• Dingo had his first experiences of racism attending the local primary school in the small town of Mullewa, WA | Aaron Fernandes (NITV News )Source: NITV News
Now in his sixties, and after four decades in the spotlight for television and movies, Yamatji man Ernie Dingo became the target of racism this week while boarding a train in Perth.
Aaron Fernandes

19 Jun 2020 - 11:18 PM  UPDATED 19 Jun 2020 - 11:18 PM

Sitting on his front porch in Perth’s eastern suburbs, Yamatji actor Ernie Dingo, 63, looks down at the wide-brim leather hat in his hands.

The band that runs around it is of three intertwined colours: black, red and yellow. 

After decades in the spotlight on television and movie screens across Australia, its in quiet moments like this that he has a chance to reflect.

“I’m from the mid-west. My language, kinship with my people is still special to me,” he says.

“I still have the same relationship with the Murchison region. Station people that knew me growing up, we’re still friends today.” 

Mr Dingo grew up in the town of Mullewa, in Western Australia’s Midwest region.

He remembers fondly his time playing sports with his brothers and sisters, under his mother’s careful eye.

But growing up in a small town, it was while attending the local primary school that Mr Dingo had his first experiences of racism.

“Kids would call me names and they’d do it constantly,” he says.

“They would laugh, and I thought if it’s amusing to them I should just laugh because I want to fit in.”

He eventually moved to Perth and took up an apprenticeship in sign writing, becoming a standout in Australian rules and basketball competitions across the metropolitan area.

By 1979, he began experimenting with performance theatre, taking the first steps in an award-winning acting career that has seen him perform in iconic Australian films. 

His career has spanned four decades, but despite his success, racism has still followed him.

“One of the main things that I look back on in my life…I’m used to playing these characters on stage as an actor. No one knows much about my private life because that’s my job,” he says.

“I hear jibes, I hear (racist) comments and a majority of the time, I walk away.

“Sometimes while walking away, other people will see me and ask ‘what’s wrong with him, he looks grumpy?’ They don’t know what I’m going through.”

Now in his sixties, Mr Dingo became the target of racism this week while boarding a train in Perth.

“I could say I was surprised that racism exists, that people would be racist in this day and age. But I’m not surprised. I just didn’t expect it, but there are no time schedules to be racist.”

A man allegedly directed a racist slur at Mr Dingo as he boarded a train, and a brief confrontation ensued.

“I caught up to him…and asked him to repeat it. He wouldn’t repeat it,” Mr Dingo says.

“As he spun around he slipped and his left foot went between the train and the platform.

“I let him go…I got on the train, and a lady said to me, ‘are you ok? I heard what he said’. And she apologised for him.”

Western Australia Police say they’ve not received any formal complaints and are not investigating the incident. 

In 2015, researchers at Western Sydney University published survey results that showed 52% of Indigenous Australians have experienced racism on public transport.

“We also found that nearly two thirds of Aboriginal Australians surveyed had been called a slang name for their cultural group at some point in their life,” Professor Kevin Dunn says.

“We need bystanders to stand up and speak out about racism when they see it. It's better that other people take action rather than relying on victims as targets.”

 For Mr Dingo, it’s an experience that he would just as soon put behind him.

 “I’m not a hero for what I did, and I don’t see myself as one,” he says.

“I’m reading about George Floyd in America, about Black Lives Matter protests and I’m watching AFL players take a knee before the game.

“I’ve walked away for sixty years, fifty years plus from a lot of (racism). You would think people have a little bit more sense nowadays, but no.”

He says the focus of his attention is back in the community he started out from, running programs on Country for kids from the Midwest.

“Mental health is a big thing that I’m working with. We’ve got a lot of young people and they’ve got nowhere to go, so we take them out with the old people, hunting and fishing,” he says.

“I see the positives, that people are trying to come together to fight this sort of stuff and I think, ‘good, maybe in my life time there will be a change.'”

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