems to have noticed.

    Like

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