«We’re Called “Wogarigines, Love”»: From Colonial Amnesia to Decolonial Actuality
It’s Feast lgbtiq Festival in Adelaide, November, 2014.
I’m sitting in the session on Indigenous Queer Intersectionalities and scan the packed audience, wryly musing on how we’re on what colonial settlers named Light Square. The park is named after its designer, Colonel William Light, as part of his 1837 plan of Adelaide. He is buried there.
But before, during and after this colonial naming, it was part of the Kaurna people’s country. In 2012 Light Square was named Wauwi as part of the Kaurna Naming Project. Wauwi was the wife of Kadlitpinna, one of the three Kaurna elders of Tandanyagga (Adelaide) at the time of colonisation. I sit and wonder how many Kaurna people are buried there. I wonder where Wauwi herself is buried.
I didn’t know then that in 2016, another interconnected layer of historical amnesia would be shaken into awakeness: the City of Adelaide would install the Pride Walk to acknowledge the achievements and struggles faced by the lgbtiq community in South Australia.
One of the speakers on this warm day in Wauwi, Tandanyagga, is Foxy Empire from the Tiwi Islands. I listen, I learn. Pre-colonial gender fluidity constricted and clinically classified into the Western term «transgender». Tiwi Islander queer histories. Christian missionaries erasing gender and sexual diversity and imposing gender and sexual duality.
«I want to thank my Nonni and my cousins here in the front row», Foxy Empire says.
Nonni? I follow Foxy’s sweeping hand to a front row of darker-skinned smiling members of the audience. Are they Italian or Indigenous?
After the session, I grab my ignorance and ineptitude in both sweaty hands and walk up to Foxy Empire. I ask about the term «Nonni».
I listen and I learn. Foxy Empire is also Jason De Santis, renowned performer and playwright, whose Italian migrant grandfather fell in love with a Tiwi Island woman, and walked away from the shaming of the Italian community in Adelaide. His daughter, Jason’s mother, would become the mayor of Tiwi Islands. «He’s more blackfella than the blackfellas». But today, younger generations of his Italian and Indigenous family walk toward him and embrace his grandchild, Foxy/Jason.
I ask questions. Foxy/Jason smiles too patiently at my inanity. «We’re called Wogarigines, love».
Thank you Foxy/Jason.
Source: courtesy of Annette Xiberras; photo by Rob Chiarolli, PhotosThatTell
This article introduces a larger research project exploring the life stories and family histories of «Wogarigines», a term often used by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (atsi) people with Southern European (se: Greek, Italian, Maltese, Portuguese and Spanish) migrant heritages (Pallotta-Chiarolli, in contract). The above story explains and acknowledges when, how and by whom this term was introduced to me. Since then, I have learned it is a problematic term. For many, often younger atsi peoples, Wogarigine is a cool term of resistance and reclamation. A similar term is «Indigiwogs». But for many atsi peoples, those terms are offensive. So immediately, a terrain of contested terms demands reflection on who constructs, who claims, who defines, who imposes, who resists labels; and how does decolonising research navigate this «neo-colonial assemblage» (Pallotta-Chiarolli, in press, 2020).
Via interviews, archival documents and ethnographic materials such as photos, letters and other personal items, the research is an emotional and evocative exploration of individual, interpersonal and family histories of atsi individuals and families with se heritages with a focus on three facets: the intersections, conflicts and connections; how these relations were framed/constrained by colonial, racist and multicultural national and state policies and colonial, racist and multicultural socio-cultural perspectives and practices; and strategies of resistance, redefinition and reclamation that remain buried in colonial, racist and multicultural versions of Australian history.
Thus, the research will be grounded in the sociology of the everyday (Kalekin-Fishman, 2011). It will foreground the complex relationship between external (discrimination/prejudice) and internal (self-doubt/guilt/shame) stressors that shape the experience of multiple-minority groups (Cyrus, 2017). It will acknowledge the everyday strategies of resistance and resilience against the three main forms of micro-aggressions of ongoing coloniality: micro-assaults, micro-insults, and micro-invalidations (Sue et al. 2007). It needs to be stated, however, that a focus on individual, familial and community resilience and strategic agency does not excuse or decrease structural and institutional responsibility and culpability. The concept of «situated agency» (Pallotta-Chiarolli and Pease, 2014, p. 35) allows for the scrutiny of cultural, religious, political, economic, social and health systems and their constraints within which Wogarigines persistently nurture a healthy self. As participants tell their stories and discuss their personal materials, the research asks:
1. What was life like for «Wogarigines» growing up in their families, communities, schools, workplaces, churches and in the wider Australian society, and what is it like today?
