Growing up ‘Italian’ in Australian society.. ‘wog girl in Australia, simple but true’

She knew for some time that being different meant something strange. She didn’t know anything but that simple language, not the language they spoke to be honest, but she knew hers. That simple language was now of no use to her. That’s when she came out as the wog girl in Australia. Speaking in Italian and not knowing how to speak the English language is something she would not forget.

She worked out how to speak English after pre-school, she even knew how to talk to other girls but being in primary school was so different. Here she was, sitting and knowing what was to come every day. It happened all the time, looking around, her heart was pounding, sweating fingers, she knew what was to come. They all made fun of her, right on time every day, they never missed. Drops came down her eyes, but she couldn’t let them see them. Her heart wouldn’t stop racing, because of what was in her lap, the same stuff all the time, but she saw what they had. That day she decided to leave class earlier, she was prepared. She could hear the sound, hated the sound, but the bell signalled anguish for her, an anguish that only she knew about. The smell was overpowering but it was good food, the inside of her mouth was watering but it did smell like stale bread. The red and white dot food in round cuts felt slimy, but it was delicious. It wasn’t like the others; they had that thick black stuff with butter! They obviously were not educated, oil is much better, that’s what papa said to her;

‘Lincuha put oil with it, it won’t taste the same if you don’t!’

On one occasion she remembered something on television. Vince Sorrenti, said that you needed wine with that food, so she decided to ask her parents, but was told not yet. Today it was going to change. She was determined to do that thing they did in the movies, stand tall and puff her chest out. To her she had everything under control. She thought they knew today was different. Then the girl came out, with the others, blonde hair, pretty and she imagined smart too.

‘Keep it together, this is under control, she had this’

She looked straight at the main girl; she was sure they knew today was different. All of a sudden it felt so soft, but it started hard. Was solid, checked it out before she sat down, but she realised it was the feeling of sinking. Then the girl stopped in front of her and she looked up; she thought she did. She kept saying sit straighter, she did, but they had it in for her that day.

‘No more, this is going to stop she kept saying!’

She got up, looked her straight in the eye, one drop did fall but she flicked it away. Suddenly, she swerved to the front, it was wind coming out, it must have been, then she looked up from the ground, someone had pushed her down. Everyone started to laugh around her, she had to keep it together.

‘Where are the teachers?’ she kept saying.

She didn’t care anymore; the drops were falling, and the ground went dark from the splattered tears. Slowly she pushed her fabric down, those drops wouldn’t stop, she hated that. All she could hear was ringing, was someone calling, did the teacher come and rescue her? Then she realised that noise was coming from her ears. The girl suddenly got her stale smell and threw it in the bin. This was her food, her salami, her lunch. She decided that this was it, she was not going to let this girl do this to her anymore. She would show her. She stood up, looked at the girl straight like they did in the movies.

‘Revenge is sweet!’ That’s what she’d heard on the television and she kept saying this to herself.

That’s when she did it, felt good, seeing her going down, she pushed her! How funny was that! All the girls that hung around her stepped right back. She could only assume they got scared, because their faces changed white, that’s what she saw. There was so much churning, like ants eating away at her, she thought she was the one in control and that felt good. The blonde girl for the first time didn’t do anything. She would regret this, that’s why her friends walked away, that’s what she thought. That sound came back again, all she could think was that something was wrong.

She recognised it from before, she hit the floor again. Something was coming out beneath her knee which was red, and it was coming from below her skirt. As soon as she realised it was blood, she got so angry that she was determined even more to show that this wog girl would stop this now, once and forever. She got up straight away, didn’t bother with the fabric, she did not care! Something was strange, then she looked around. She kept asking herself if she was dreaming? She asked herself what happened? Did she imagine the blonde girl and her group? No, she just worked it out, that noise, not the ringing one in her ears but it was of girl’s shoes running away. They must have worked out they were in trouble, that’s what she thought as the teacher just turned up. The teacher would protect her, and she did. It didn’t feel right to her though, her revenge was now gone, all she wanted was the fabric to go down and, she wanted to go home where eyes to stop hurting from the tears. Being a wog girl felt soft, warm, and comforting from her bed when she was at home. What just happened told her that she did not belong at school, the only place she fit in was at home, and that’s were she decided to go now.

