Australia Day T-shirts get thumbs down

Australia Day T-shirts recalled amid claims of ''racist'' logos demonstrate the power of social media in the online age, an academic said.

Big W removed T-shirts bearing an ''AUSTRALIA EST 1788'' logo from its Australia Day product range on Thursday, following discount supermarket Aldi which bowed to online pressure and dropped plans to sell similar shirts.

Aldi was criticised earlier in the week for the promotional design, which a number of social media users labelled racist and culturally insensitive to Australia's indigenous people, who inhabited the continent for tens of thousands of years before the arrival of the First Fleet from England in 1788.

The move by retailers to pull the clothing demonstrated the power of social media as a campaign tool, Canberra academic Lubna Alam said.

The University of Canberra lecturer said the debate, which pushed ''Aldi'' to the top of trending Twitter terms in Sydney and Melbourne on Wednesday, was the latest among a number of successful online movements.


''It's very easy now to bring that to the attention of the media and a large amount of people,'' she said.

''In terms of campaigns, the internet has been used for a long time. But social media has made it easier for every person to join in an active campaign.''

Ms Alam said the tools had been labelled ''liberation technology'' due to their impact and accessibility.

''This sort of started in 2009 with the Twitter revolution in Iran,'' she said. ''That was the one that got the most attention regarding the power of social media used by activists.''

T-shirts bearing designs similar to those pulled by Big W and Aldi have been found in several other stores around Canberra.

Australian Choice had ''AUSTRALIA EST 1788'' T-shirts advertised on its website, which also promoted its support for Indigenous education group Ngurra Jirrama Foundation.

The Canberra gift shop removed the product from its site after being contacted by Fairfax Media and declined to make any comment.

Discount outlet Top Bargain, located across from Aldi in the Canberra Centre, continues to sell a variety of shirts bearing a similar logo.

A representative was unavailable for comment by the time of print.

Some social media users are claiming the retreat by the major outlets as a victory, but supporters of the products are also activating their online army.

The debate generated significant support for the logo with social media users saying the response to Aldi's branding was an overreaction and that people were being ''way over sensitive''.

Other commentators said the logo was merely incorrect in its use of 1788, while Canberra academic Robin Tennant-Wood said the debate highlighted the divisiveness of Australia Day among indigenous communities. The University of Canberra assistant professor said the annual celebrations had grown to include a ''yobbo element'' of excessive drinking and targeting of racial minorities as nationalism increased following events such as the Cronulla riots.

''There's been a certain aspect of nationalism that has crept into Australia Day celebrations,'' she said. ''We see this particularly in young people, draped in the Australian flag and using it as an excuse to target people who don't look like them.''

Dr Tennant-Wood said the debate around the withdrawn clothing highlighted the need for Australians to recognise their multicultural society and the sensitivities that surrounded Australia Day as a result. with Georgia Behrens


Comment are now closed