2. How did atsi perceive, understand, resist or connect with se migrants on national, community, familial and interpersonal levels?
3. What role did migrants play in influencing and condoning, as well as questioning and confronting, racist and colonialist ideologies on national, community, familial and interpersonal levels?
4. Did se migrants «import» colonial and racial attitudes and convictions that they had acquired in their homelands and colonies, such as Italian colonies in North Africa, or did they learn these from Australian employers, neighbours, churches, schools and media?
As my pioneering colleagues in this Forum demonstrate, there is an absence of a framework or interrogation of Italian-Australian and Italian-First Peoples history and relationships within a decolonising framework (see also Ricatti, 2018 for an overview of existing research and writing). My work is framed by this evolving research and, via story and imagery, I aim to make the research more broadly available and accessible to the very communities we are researching about and with. Most urgent and most erased is the need to listen to and learn from the perspectives and experiences of Wogarigines themselves (see Balla in this Forum; Garcon-Mills, 2015; Sarra, 2012; Xiberras, 2018).
When interrogating erasures, denials and absences, I work with what Wieringa (2009) calls «postcolonial amnesia». I have already introduced the term «neo-colonial assemblage» to explain how coloniality continues in ideological legacies, economies and cultural effects after colonialism itself has (supposedly) officially, politically ended (Pallotta-Chiarolli, in press, 2020).
It is this sum total of modern attempts to perpetuate colonialism while at the same time talking about «freedom», which has come to be known as neo-colonialism (Nkrumah, 1965, 239).
Balestrery refers to «compounded colonization», a historical configuration of co-constituting discourses based on cultural and ideological assumptions «with consequential, continuing effects», concluding that «settler colonialism has not ended. Its effects and political exigencies are experienced even today» (2012, p. 634; Mignolo, 2002). Hence, what settler colonisers would define as post-colonial in their contemporary relationships with prior subjects, is experienced as configurations of residual, reclaimed and reformulated colonial power. This creates neo-colonial assemblages, both in contestation and confluence. It requires challenging another form of postcolonial amnesia enacted as privilege when prior colonizers believe they can simply forget the past and reset the future. Anzaldua’s (1987) term «mestizaje» refers to the assemblages of realities, inter- and intra-category hierarchies and borderland lives beyond colonial and post-colonial, also explicated in the theories and strategies of intersectionality (Crenshaw, 1989). The aim of decolonial academia is to grapple with these neo-colonial assemblages of privileges and persecutions and challenge «wilful hermeneutical ignorance» (Polhaus Jr., 2012).
«Don’t do an Andrew Bolt on us»: Meeting on the borders
I’m sitting in Annette Xiberras’ lounge room. Her Mum, from a strong heritage of Wurundjeri leaders and activists, makes us a cup of tea. Annette points out her dogs allowed my entrance through the double gates of the large front yard. They hadn’t barked and indeed accompanied me to the front door of this beautiful house set amongst sweeping lawn, flowering bushes and the fruit trees planted by her Maltese migrant Dad. We laugh and I say, «Well, I’ve come to ask for your approval to do some research and don’t hold back barking at me».
I ramble on about my ideas, my concerns, my reflections, and my need to listen and learn. I pledge that the project won’t happen if I don’t have her approval and participation as a Wurundjeri elder, on whose land most of the research will be undertaken and written. I request that if she approves, would she honour the work by providing a «Welcome to Country and to Book» to the final publication.
Annette questions, comments and critiques. We share our similarities in upbringings and compare the differences. She shows me a black and white photo of her Mum and Dad: youthful, exuberant, in love, her pale cheek and his dark one blurring together. «Folks assume Dad was the blackfella cos he’s the dark one. I look like him».
She shows me a colourful photo of her partner Cathy, another Indigenous woman, who died suddenly, leaving Annette to raise their two children. Two radiant women enfold their joyful son and daughter. «They went through the first three years of school with no friends. They weren’t happy, but they weren’t going to say that Cathy or I were not their mums».
And from this colonial/decolonial/neocolonial borderzone of laughter, love and loss, Annette grants me permission: «Maria, I’ll trust you. We’ll support your work. But don’t do an Andrew Bolt on us!»
Thank you Annette.
A child of Dutch migrants who grew up in rural and remote areas of South Australia, Andrew Bolt is a very influential Australian conservative social and political commentator using print, radio, television and digital media to pontificate and promulgate racist, Islamophobic, misogynist and homo/bi/transphobic views. This includes his September 2010 media posts that it was «fashionable» for «fair-skinned people» of diverse ancestry to choose Aboriginal racial identity for the purposes of political, career and economic advancement. Nine individuals undertook legal proceedings and Bolt was found to have contravened the Racial Discrimination Act in September 2011. Despite this, the national contestation played out in the media gave permission to many racist Australians to challenge Indigenous people’s claims of ancestry and authenticity (Gelber and McNamara, 2013).