She knew what it was like to be at home, she was raised the right way, the wog way. Unlike when she was at school, she knew how to be a proper wog girl, I assume the others didn’t know. Sitting on plastic all her life is something that she knew everything about, it made sense to her as any spilt food would not damage the fabric.

‘Don’t spill anything or else the lounge will get stained!’ she was told that every day by her mama.

Apparently, others didn’t do that, but that didn’t make sense. She was told that in life that’s how others live outside her home.

 Her next memory would always put a smirk on her face, that’s when the drops were good tears rolling down her cheeks, she often laughed out loud.  

‘How did they not know how to do that?’ she thought.

All that foam, two basins and they only used one, how funny was that. It wasn’t done like that. You fill two basins up, one for rinsing and the other to wash. She did that all the time, it was the cleanest and best way to do the dishes, yet she saw how it was different when others did it. Clean dishes for others, I assume meant wash, don’t rinse. She remembered how silly that looked. She never stopped thinking about how food would still be stuck on plates because they were not rinsed the way they should have.  Mama taught her those lessons and she respected her for that, it was how wog girls did things.

She remembered a friend coming over one day and this friend looked around the house, her face looked strange. She was a polite friend, but she didn’t say much when she came to her home. She presumed it was because she loved it and was shy to say so, jealousy can do that. She thought if she liked the home, the garage would be the best. This friend would see how wog families did things. The smell of fennel in one room, it made her mouth water up. They got hung up with rope, not just one but enough for a year. Pork and fennel, not just that, these were delicious pork sausages. Every year as a family this was done, she looked forward to this because this was home. When she thought about it, funny it was, the blue car with pork sausages hung from the ceiling. I can only presume her friend would like to see how wog girls lived. This is when she would see whether the friend could see how a real home was like. That’s when she thought, maybe she had not seen the way true wog’s do things, she thought she would have been jealous. She still didn’t say much, she decided to take her out the back to see a true wog’s way of living.

She thought dishes and sausages was different, but what she would see next would make her envious. That’s when she felt drops of water come down her cheeks again but, the friend looked funny. The mouth opened with disgust, she could see it and she was standing right next to her. Beyond the green shrubs, she was proud to be a wog girl. It was strange because even though she felt the sting of water in her eyes, she was also annoyed. There was a fly screen covering it, so flies weren’t getting onto it. They were pushed down flat in the hot sun, but that’s how you do them, along with the capers on top. She worked out she would just have to tell her, the friend would appreciate how good these were, she thought this anyway. Everyday she would sneak some of these in her sandwich, the sundried tomatoes were not best friends with her thighs, but she didn’t care. She saw the cellulite every day on her legs. The taste of oil and heat, the first bite was the best. While she was reminiscing about how good these were, the friend said nothing. This was her home and she was becoming irritated, she thought if you don’t want to be in a wog girl’s home just leave. To her surprise she did. It was pitiful really, a lame excuse.

‘I’ve got to go and do some homework’ she said.

It was jealousy, I could only assume. It was that black stuff and butter they liked, she didn’t care, she knew the good stuff and the one that looked like tar on bread wasn’t it. It was her loss; home was special, and she treasured this home, the one she grew up in from 1992. It was a television show that changed things, but she couldn’t remember the name of it. She still smiled at the thought of it. The show had kangaroos, depicting Australians love of them. That’s when she thought of the blonde girl at school. That girl would now be called a skippy. She now had a nickname for Australians, skippies. She was proud to be a wog girl, so if a kangaroo was about Australia, she would give them that name. She had it all worked out; life now made sense. She thought she had it worked out but then this wog girl started work and she realised things were not so black and white.

