Cultural inappropriation

Maine Coon - Cat Lovers Show Melbourne

Must say, when I arrived here from Canada back in 1975 I was quite astonished then to find Coon Cheese on sale. A North American impossibility both then and now but an absolutely nothing-at-all here in Australia. It is just the name of a cheese, named after the man who invented the blend, and a cheese that I happen to like very much. Different words in different cultures. You just get used to boots and bonnets. It’s the Australian way, which means it is our way. I could add that the main clothing brand in Canada is Roots, which definitely would not work out in Australia.

Let me go even further. When our latest pussycat joined our household – eight years ago – turned out she is a “Maine Coon” which is a breed of cat whose name no one seems to bat an eye at, neither here nor in North America. She is, after all, a Maine coon. Let me continue with three letters to the editor at The Oz the other day.

I fail to understand why Dr Stephen Hagan would spend so much time and effort on an issue such as Coon cheese (“Era ends as Coon cheese name cut”, 25-26/7). As a person who has worked in outback NSW and Queensland as well as living and working out of Port Augusta in South Australia and travelling to site work in the Northern Territory and Western Australia, I have seen the plight of remote Aborigines first hand. There will be no Aborigines in Port Augusta doing high-fives or cartwheels over the renaming of Coon cheese.

Hagan spent the first seven years of his life in a camp outside Cunnamulla in southwest Queensland before moving to a new house in town. Being a high achiever, he attended boarding school in Brisbane and, among other things, went on to become one of Australia’s first indigenous diplomats. He then became a lecturer at the University of Southern Queensland — good on him, a great career. It would seem, though, that Hagan’s circle of fellow activists and like-minded colleagues are not in sync with the real needs of Aboriginal people in the areas I have mentioned.

Shane Porter, Elanora, Qld

Ignoring the merits of the decision by a Canadian company to change the name of a well-known Australian product, it is worth noting Aboriginal activist Stephen Hagan’s ironic call not to let “conservative social commentators dictate their narrative on what is right and wrong”. Arguably, this name change is an example of another, and ascendant, brand of activists dictating their narrative on what is right and wrong.

David Finch, Forestville, SA

According to the genealogy website Ancestry, there are several origins of the name “Coon”. Anglicised Gaelic — “O’Cuana; Anglicised German – “Kuhn”; Anglicised Dutch — “Coen” or “Koen”. A whole lot of people to chase down because of perceived racist names. Then, of course, we have the 35 people listed in the Australian White Pages with the name “Coon”, plus their families.

Racism is a sad blight on civilisation and should not be accepted in any form. Sadly, I think pursuing dreamed up racism is counterproductive and aligned with the conjured up targeting of statues and monuments because someone thinks that these commemorate things that today we regret.

Peter Strauss, Mt Eliza, Vic

It is why I think Australia is the last sane place left in the Western world. As a dinky-di Aussie-Canadian, let me just suggest the name should be left as it was.

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30 Responses to Cultural inappropriation

  1. Alan sivkoff

    Perhaps I am somewhat of an innocent, but in my 67 years I haven’t come across the word coon in the Aust venacular as a racist epithet. Abo, boong etc were more common.

  2. flyingduk

    Yep, I for one will no longer be buying whatever the replacement cheese is.

  3. Seza

    I am annoyed that the activists think the name of a favourite cheese describes their manky slum dwellers. Can’t the change their nicknames?

  4. Damon

    Christopher Andrew Coons is an American politician serving as the Junior United States Senator from Delaware since 2010.

  5. Scott Osmond

    The demand for racism far outstrips supply. Which is why they need to make this sort of thing up and why all the hoaxes. I don’t know what the solution is other than not buying the products of those who play along and defunding any institution who is an enabler. Red Bull’s response to corporate cancer is also an answer. Fire all the troublemakers.

  6. H B Bear

    Another big corporate cave in.

  7. H B Bear

    Only the US family owned companies tell these guys to piss 0ff.

  8. Karabar

    As a Canuck Steve should know that a coon is an animal that steals your chickens. (And then eats their guts at the pond)

  9. Zatara

    The actual American origin of the word ‘coon’.

    Coon remains the popular slang for the racoon in the US.

  10. Tony K

    “So Mr Protestor, that’s an impressive protest. You made a lot of noise. What did you achieve?”
    “Yeah man! We kicked butt.”
    “But what did you achieve for the Aborigines?”
    “We got a cheese product to change its brand name.”
    “Anything else?”
    “We helped spread Corona virus.”
    “Hmmm. That’s quite an achievement.”

  11. Xword

    I wholeheartedly applaud the name change decision. Next on my list would be Gingersnap biscuits in light of the patently obvious anagram “ginger” can be turned into

  12. Sunbird

    No one in the media was willing to acknowledge that here in Australia the word “coon” isn’t even used as a derogatory term for aborigines.
    Sure there may be a few people who use it but there are other names which are the accepted common usage.