This research will definitely not «do an Andrew Bolt». It will not endorse or support racist and biologically determinist constructions of atsi identity and belonging such as «encouraging scepticism about the authenticity of fair-skinned Aboriginal persons and judgment by non-Aboriginal persons about the legitimacy of Aboriginal identity according to skin colour» or according to the «quantum of Aboriginal ancestry» (Gelber and McNamara, 2013, p. 472). This external colonial imposition of racial identity classifications is unacceptable. Such determinations must be the prerogative of atsi people themselves, and the acknowledgment of se heritage does not delete, denigrate or deduct from the right to identify as atsi.
Thus, the research is framed by the following methodologies:
1. Indigenous Standpoint Research Methods (Moreton-Robinson, 2013) whereby atsi people’s lived experience is the point of entry and central in the production of «post-colonising» texts;
2. Decolonising Research Methodologies (Tuhiwai-Smith, 1999) particularly in relation to making the work accessible; foregrounding participants’ rights to publicly speak about, support or critique the work; participants’ ownership of their transcripts, stories and materials and participants’ rights to use the materials and stories in the development of their own projects;
3. «Storytelling Reconciliation» (Savvas, 2012), which recognises the contribution that writers/storytellers and others involved in the production and dissemination of stories can make towards achieving Reconciliation;
4. «Decolonising migrant historiography» (Pugliese, 2002) which addresses how migrant heritage projects risk reproducing colonial formations by failing to consult with local atsi communities about historical texts, sites and memorials.
At each step, contributors are given their interview transcripts and stories to edit, add to and veto, and they select any documents and photographs and other primary sources they wish to include in the research and forthcoming publication. A reference group oversees the conduct, progress and outcomes of the project to ensure personal and cultural safety which is «not something the researcher can claim to provide but rather it is something that is experienced by the research participant» (Walker et al, 2014, p. 201). I will also be ensuring that when I complete the book, «appropriate steps and processes are in place to be of benefit to individuals, families and communities with whom we have been working… [and] leave a positive legacy» (Walker et al, 2014, p. 206).
«Why/what/who didn’t I know?»: From autobiographical amnesia to decolonising memory
I wish to state very clearly that although I am a «wog», I am not part of a «mob». Ricatti cites my autoethnographic book, Tapestry (Pallotta-Chiarolli, 1999), as «a rare instance of literary memory and critical reflection on Italian migrants’ colonial and racist attitudes towards Aborigines» (2013, p. 127). Accompanying my research and writing of Tapestry were waves of feeling cheated and deceived. I had been involuntarily, unknowingly subjected to historical amnesia. I had not known how immersed my family’s history was in settler colonialism. Drawing from «cumulative biographically meaningful, epiphany experiences» such as my meeting Roxy/Jason (Williamson-Kefu, 2019, p. 7) that have led to the research, I tell the story of my migrant mother being taught to hate and fear Aboriginal people in the late 1950s, often through openly racist and extremely offensive expressions: «they were dirty disease-filled thieves who were one step above animals» (Pallotta-Chiarolli, 1999, p. 69). I also attempt to undo personal colonial amnesia by remembering a childhood hospital stay through a decolonising memory lens:
Maria Giovanna is always careful to investigate the white sheet and blankets where the girl’s skin has touched to see if she’s left any chocolate colour behind. This is because she has a recurring dream that the little girl jumps out of her cot, comes over to Maria Giovanna, and begins to touch her, leaving streaks of black, like her father’s shoe polish, on her face and hands…
The adults glance at each other and mumble words, especially a strange word that sounds like «Abriggini», and then explain that the girl’s colour doesn’t come off (Pallotta-Chiarolli, 1999, pp. 68-69).
As evocatively presented by Ricatti in the Introduction to this Forum, and as endorsed by the decolonial approaches of the four methodologies I have outlined earlier, emotive and personal narratives, biographies and ethnographies allow for accessibility to a wider readership and respect for the Indigenous tradition of oral story-telling «as a legitimate way of sharing knowledge» (Kovach, 2005, p. 32). I also come from a Southern Italian peasant oral storytelling tradition where «as a way of teaching and discussing political and sensitive issues…the anecdote is the explanation» (Pallotta-Chiarolli, 2004, p. 154). «Textual weavers» use theory, research and narrative, «each informing and augmenting the other» (Pallotta-Chiarolli, 2004, p. 153; see also Daozhi, 2018).