She was sitting there as she normally did, behind the screen, never really knowing how to act socially. This happened when she left home, not knowing how to act, that’s what you get for being a wog girl. She hadn’t even come across someone like him, she never really saw his type at home, but the manager paired me with him, so she had no choice. She had never come across a black man before. She knew it sounded racist, but the fact is she never did, just wogs and skippies. She saw the blonde skippy near the photocopier and even the red haired skippie but not a coloured man. A two-hour trip for a meeting was uncomfortable, but she got in the car with him, she had no choice, she knew she would get paid and that they would have nothing in common, so it didn’t bother her. She could only presume that he felt the same way, he wouldn’t want to be with a wog girl that even he I presumed could smell the lunch packed as did the girl at school. She tried so hard over the years to change what she ate, but she liked it. The waxed little black hair above her lip, she was sure he could see it, it was something she didn’t do at school but had to do it now.

 She heard his voice before, but never really paid much attention, but it sounded deep when she was closer to him, deep like his colour to be honest.

‘How you are going Lins?’ is what he said.

Taken back she just looked at him and was shocked that he spoke to her. She mumbled some words, but he kept persisting. It was irritating for her to begin with, but she realised they had one thing in common, humour. The real humour that even skippies understood. All she could think was this man was so funny, two hours with him wouldn’t be so bad.

That was the start of a friendship that she now thinks about and realises how it changed her. This person, Richard, he was also a wog, but Torres strait Islander, he was also a family man and understood what it was like to feel different. She knew this because it was spoken of between the ocean and air were no wog or skippie was mentioned. This was something that she spoke to him about and both realised that the heritage that he and she were brought up in was something uniquely different. The funniest things she remembered was the way he described his family gatherings. She realised that they were no different to the ones that she experienced. She also realised that when she heard him speak so proudly of there food and culture, she wasn’t alone. She reflected on how he was looked upon as a black tough man, but she knew he was soft, gentle, like a teddy bear, she could only hope others saw that.

Then the conversation that changed her life happened. Sitting together on the soft grain with the wind blowing around was invigorating for a conversation like this to happen. The ocean was crystal clear blue, that day the smell of salt wafted between her conversation with him. Remembering that chat always made her feel those drops from school and home, but this time it came from sadness and happiness.

On that afternoon during their lunch break she said that being a wog was difficult, which he said he could understand as he was a dark man and experienced similar things. He said to me that day:

‘I don’t care, I know I’m proud of my heritage, are you?’

Those exact words were stated. She realised that growing up being called a wog was something she hated but after talking with him realised she was proud of heritage, just like him. She thought of the good things when she was a child at school and at home. The smell of fennel sausages, touch of oil, the fat on her body because of those damn sundried tomatoes. It was the salami at school that in that moment she realised she didn’t care like Richard said about his food. So many realisations on that beach.

 Being a wog girl was something she in that moment realised made her unique and different. She just wasn’t a wog girl; she was a wog girl with skippie in her. She realised she came from parents that immigrated to Australia and gave her opportunities that other she could presume never had. Questions swirled in her head, just like a washing machine, how silly she felt. Here was a man of colour that was a proud Australian, it occurred to her then and there that for years without saying she was Australian with Italian heritage. She still was that wog girl but this time she realised she didn’t care what others thought, it was about what she thought, how proud it was to be called a wog today, how in that moment things changed.

A group called sooshi mango was now making it big time across Australia and Canada. These group of men were proud wogs who now were making fun of the way they were brought up. She realised that with the help of Richard and this new group of funny men that things had changed so much since school. It really was quite powerful. A power that she lacked at school and at home. What she thought was at times hard to understand was now clear to her. She realised in that moment she was, and still is ‘a wog girl, simple but true in Australia’.

A proud Australian with Italian heritage living in Australia’

Written by Lina Raudino

25th May, 2019