Pelaco Bill

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[Melbourne : Pelaco Ltd., c.1950]. Advertising sign for shop counter display, 310 x 230 mm, colour offset printing on thick board, designed to be freestanding.

This might be considered the ultimate expression of Australian kitsch, but in the dying decades of the nation’s White Australia Policy, it also serves to mark a low point of racist mockery.

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‘Pelaco Bill’, the Aboriginal caricature used in Pelaco’s advertising from around 1917 until the 1950s, was originally drawn by A.T. Mockridge. The figure is generally acknowledged to have been based on a Western Australian Aborigine from Port Hedland, Fred Wilson, more commonly known as Mulga Fred (c.1874-1948). Mulga Fred was a renowned buckjumper, as well as an expert at stockwhip-cracking and boomerang-throwing, who spent most of his working life touring Victoria’s Western District and the Wimmera. The entrepreneur Billy Kinnear regarded him as one of the most talented rodeo riders of his era. For a fuller account of his life and exploits, see Richard Broome’s short biography of Mulga Fred in the Australian Dictionary of Biography (reproduced from Douglas Stewart Fine Books, 2 March, 2017, douglasstewart.com.au/objects/mine-tink-it-they-fit-pelaco-shirts-collars-pyjamas/ )

 

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