‘Wog’, ‘dago’, ‘coon’, ‘Abo’ – it goes to the very being of a person. Our very being is diminished. Many are hurt by these comments. There was a time when these derogatory terms were part of the everyday Australian lingo. Even then they were hurtful, just as hurtful as they remain today. I know that as a child I was hurt by them. In my many travels, I do come across instances of deeply hurtful comments.

Recently, I came across a gentleman who has been consumed by a battle for an apology from someone who called him an ‘Abo’.

He took immediate offence. But the individual who called him what he did allegedly responded that it was alright to do so “because among yourselves you call each other Abo.”

The battle has degenerated to whether such a term is commonly used. You would think this situation could have been mediated with apologies and redemption delivered. But no, racism has veils and layers, including defending the misuse of even the inadvertent comment. But when a comment is racialised it is not inadvertent.

I provided a supporting statement for the gentleman’s hearing. Part of it reads:

“I have been engaged in the struggles and the affairs of this nation’s First Peoples for more than twenty years, whether in the tertiary sector, whether in the media, whether in suicide prevention work or whether in various research works.”

“I am a researcher in racism, the ways forward and in suicide prevention with two Masters and doctoral research.”

“From 2011 to 2015 I was a correspondent with the National Indigenous Times and the National Indigenous Radio Service and with several online publications. I have written and broadcast thousands of articles, interviewed thousands of individuals from right across the continent.”

“I have written extensively on racism, of its many veils and layers, on anti-racism, on the ways forward. I have also endured the lived experience of racism since I was toddler, and therefore I have first-hand witness. However in my many travels over more than two decades through communities far and wide across this continent – to hundreds of Homelands (‘remote communities’) I have found for whom the racism is worst in this nation.”

“I am originally from Sydney, having grown up with many people who have Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander heritage. I now reside in Western Australia where I have been for two decades.”

I  noted that I have been availed “to a suggested proposition that our First Peoples (Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders) may refer to each other as “you Abo” or in similar fashion.”

“In all my travels to hundreds of communities over decades, I have not on a single occasion heard any Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander refer to anyone with this term or in similar fashion. ‘Abo’ is a derogatory term, not dissimilar to ‘wog’ or ‘dago’ or ‘coon’. Whether used intentionally or inadvertently it is a distinctively malicious racialised term with the distinct underwriting to incur alienation, diminution, hurt.”

“Psychosocially this term has a hurtful affect, dissociating people from their rightful appreciation of their selves and their heritage. Such terms should not be used by anyone. Such terms are not used in the everyday conversations of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders.”

“There have been substantial campaigns in the media and in schools sponsored by various organisations to educate non-Aboriginal Australians that derogatory racialised words have a damaging effect and should not be used.”

“Wherever I heard this word used it has been only by non-Aboriginal Australians. First Peoples who this derogation is used towards either look down, turn away, leave or they get angry and respond to the intended or inadvertent racism. This is not a word that educated Australians should ever use. No one should. However I can state without reservation that I have never heard a single Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander call another Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander ‘you Abo’ or ‘you Abos’ or ‘Abo’. I have not heard this in any Homeland – not in anyone’s home, not by any campfire, not in any formal or informal setting. Nor have I heard this in regional or urban settings.”

“The word is very hurtful. Unlike other hurtful words which go to the character and reputation of a person this word – ‘Abo’ – goes to the very being of a person, to the essence of the person.”

“If I can be of any assistance in discussing with you racism, its veils and layers, please feel free to contact me and I will be happy to engage.”

“Racism is not something easily understood by anyone who has never endured it – it is haunting.”

“The ways forward are there for all of us to engage.”

Gerry Georgatos

–          Consultant, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Evaluation Project (ATSISPEP)

–          Former correspondent, The National Indigenous Times (2011 – 2015)

–          Correspondent, The National Indigenous Radio Service

–          Journalist of the Year 2013 (Multicultural and Indigenous Media Awards – MIMA)

–          Volunteer manager, Wheelchairs for Kids Foundation

–          BA (Philosophy), BA (Media Studies), BA (Australian Indigenous Studies)

–          G/Dip (Human Rights Education)

–          Master in Human Rights

–          Master in Social Justice

–          Researcher in racism, identity, suicide prevention



Former journalist and filmmaker, Jeff McMullen, also provided a statement:

“(Name deleted) raises a deeply disturbing aspect of Australian racism. In my professional experience of fifty years of journalism I have never observed an Indigenous person use the word ‘Abo’ to an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person.”

“The word’s racist currency is kept in circulation by a cruel and thoughtless display of derision towards Aboriginal people by others who clearly convey a message that their targets of abuse are something less than their fellow citizens.”

“The word ‘Abo’ carries so much historical loathing from the overt racism of the 19th century. When used today it’s deeply hurtful, humiliating and psychologically damaging to Aboriginal people.”

“We need to ensure that our courts and the law are used wisely to prevent all forms of hate speech.”

Jeff McMullen AM

Journalist, author, filmmaker