I’ll Keep it Brief Mia – Australian Blackface

1. As most of us know Delta Goodrem retweeted the other night a chap in blackface and thought it “Hilarious”

2. Mia Freedman uses her popular website Mamamia to defend Delta and suggesting “there is a huge difference between painting your face black to mock an entire race and painting yourself black to respectfully dress up as someone who has black skin.”

Well that is where you are dead wrong Mia, your whole article is wrong, but this is particularly offensive. There is a misconception in your article and in most of what is written about Blackface that it began as a way of white actors painting on the black and playing buffoonish characters. This is flatly incorrect! Although this is what would become of Blackface it actually started much earlier in serious theatre were the complete lack of black actors meant the roles were filled by white folk with their faces and arms painted black.

Now why couldn’t black people simply play those roles like we would expect now. Geez we got a whole season of Redfern Now with an Indigenous cast playing their own black roles. What on earth was going on back in the halcyon days of blackface that required white folk to black up.


This is what was happening Mia, this is where the black men were in this country! I know you probably think slavery was confined to the United States and ended with the Civil War and stamped out with the Civil Rights movement. But how about looking back at the history of your own country, the massacres, the forced labour, the removal of children, the brutality. This is why these men were not available down at the local theatre to play a black role, in Australia they were in chains!

So when blackface is used in Australia, when a famous person thinks it is “Hilarious” and when you believe in can be used “Respectfully” look back at this photo and have a think. This is the real past of where Blackface in this country comes. And now fast forward to today, a life expectancy for Aboriginal people at third world levels.

Look above at the photo again, they are black faces, they are slave chains around their necks and the use of Blackface is the re-attachment of those handcuffs and padlocks!

Posted on May 16, 2013, in For your information and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Just remember this is less than 100 years ago that our Aboriginal ancestors were in chains and then think how insulting it is in this country for Aboriginal people when an Australian on an international tv show disrespects black people.

  2. What’s the provenance of this photograph? In particular, how recent is it, I take it from MC’s comment that this type of abomination was still happening into the 20th century.

  3. Yes into the 20th century, 1926. The worst of the massacres ended by 1930 although this practice of chaining, forced labour etc continued for some time. Court records, particularly from North West Australia, show that even Aboriginal children were sentenced to hard labour on chain gangs for very petty crimes and the sentences for children were up to 4 years.

    In Hall’s creek a post master and magistrate (the G Grandfather of Rove McManus) was known for his harsh sentencing particularly of children who had no legal representation, no translators and were often charged with crimes like stealing small amounts of food from pastoralists. The museum there still has the record books of all the sentences he handed out, the proceedings etc

    The same area was witness to 10 massacres in this time, largely carried out by police officers sent to the area to push Aboriginal people off the land for the pastoralists to use to graze their cattle. There was quite a stark contrast with the wealth that was developing in the region from mining and cattle and the poverty and desperation of the local people who had been pushed away from their traditional lands, water supplies etc It was very much Australia’s version of the wild west.

    In near by Wyndham you had the Vestey group meatworks which was the largest factory of its kind in the southern hemisphere, employed over 2000 men and supplied beef to the southern states. This obviously put huge pressure on local land to supply the cattle needed for such an operation. It was part of the land that was stolen for this operation by the Vestey family that later resulted in the Gurindji strike, lead by Vincent Lingiari, that resulted in Gough Whitlam returning the land to the tradition owners and inspiring the song, From Little Things Big Things Grow.

  4. So if the group wanted to dress up as the judges from The Voice, should they have found some random black person to come along to play the role of Seal? Or should he have just gone along as himself and worn a shirt that said “I am supposed to be Seal, but because of stuff that happened 80 years ago, I’m a white version of him”?

    I acknowledge that Aboriginal people were treated horrendously in the past (and some still are) and the history of the theatre. But:
    (a) I think theatre history is a long way removed from a bunch of mates dressing up for a fancy dress party.
    (b) In modern society, people require certain characteristics for an acting role, they generally take them on. People put on weight, lose weight, dye their hair etc. If a person is deemed the best person for a particular role and doesn’t have the correct skin colour to match the character they’re portraying, how is this any different?

    Women have been oppressed throughout the course of history, and at one point in time men played women’s roles in theatre productions because women weren’t allowed. Should we bag out Dame Edna, or any of the other female impersonators who depict women negatively? Should we get irate at men who dress up at women at fancy dress parties?

    You know, most of us really care about making a difference to reconciliation and want to find ways to right the injustices of the past, but it’s seriously like walking on eggshells with stuff like this.

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