EXCLUSIVE: Before You Get In Too Deep Defending The ‘Golly Balloon’ As ‘Not Based on Anything Racist’ …


The owners and defenders of a Golliwog balloon banned from a Canberra festival last month have told media their creation is not based on anything racist. Except that it is, and the balloon owners know it, because one of them discussed at length in a podcast in 2017. Chris Graham reports.

A story running hot on social media at the moment is ‘Golly-gate’, a racist hot-air balloon recently banned from Canberra’s annual Balloon Spectacular.

New Matilda filed on the story earlier today here.

Kay Turnbull, one of the owners of the balloon – which they claim is known as ‘Black Magic’ and has never been known as ‘Golly’ – told the Canberra Times it has no association with racism: “The fact that it has a smiling face – it’s not directed at Aboriginals or anyone that might be a different colour.”

Supporters of the balloon company have also taken to social media, with a lengthy post that opens:

“I want to clear some things up that the media aren’t covering and EventsACT aren’t telling people to keep their narrative:

“1. The balloon in no way was based on the golliwogg (sic). It has been interpreted that way but the balloon is not based on anything racist.”

Except that it is based on racism. The design of Black Magic was lifted from a British balloon called ‘Goll-i’, a tribute to the Golliwog character created in the US in the early 1900s to mock African American people.

The photo montage above (and below) is from 2017, on a ballooning podcast called Aunty Monkey which featured Jan Turnbull talking about her life in ballooning.

The caption on the photo reads ‘Golly Special Shape’. Ms Turnbull is pictured in the top left of the photo.

The writing on the balloon reads ‘Goll-i’, and the two images of the Black Magic balloon to its right clearly show it’s based on the original ‘Golly Special Shape’.

In case you’re still not convinced, at the end of the hour long podcast Ms Turnbull is asked by the host, “Your balloon, Kay is, for those who don’t know, is effectively a version of the Golliwog balloon?

She responds: “Yeah, when I was learning to fly in England, the first Golly balloon, which was a black balloon with white eyes and a little smile was flown by a guy called Morris Cronin….

“This little balloon used to pop up behind trees everywhere, and everywhere I turned it seemed to be this little balloon was smiling.

“So when we were about to get the first Black Magic balloon, John… was very keen to get a black balloon. I said ‘Look all black is boring, why don’t we see if we can have a Golliwog?’

“As people may not remember them, Robinson’s Jams in the UK had taken on the Golliwog as their logo. In fact, over the years there were a number of Golliwog balloons, even full-size ones as special shapes, and I knew Andrew Robinson, so I got in touch with him and said ‘Would you mind if we had a Golly built here?’ Absolutely not he was thrilled to bits we would want to do that. And so that’s why we had the first one done, as he was.

“And then when he went to the God in the sky, we decided to have a repeat version, but for anybody who doesn’t realize, this one looks in the other direction.”

Ms Turnbull ends the podcast by noting: “We’ve never had a problem having a black balloon, our Indigenous population whenever they have been around us, have all been very enthusiastic about it. We’ve never ever had derogatory remarks about the fact we’ve got a Golliwog balloon. It’s good fun.”

You can listen to the podcast here…

Ironically, the podcast also covers discrimination. Midway through Ms Turnbull is asked about whether or not, as an early female pioneer of ballooning, she’s ever faced sexism within the ballooning community.

“No, never. Never. Never. Adam’s it’s one of the things that I have always loved about ballooning, it is without discrimination and it has been for the 50 years I’ve been flying for….

“I’ve never been discriminated against and I think that any other female pilot you would speak to would tell you the same.”

We’re seeking comment from Ms Turnbull, and will update this article if it’s forthcoming.

* Chris Graham worked as an Associate Producer on Utopia. He Facebooks here, tweets here, and is available by email here. You can support his work and help keep New Matilda alive by subscribing here– it starts at just $6 a month.

Chris Graham is the publisher and editor of New Matilda. He is the former founding managing editor of the National Indigenous Times and Tracker magazine. In more than three decades of journalism he's had his home and office raided by the Australian Federal Police; he's been arrested and briefly jailed in Israel; he's reported from a swag in Outback Australia on and off for years. Chris has worked across multiple mediums including print, radio and film. His proudest achievement is serving as an Associate producer on John Pilger's 2013 film Utopia. He's also won a few journalism awards along the way in both the US and Australia, including a Walkley Award, a Walkley High Commendation and two Human Rights Awards. Since late 2021, Chris has been battling various serious heart and lung conditions. He's begun the process of quietly planning a "gentle exit" after "tying up a few loose ends" in 2024 and 2025. So watch this space.