In my novel, Love You Two (Pallotta-Chiarolli, 2008), I developed the character called Ralph/Raffaele, a Wogarigine, to begin to counteract their absence in fiction (Savvas, 2012). Ralph was based on an adolescent and his family who I «yarned» within the Northern Rivers region of nsw. I attempt to demonstrate how easy it is to misrepresent and mis-interpret when erasures and exclusions have rendered Wogarigines absent from the realms of narrative identifications, realities and possibilities.
«My mother’s Calabrian, but she was born here. So was my Dad».
«So you’re third generation too».
«On my mother’s side but who knows how many on Dad’s side. All been a bit lost, or killed off». He can tell he’s lost me. «You know, my Dad being a Murri and all that».
A Murri? Just for one pathetic second I find myself thinking, «Now what part of Italy are Murris from?» And then it hits me. His Dad is Aboriginal. «No, I didn’t know». I’m such a dumb-ass loser! (Pallotta-Chiarolli, 2008, p. 181).
Richardson argues that «narrative is quintessential to the understanding of the sociological… a mode of reasoning and a mode of representation» (1990, pp. 117-18). Narrativizing and telling collective stories is a way of using «our sociological imagination» to reveal personal problems as public issues» (1990, p. 131).
«At school which gang do you join? The wogboys? The blackfellas? What about when they’re out to get each other? Only time I was allowed was when they ganged up against the skips!» He shakes his head with a grim smile. «Yet, it was all okay in me… I’m glad school’s over, Pina. You sit in a class on Aboriginal history and you wonder where you are in it. Or you hear about Italian migrants and wonder, what about someone like me» (Pallotta-Chiarolli, 2008, pp. 182-83).
Thus, I situate my fictionalised research methodology alongside Gabbrielli (2008) whose novel Polenta and Goanna is based on dozens of interviews and documents about the interfaces of Italian and Aboriginal cultures in the gold-mining areas of Western Australia at the turn of the twentieth century. While it focuses on love, intermarriage and family between Aboriginal women and Italian miners, it also accurately portrays the disturbing realities of oppression and misogyny from Italian migrants toward Aboriginal women.
From damage-centred to desire-based research
Alongside my colleagues in this Forum, I support Connell et al.’s declaration that the «long shadow of colonial history falls across whole domains of knowledge» (2016, p. 29). A final question that will accompany my research is how to recognise and foreground the devastation that has occurred without collapsing into what the white Western knowledge economy perpetuates and is invested in: «damage-centred research and damaging research» wherein «oppression singularly defines a community» (Tuck, 2009, p. 413). Tuck calls for a shift from damage-centred to «desire-based» research which interrogates and engages with neo-colonial assemblages in all their complexity, connection and contradiction, to the view of promoting the hopes, wisdoms and «the self-determination of lived lives» (2009, p. 416). Ultimately, reflecting on and researching the borders of the colonial residual and the decolonial emergent may lead to recognising and respecting individualism and intersectionality within and beyond neo-colonial assemblages, as stated by a young Wogarigine who, at the time of writing, did not wish to give his name: «What matters is that it’s all here in me. Everyone, no matter which mob or wog you’re from, or if you have whitefella in you from way back, have to deal with it all or get out of my way».
Anzaldua, G., The New Mestiza: La Frontera, San Francisco, Aunt Lute Books, 1987.
Balestrery, J. E., «Intersecting Discourses on Race and Sexuality: Compounded Colonization Among lgbttq American Indians/Alaska Natives», Journal of Homosexuality, 59, 5, pp. 633-655, DOI: 10.1080/00918369.2012.673901.
Connell, R., Collyer, F., Maia, J. and Morrell, R., «Toward a global sociology of knowledge: Post-colonial realities and intellectual practices», International Sociology 32, 1, 2016, pp. 21-37.
Crenshaw, K., «Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics», University of Chicago Legal Forum, 140, 1989, pp. 139-67.
Cyrus, K., «Multiple minorities as multiply marginalized: Applying the minority stress theory to lgbtq people of color», Journal of Gay & Lesbian Mental Health, 21, 3, 2017, pp. 194-202.
Daozhi, X., «Liminality and Communitas in Literary Representations of Aboriginal and Asian Encounters», Journal of Australian Studies 42, 4, 2018, pp. 475-90.
Gabbrielli, E., Polenta and Goanna, Milan, ipoc Di Pietro Condemi, 2008.
