Category Archives: Australian Culture

Australia’s attachment to golliwogs

When I was growing up, I had a golliwog doll.  The golliwog was one of the characters in the Noddy books I loved. But times change, and the idea of a blackface doll in minstrel clothing appalled many, and you don’t see golliwogs anymore. Except in Australia. where they love them. In Australia, golliwogs are associated with “nana” – the local word for “granny”. They have entire websites devoted to them. This is the display in an exclusive toy shop in one of Melbourne’s chichi shopping districts:

Golliwogs closeup

This wasn’t the only one. Probably not something you’d see in Joburg or Cape Town.


Australian eloquence

“Fucken slut!” The words were yelled from a bright blue sedan as it passed by the bus stop where I was standing yesterday morning. I was waiting in Lane Cove for a bus to the CBD, from where we’d take the airport link and a plane to Melbourne.

My friend Chris was flummoxed; in five years of living in Australia, he’d never encountered something like this. Maybe my purple jeans were uniquely offensive. I shrugged it off – swearing is part and parcel of Australian culture. I thought this example of graffiti near Brunswick in Melbourne, spotted yesterday afternoon, pretty much summarized our precarious existential position.


My Chance to Witness Australian History

Black Caviar, 2012, lipstick and eyeliner

Could this be a sign? The day I arrive in Australia, my second favourite Australian bids to cement her place in history. Black Caviar is a 620kg thoroughbred mare who will be going for her 24th straight win in the Grade 1 William Reid Stakes at Moonee Valley Racecourse.

She has never been beaten.

Now that Frankel has been retired, she must surely be the best racehorse in the world. In Australia, she is a national heroine, and because she’s a horse, there’s no chance she’ll let us down by doing things like cheating on wives, shooting girlfriends or taking performance-enhancing drugs and lying about it. Black Caviar gives her best every time. If you have any doubt about the power of a brand, take a look at her website – you can buy anything from a Black Caviar iPhone cover to Black Caviar can coolers and everything in between. If you like, you can order Black Caviar merchandise personalized with your name.

I first heard about Black Caviar in 2011. In June last year, I tackled three experimental paintings of Black Caviar using lipstick. Horses can be tricky to paint because the reflections on their glossy coats are so fiddly. You can see the results in this post – all three paintings were sold via Twitter to fellow horse lover  Claire Van Zuylen, who has given them a good home.

Australians are mad about racing – there’s no experience quite like the first Tuesday in November, when the entire country stops to watch the Melbourne Cup.

When I was nine years old, I watched a movie of the great Phar Lap, and it made a huge impression on me. I’m hoping Black Caviar makes it 24 out of 24, and I’ll be able to experience a national outpouring of joy. It’s not every day you get to celebrate true greatness.

Black Caviar Sarah Britten

(In case you’re wondering, my favourite Australian is Justin Spratt, the CEO of Quirk Johannesburg, where I freelance. I’ve never attempted a painting of him in lipstick and eyeliner though.)