I’m a wog. And I can say “wog” because I am one.
My father, like many other wogs, came out on a boat from the old country (Italy) in the ’60s. His father (my nonno) was an ex-soldier who fought under Mussolini and took a bullet in the butt for the Nazi cause. His mother (my nonna) is a homemaker who believes that God blew up the Challenger spacecraft because humans were trying to get “higher than Him” and blowing them up was his way of saying, and I quote, “Fuck you.”
So pretty much your typical wog family.
My father’s siblings all married wogs, producing lots of little wogs, including me. (Although, technically, I’m only half-wog. My mother is a subtle blend of strong-jawed Norwegian and miscellaneous British convict, which didn’t wash so well with the rest of the wogs. Whenever it was explained that she was “australiana”, they would either wince as if they’d just ingested gas or appear crestfallen and say, and I quote, “I’m sorry.”)
So what is a ‘wog’, anyway?
Popular belief has it that wog is an acronym of Western Oriental Gentleman. This is wrong. Nor is wog a shortening of ‘golliwog’, as has been hypothesised by certain linguistic brains trusts. In fact, the first known recording of the word wog was in reference to Arab seamen in 1929. In Australia, it also meant germ or disease, before it acquired its present day meaning: Nick Giannopoulos.
Wogs, at least in Australia, are people of Southern European and Middle Eastern extraction. They are aggressively hospitable and depicted in comedies, such as Giannopoulos’ film The Wog Boy (bizarrely still the 20th highest grossing Australian film of all time, right after Gallipoli), as big eaters with a limited grasp of English and no decorum.
But there is actually far more to being a wog than having pasta shoved down your throat until you puke or being a raging sex pig (which I believe is the role Vince Colosimo played in The Wog Boy, but cannot be sure; I did my best to block it out).
Wogs are culturally homeless. I am culturally homeless.
I went back to Italy a few months ago with my father, probably the biggest wog you will ever meet. (He’s currently in hospital receiving treatment for pancreatitis. He’s extremely pissed off, partly because they have no idea what’s causing the pancreatitis, but mostly because he thinks one of the nurses stole three dollars from his wallet. That’s all you need to know about him.)
Anyway, we went back to the old country. I can’t speak to anybody there because my Italian is pretty woeful and my Calabrese is even worse. (I’ve known about a dozen ways to tell somebody to get fucked since I was a kid and pretty much just managed to work within that.)
Ours is an extremely remote village on top of a mountain with a population of 300 not counting the ghosts, where there is literally nothing to do other than bake oversized bread, fry the oversized bread or pick olives.
My father yells at me, “This is where you come from! Now go pick olives.” I tell him, “This is where I come from? Mate, I’m from fucken’ Coburg. You pick olives.” Then we gave each other death stares and waited for the day to be over.
So pretty much what we do here in Australia.
Wogs don’t really fit in. Especially second generation wogs, like me. We go back to our so-called countries—Italy, Greece, whatever—and we’re tourists. Outsiders.
At the same time, we have inherited a very strong culture from this old country that informs how we think, feel, eat and treat other people. My sister, for example, is a true wog. She is what is known in my part of Italy as a testa dura, a hard head, and I know for a fact she was born that way. She came out of the womb with a look on her face that just said “Fuck you too,” and literally nothing has changed. Being a wog is, I believe, coded into her genetically.
So there’s just no getting around being a wog.
And we understand other wogs. Not because their cultures are necessarily identical to ours, but because they are outsiders like us.
Which is why we can call each other wogs, but other people can’t. An outsider can call another outsider an outsider. But no one else can ever quite get away with it. Because even when it is said in good humour, which it often is, you can’t help but think, “What are you really trying to say?”
So there you have it. Double standard? Yep! But that’s how it goes, isn’t it?
I don’t think the word should be banned. And I would honestly be gutted to think that any non-wogs reading this would suddenly become terrified to use the word “wog”. Believe me, you needn’t be. Wogs really aren’t that sensitive. At worst, you’d just give us something to complain about. And we love complaining.
That, and bread. Deep fried bread.
This article first appeared in frankie magazine issue 61 (Sept/Oct 2014).