Taking (off) the Pith

I’ve reached a quiet decision.

Steampunk is marvelous; I love it, and I have greatly enjoyed my many and variousSteampunk cosplay. Pith helmet
excursions therein, both fantastic (e.g. my book series), and in the real world. By that I mean the inventing, building, sculpting, costuming and ultimately cosplaying my wacko combos.

And as much fun as it is to attend Comic Con or Supanova, fabulously attired and wheeling a contraption or hefting an unlikely weapon, the very best moments have been stopping in at the supermarket on the way home. THAT is gold. The heads I turn and the smiles I raise. Locally, I’m (almost) famous.

But a discomforting darkness has now befallen me: SENSITIVITY. After several years of thought and introspection, I’ve decided to leave The Pith at home from now on.

Why? One word: Colonialism.

I live in the City of Logan, which is not a city, it’s just a huge messy sprawling suburb that has arisen haphazardly upon a patch of land that once (and arguably still does) belong to the Yugambeh and Yuggera People. It was declared to be a ‘city’ some 40 years ago, and has struggled ever since to stamp itself with an identity. It doesn’t even have a natural centre. It has no harbour, no airport, no grand old civic buildings or any history to speak of except bush-felling and cow farming, preceded by the usual arc of invasion and colonial acquisition of course, then some 30,000 years of human occupation by a people far less destructive, and with no desire for cheese.

Ironically, however, it is famous for two things: tragic acts of ‘low-life’ crime (thank you, News Media), and having Australia’s greatest cultural diversity.

On any given day – on my street or going to the shops – I’ll meet and interact with people from Indian, The Pacific Islands, New Zealand (White & Maori), every corner of Africa, from all over Asia, the Philippines, West and more likely Eastern Europe, and the Middle East. They are my dentists, doctors, optometrists, mechanics (mine is Japanese), the electricians and installers who visit, the shop owners, check-out operators, etc etc etc.

And almost ever one of these ethnic groups, somewhere not so far back in their history, have been subjected to British Imperialism. (If you’re wondering what that looked like, go watch ‘Gandhi‘.) The “British”, that is, dominated by the English who in turn were ruled by the aristocracy, the industrialists, the capitalists and all the other arrogant power-hungry arseholes at the top of the Patriarchal food chain.

If you were Scots or Irish or Welsh, your nations had already been brutalised, trampled and overrun by these pricks. Your leaders murdered, your land taken and your language and culture oppressed. You’d then become one of the ‘British’, and if male; likely as not end up in the army or navy by force of economic circumstances. And then, likely as not, you’d get shipped off to some foreign land to take their treasures, timber, minerals and land, and of course oppress or murder everyone who tried to protest. And most of you British Army Chaps would be wearing a pith helmet.

You could not find a more concise symbol for the ugly history of  British Colonialism.

The pith helmet: What jolly fun: we can get them so easily now. We can dress up in the red jacket and the stripe-side pants and carry a fake gun and strut around talking in faux British-twit accents and call it ‘Steampunk’ or ‘historic re-creationalism’ or whatever, a glorious act of taking the piss.

But – what does that mean to other people? That is the question that began to niggle me. As I stepped out of my car at my local shops and walked through a scene populated by almost every culture of the world, outnumbering white Australians and my (very British) culture, I wondered how they were seeing it? What did my hat mean to them? Was it offensive? Triggering? A getting-it-rubbed-it-in-the-face kind of feeling?

How would you feel, knowing your ancestors had been enslaved? Murdered? Raped? Run off their land? Had their natural rights removed? Killed and killed again by disease and poverty and dis-empowerment? Had their culture and language criminalised? How would you feel to see some white prat striding around in a pith helmet?

Now I know: not everyone would see it that way. For some – it’s just a bit of fun. They know me, the cheerful eccentric. No harm done, no harm intended. But I cannot govern that. There’s only one thing I can govern, there is only one choice to make: I’m going to de-colonise my cosplay. I shall take the pith no more.

I invite you to think about it.



4 thoughts on “Taking (off) the Pith

  1. Lindsay Gregory

    A top hat would be just as bad so maybe a bowler or go even more working class and wear a cloth cap which you can tug at when anyone superior walks past – yes govner

  2. I had a similar thought a while ago, I also put the pith helmet out to pasture. The comment regarding Bowler/ Tophat speaks of a difference in class rather than the results of exploitative colonisation.
    Steampunk has loved dealing with the class divide head on, but has not addressed the results of colonisation as well. Kudos to you.

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