Oct 272008

I happened to catch this interview with aboriginal activist, Stephen Hagan on Radio National’s ‘National Interest’. Worth a listen, if, like me, you’d heard about one man’s tilt at the establishment over a sign on a football grandstand.

Stephen Hagan is a man on a mission, and whilst I believe he’s blinded by his ethnicity to the realities of life and history, I do admire his tenacity in the face of great adversity and disinterest in his opinion. Because he is of aboriginal descent, it’s no surprise that he would be interested in and sensitive to the way his heritage is treated in what is largely a white man’s world. Is he right to rail against the public display of a man’s nickname? A nickname which that individual in life would have worn with a certain pride? Only Stephen Hagan can answer those questions. Apparently the family of Edward Stanley “Nigger” Brown, who died in 1972 aged 74, was quite at ease with taking the offending sign down. Not so the trustees of the Toowoomba Sports Ground Trust, who fought and won a case against Mr Hagan’s complaint in 2006. After all, any apparent slight felt by Mr Hagan against his ethnicity was not deliberate or intended to offend, and the sign commemorated a man of great civic standing in life. Why shouldn’t he be remembered in terms of the time of his immortalisation in 1960, by the use of his nickname? He was still alive then. If he’d been offended, surely he’d have spoken out.
However, as with all such issues in increasingly sensitive and politically correct times, eventually the complainant has their way with the establishment, more by dint of annoyance than right and proper recognition of an appropriate stance. The Toowoomba Sports Ground Trust recently demolished the ES “Nigger” Brown stand as a part of a re-development of the facility, and supposedly because the old stand had white ant damage. The name was to be re-instated on a new stand, however state politicians have weighed into the debate, forcing the hand of the trustees into not re-naming the stand, using the ‘N’ word or any association with Edward Stanley Brown. Surely a sad day of the family and memory of a great sporting person and respected civic leader. Numerous locals in Toowoomba don’t understand the importance Hagan placed on the issue, and consider the pursuit of the establishment over nearly a decade to have been a waste of public resources. Hagan didn’t think so:

“I’m currently the Indigenous Person of the Year (2007), so, obviously the rest of Australian Indigenous people recognise me as having made a significant contribution. I’m an academic; I teach education to mainstream students. I’ve just in the last three months I’ve been to Bangkok, spoken at Stanford University in California, I’ve delivered a paper at a United Nations conference in Santiago, Chile, on a range of issues. So I do contribute significantly on a broad range of Indigenous issues. I’m not one-dimensional. I’m not obsessed by the Nigger Brown debate.”

I’m sure you’re not, Stephen Hagan. Not any more. These days it seems you’re much more obsessed with cheese.

“And now that I have got ‘nigger’ out of the lexicon … I am now going to put my energies into this Coon cheese debate.”

So, it’s on to cheese makers. What was it Jesus said? Blessed are the cheese makers, or some such thing? Coon cheese, as a casual Google will attest, is so named in honour of the creator of the process by which cheddar cheese might be matured to achieve a certain quality within a given timespan. A copy of the patent number 1,579,196 dated 30 March 1926 may be found and read here. The Dairy Farmers (formerly Kraft) Coon Cheese history may be found here. Clearly, reading through the Dairy Farmers version of history, one soon becomes aware on inaccuracies in dating certain events, but the crediting of the maturation process of what started out, in this country at least, as Kraft Walker Red Coon Cheddar is still apportioned solely to Edward William Coon. Whether or not Mr Coon held academic accreditation is rather vague, but does seem to be a sticking point with Stephen Hagan. Why Edward William Coon holding, or not holding a Doctorate, either before or after his patent registration for his cheese maturation process should have any bearing on that process carrying his name, or any bearing on Stephen Hagan accepting the fact that Coon Cheese is so named because of that process, quite simply leaves me wondering.
Wondering, in fact, just where Stephen Hagan’s crusade against vaguely derogatory names and terminologies which have been in existence for decades without creating angst among people of colour, or even people of no colour, will lead him. There’s the Japanese arcade game, Boong-Ga Boong-Ga. All manner of connotations there. Or perhaps there will be a stand against the use of the term ‘spook’? Hanna-Barbera may have to re-script all of those Casper favourites for the kiddies.
Frankly, I just hope that Mr Hagan has a listen to himself on a Radio National podcast of the National Interest. He might just realise how obsessively silly he sounds to the rest of us.

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