Bonita Mabo


When you have to justify your existence every day; when you’re told you’re not black enough or that you’re not an “authentic” Indigenous Australian… well, sometimes you just have to laugh.


                          Bonita Mabo. Portrait by Sam Mooy 2008.

And that’s just what our Indigenous community did this week when they took over Twitter and, using the hashtag #Itriedtobeauthenticbut , laughed themselves silly.

I laughed a lot too.

“I’m impressed with my mob’s capacity to laugh in the face of adversity! And gee we’re funny!!! And might I say, also kind! Xx,” said author and activist Anita Heiss in a personal note.

And who was the butt of the joke? Tony Abbott. 

This week he made the bone-headed comment that the first Indigenous lower house MP, Ken Wyatt was an “urban Aboriginal” and that the parliament should do more to encourage “authentic” Indigenous representatives.

Cue much *falling about in hysterics* from the blackfellas on Twitter.

Just what makes an Aborigine “authentic” they wondered? How is it different from being an “urban” Aborigine?

Is it knowing how to spell corroboree? Having legs that look better in high heels? Toe nails painted hot pink instead of caked in red ochre?

The gags came thick and fast.

I tried to be authentic but…

@LukeLPearson every year at Corroboree I just end up line-dancing by myself in a corner somewhere singing “Achy-Breaky heart”

@AnitaHeiss I’ve thrown more parties than boomerangs!

@Ebswearspink I thought the song “from little things big things grow” had to do with superannuation

@Shannondod the only culture I know is Culture Club

@nathblackmagic writing stories in books is a lot easier than writing stories in caves:)

@Morris11Donna the only tracking I do is with gps

@Utopiana  my parents named me “Celeste”, rather than giving me a traditional blackfella name like “Alison” or “Bess”

@PeteDawson law school wouldn’t accept my essays in dot form

 @anitaheiss the only stars I want to sleep under is five stars. *****

@Nareenyoung I actually have no artistic talent. Whatsoever

@Morris11Donna I buy my speared meat on kebabs at the supermarket

@Tahjee_Moar the only time I stand on one leg is when I do the tree pose in yoga

@Ebswearspink my totem animal was a tamagotchi

The hilarity rolled on… for hours.

And it still is, after brilliant cartoonist First Dog On The Moon posted this at

Excerpt from original “Fauxborigine” to be found, in full,  here. Thanks First Dog!


Last night I spoke to the young Indigenous woman who started the hashtag.

She’s a 27 year-old lawyer who hails from Byron Bay and goes by the Twitter handle @Ebswearspink. A self-confessed “girlygirl” and social media addict, she describes herself as: Formerly Blonde. Green eyes. Crazy. Passionate. Political. Fun.

“I wouldn’t trade my blackfella sense of humour and sense of community for anything,” she said. “I loved that we took a negative comment on our identity and turned it into something that demonstrated our brilliant sense of humour, our intelligence, quick wit, resilience and pride.

“It turned into a celebration.”

Of course she has every right to be angry about the continuing denigration of her Indigenous heritage, but, she says, “the anger goes away quickly – it doesn’t achieve much.”

“There’s so much to be done and anger is an impediment.”

The days of marching in the street for indigenous rights are over, she reckons. “But change is happening when people aren’t looking.”

She loves the freedom of social media where she can be free of the old stereotypes. Now she’s “ripping it up” on Twitter with a group of like-minded friends who share the same politics, puns and jokes.

“I think it’s still an unknown quantity in mainstream Australia that we have a great sense of humour,” she said.

Our unique Australian sense of humour owes much to Indigenous culture says Nareen Young , CEO of Diversity Council Australia.

“I often think it has a lot of Aboriginal sensibility in it,” she told me.

“The blackfella sense of humour is so good, so unique – we love words, we’ve got a good turn of phrase and we’re self deprecating.

“We have always dealt with the hard stuff with humour and this week was a classic example. Despite what people think, we aren’t bitter or humourless. But you know, sometimes we laugh because we just get weary.”

Then she turns to the stuff that hurts.

“To see this base, racist way of approaching Aboriginal identity? To think that a person like Andrew Bolt is dictating the national debate? It’s sad.”

Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda has called for the ongoing debate in the media about the definition of Aboriginality to stop.

“It is not up to the media, politicians or academics to define whether a person is Aboriginal or not,” he said last night.

“Further, Aboriginality is not defined by the colour of your skin, or whether you live in a remote or urban community.

“I live in metropolitan Sydney and I deal with people in Government, heads of multinational corporations and Indigenous peoples around the world while my mother was born on a mission in Central Queensland.

“We are both Aboriginal. I am Aboriginal. I am a proud Gangulu.”


Cover image: Portrait of Bonita Mabo. 2008  Sam Mooy


If you want to get in on the Twitter action, follow @indigenousX. It’s a lively discussion with 5,000 followers led by Luke Pearson and features a guest Tweeter every week. Everyone is welcome. As they say, the more, the merrier.

You can follow First Dog On The Moon @firstdogonmoon


Follow us on


  • Reply November 15, 2012


    Good onys wendy, great story amd great work showing another aspect of our wonderful. Indigenous community.