Garcon-Mills, L., «The Conflicts of Camouflage» in Hodge, D. (ed.), Colouring The Rainbow: Blak Queer and Trans Perspectives, Adelaide, Wakefield Press, 2015.
Gelber, K. and McNamara, L., «Freedom of speech and racial vilification in Australia: “The Bolt case” in public discourse», Australian Journal of Political Science, 48, 4, 2013, pp. 470-84, DOI: 10.1080/10361146.2013.842540.
Kalekin-Fishman, D., «Sociology of everyday life», Sociopedia.isa, 2011, DOI: 10.1177/205684601161.
Kovach, M., «Emerging from the Margins: Indigenous Methodologies» in Brown, L. and Strega, S. (eds.), Research as Resistance: Critical, Indigenous and Anti-Oppressive Approaches, Toronto, Canadian Scholars Press, 2005.
Mignolo, W., «The Geopolitics of Knowledge and the Colonial Difference» The South Atlantic Quarterly, 101, 1, 2002, pp. 57-96.
Moreton-Robinson, A., «Towards an Australian Indigenous Women’s Standpoint Theory», Australian Feminist Studies 28, 78, 2013, pp. 331-47.
Nkrumah, K., Neo-Colonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism, New York, International Publishers, 1965.
Pallotta-Chiarolli, M., Tapestry, Sydney, Random House, 1999.
–, «Weaving Textual Tapestries: Weaving the “Italian Woman-Writer” into the Social Fabric» in Scarparo, S. and Wilson, R. (eds.), Across Genres, Generations and Borders: Italian Women Writing Lives, Newark, University of Delaware Press, 2004.
–, Love You Two, Sydney, Random House, 2008.
–, «Pre-colonial Actualities, Post-colonial Amnesia and Neo-colonial Assemblage» in Davy, Z., Santos, A.C., Bertone, C., Thoreson, R. and Wieringa, S. (eds.), Handbook of Global Sexualities, London, Sage, 2020 (in press).
–, «Mobs» and «Wogs»: Life Stories and Family Histories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mobs with Southern European Migrant Heritage, Adelaide, Wakefield Press (in contract).
– and Pease, B. (eds.), The Politics of Recognition and Social Justice: Transforming Subjectivities and New Forms of Resistance, London, Routledge, 2014.
Polhaus Jr., G., «Relational knowing and epistemic injustice: Toward a theory of willful hermeneutical ignorance», Hypatia, 27, 1, 2012, pp. 196-204.
Pugliese, J., «Migrant heritage in an Indigenous context: for a decolonising migrant historiography», Journal of Intercultural Studies, 23, 1, 2002, pp. 5-18.
Ricatti, F., «The emotion of truth and the racial uncanny: Aborigines and Sicilians in Australia», Cultural Studies Review, 19, 2, 2013, pp. 125-49
–, Italians in Australia: History, Memory, Identity, Cham, Palgrave MacMillan, 2018
Richardson, L., «Narrative and Sociology», Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 19, 1, 1990, pp. 116-35.
Sarra, C., Good Morning, Mr Sarra: My Life Working for a Stronger, Smarter Future for Our Children, Brisbane, University of Queensland Press, 2012.
Savvas, M.X., «Storytelling Reconciliation: The Role of Literature in Reconciliation in Australia», International Journal of Diversity in Organisations, Communities and Nations, 11, 5, 2012, pp. 95-108.
Sue, D.W., Capodilupo, C.M., Torino, G.C., Bucceri, J. M., Holder, A.M.B., Nadal, K. L., Esquilin, M., «Racial microaggressions in everyday life: Implications for clinical practice», American Psychologist, 62, 4, 2007, pp. 271-86.
Tuck, E., «Suspending Damage: A Letter to Communities», Harvard Educational Review 79, 3,, 2009, pp. 409-27.
Tuhiwai-Smith, L., Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples, London, Zed Books, 2012.
Walker, R., Schultz, C. and Sonn, C., «Cultural Competence? Transforming Policy, Services, Programs and Practice» in Dudgeon, P., Milroy, H. and Walker, R. (eds.), Working together: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health and wellbeing principles and practice, West Perth, Kulunga Research Network, 2014, pp.195-220.
Wieringa, S.E. «Postcolonial Amnesia: Sexual Moral Panics, Memory and Imperial Power», in Herdt, G. (ed.), Moral Panics, Sex Panics; Fear and the Fight over Sexual Rights, New York, New York University Press, 2009, pp. 205-32.
Xiberras, A., «Welcome to Country» in Pallotta-Chiarolli, M. (ed.), Living and Loving in Diversity: an Anthology of Australian multicultural queer adventures, Adelaide, Wakefield Press, 2018.