  13. Lily

    Yep, I for one will no longer be buying whatever the replacement cheese is.
    If you want to punish the Canadian Saputo Company you need to cross this list of cheeses off your shopping list as well. Cracker Barrell, Devondale, Great Ocean Road, King Island Dairy, Liddells, Mersey Valley,
    Millell Parmesan, South Cape, Sungold, Tas. heritage, Warrambool Heritage Cheddar.
    Australians are keeping the coffers of Saputo well and truly full.

  14. Peter O'Brien

    The irony is that ‘coon’ was not a word commonly used in Australia anyway.

  15. stackja

    “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” is a 1908 Tin Pan Alley song by Jack Norworth and Albert Von Tilzer which has become the official anthem of North American baseball, although neither of its authors had attended a game prior to writing the song.
    From Wikipedia

    Take me out to the ball game,
    Take me out with the crowd;
    Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack,
    I don’t care if I never get back.
    Let me root, root, root for the home team,
    If they don’t win, it’s a shame.
    For it’s one, two, three strikes, you’re out,
    At the old ball game.

  16. Mother Lode

    One of the tricks (which sort of overstates its subtlety) of activists going about ‘cleaning up’ our language is that they pretend that when you use a word or phrase, you are also intending every other use it has had across all topics and across all time. And if they can find one of those meanings to be objectionable (perhaps a usage from the 18th century) then you are guilty of whatever the association was.

    Most recent of course is the issue of ‘master’ and ‘slave’ in IT somehow ‘reinforcing’ the idea of black slavery in the US South and white supremacy.

    ‘Manhours’ denies the validity of women’s work (although if you look at how it is calculated you will see men and women are treated as equals), “Long time, no see” is an offensive play on pidgin – it is almost as if we are stealing their spirits with our cameras!

    And these scolding activists must be very selective when doing this too. Which words and which times count.

    And it is only the associations they know – when they speak would they care to be held responsible for historical events or usages of which they had never heard? Very few of them are actually historians or etymologists.

    A few years ago a senior officer in the police in London had to apologise for the word ‘niggardly’ – a word of Scandinavian origin instead of the Latin ‘niger’ which itself just means black, not black person. So it was not even a real connection.

  17. Roger

    Stephen worked on this campaign for 21 years.

    You have to admire his tenacity, if nothing else.

    I see he’s now moved on to service station console operators.

  18. Nob

    Pretty much every dairy farmer sells to either Saputo or Fonterra now.

    Not much you can do about the cheese thing.

  19. Pyrmonter

    Another problem with ‘Coon Cheese’ is calling it ‘cheese’.

  20. Pyrmonter

    Another problem with ‘Coon Cheese’ is calling it ‘cheese’.


    Well written, Shane Porter. You have nailed it. Had Hagan spent those years working on the important issues instead of chasing cheese wrappers, real help might be closer for those who need it.

  22. notafan

    Hagan only cares about symbolic stuff like cheese and dolls.

  23. cuckoo

    When I was last in Canada in the 1980s, one of the most common brands of milk (homogenised) was called HOMO. Not kidding. On the same trip I found a brand of Turkish instant tea, whose brand name was LEZO.

  24. cuckoo

    It would be interesting to know more about Stephen Hagan’s diplomatic career. Or the merit of his PhD for that matter. As I understand it, he is not arguing that ‘COON’ is a term that has collaterally acquired an unpleasant connotation and therefore needs to be changed. No, he has spent 20 years arguing that the product name was always intended as a racial slur, in the face of ample documentary evidence that it was in fact named after the patentee of a particular process. How does someone this divorced from reality get a PhD?

    People like this remind me of the scene in the Simpsons where some particulary stupid product health warning is quoted and Homer says proudly “That’s because of me“.

  25. cuckoo

    Also, what’s uncanny is that in all the coverage I’ve seen, heard and read of the recent death of Olivia De Havilland, all of it has given most prominence to her role in Gone with the Wind but there has been not one reference to the recent brou-ha-ha over that movie. Not one. It’s as if you’re denouncing Triumph of the Will one week and the next you’re publishing gushing tributes to Leni Riefenstahl. It’s just like something they turn on and off at will.

  26. Tator

    Hagan is just a hypocrite as he really doesn’t have an issue with the word Coon when it comes to the local Coons Dairy in Wodonga.
    End of Coon Cheese surprises owners of Coons dairy

  27. Channeling Calli:
    look at da widddle faces!
    (Cat picture top.)

  28. Perfidious Albino

    Having advised Saputo via their local portal of my displeasure and intent to change the buying habits of a lifetime, I was briefly taken aback at the local duopoly supermarket to find that most of the cheeses they stocked were of the Saputo genus. I eschewed the home brand stuff as couldn’t be sure it wasn’t Saputo in disguise, so settled for some Bega slices (for the children’s lunches you understand…)

  29. Squirrel

    Very cute cat, but the tilted head might be a sign of progressive tendencies – keep an eye on her……

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