  • Reply November 15, 2012

    Lisa Lintern

    Loved reading about brilliant voices like these rarely heard in mainstream media. Keep it coming.

  • Reply November 15, 2012


    Can Tony Abbott put his foot any further into his big gob?
    Come on Australia, you can’t seriously consider him as our next PM,

    • Reply November 15, 2012


      Totally agree, he is a goof!!

  • Reply November 15, 2012

    Kerry C

    Another cringe-worthy comment from Tony Abbott.
    Maybe this time, he is getting into “pick on someone else” mode because his beloved Catholic church is about to be hauled over the coals. Will give him a change of subject when questioned about the church’s role in cover ups.

    • Reply November 20, 2012


      Don’t be too self-righteous about child abuse in the catholic church; everyone knows that aboriginal kids are sexually abused more than any others in the country.

  • Reply November 15, 2012

    Merryl Chantrell

    Tony Abbott only opens his mouth to change feet. Authentic Aboriginal indeed. Honestly stupid is forever.

  • Reply November 15, 2012


    Love this article Wendy! Would be wonderful to have a regular Indigenous writer on the Hoopla 🙂

  • Reply November 15, 2012


    It is heartening to read an article like this. Thank you, Wendy. Let’s hear more from our indigenous people. I think we’re all tired of the stereotypes and Tony Abbott really needs to put a sock in it. He has no clue.

  • Reply November 15, 2012

    Pam Newton

    And only The Australian could find a negative in it.

    The fabulous @Ebswearspink responds:

  • Reply November 15, 2012


    Some of the best laughs and sharing in my life so far,were with colleagues, in a stairwell, in a building that housed the Victorian Commissioner for Equal Opportunity in the late 80’s and early 90’s. In the stairwell, we were smokers and jokers…..defusing some revolting stuff.

  • Reply November 15, 2012


    Anyway~” woof”, on silly colour naming schemes. Talk about “painting oneself into a corner”….Mr.Abbott, you need to meet more people and read more, and know more Australian history.. to discover the true meaning of “authenticity” and community identity. I am sure this task is not beyond you as I understand you were once a Rhodes scholar….

  • Reply November 15, 2012


    I think we’d be better off with George W Bush as the Liberal leader than Abbott.

    Well, he’s made my decision about who to vote for next election VERY easy

  • Reply November 15, 2012


    Tony, dumb idiot is not fatal, but it is incurable.

  • Reply November 15, 2012


    Arhh.. the burden of intelligence often falls on deaf ears.. like sticky ears that cannot fathom a life different and distinct from their own….

  • Reply November 15, 2012

    Tony W

    Years ago when I was at uni I used to drink with some Aboriginal blokes at a nearby pub, and they always used to crack me up with their jokes, there was something about their sense of humour. I remember one day I stood up to leave and couldn’t find my car keys, and I’m doing the panic thing, rummaging around the glasses and ashtrays on the table, when one of them asks with concern,
    What’ve you lost mate?”
    “I’ve lost me f…..g car keys” I snapped.
    To which he snapped back, “Mate, how do you think we feel? We lost a whole f…….g country!”
    They let a hush descend over the table for a moment, then pissed themselves laughing at my expense!

    • Reply November 15, 2012

      Wendy Harmer

      Well there you have it, Tony.
      What a great example of what we’re talking about. Bloody hilarious. Wx

  • Reply November 15, 2012


    Definately expensive humour. Carol Martin leaves the W.A Parliament soon. The first aboriginal woman parliamentarian in Australia. There are so many complexities which are difficult to explain without insider knowledge….that goes someway to comprehending the gaps between blacks and whites in this country…

  • Reply November 15, 2012



  • Reply November 15, 2012


    Slip,sliding away on hilarity and loss ~ actually appalled Abbott did not know better.. or know his colleague well enough to get ~ as I am assuming here~ our Noongah heritage and standing here…yoo hoo~ it goes far further back than most of us will ever know~ and this connection is not only about blood but connection to community and country. Identity is very deep for all of us.

  • Reply November 16, 2012

    Wendy Green

    Is everyone watching “Redfern Now”?
    It’s excellent drama with a bit of comedy thrown in here and there but, really, a bloody brilliant production.

  • Reply November 20, 2012

    Alf arnold

    You black fellers believe all this crap , what he said was completely taken out of context, and those who were there know it, all he was saying that it would be nice to have some elected people off the land that know what we need , not city folk who have never lived in the bush.

  • Reply November 24, 2012

    Tony W

    @ Alf arnold – “what he said was completely taken out of context”

    I know where you’re coming from Alf, but in making a distinction between “urban Aboriginal” and “authentic Indigenous representative”, Abbott took it into a dimension way beyond the simple bush vs. city folk dimension that applies for white people. He’s effectively saying Ken Wyatt is not an “authentic Indigenous representative”, which is why he took offence, and why Abbott apologized to him.

    The bigger point here is that Abbott just can’t help putting his foot in his mouth and offending people. Do you really want someone like that as PM of Australia, trotting around the globe offending world leaders without even trying?

  • Reply November 26, 2012


    Great article and also I fully endorse how fabulous Redfern Now is. It is one of the best things the ABC has put on for quite a while!

Leave a Reply