Rapper Ziggy Ramo rewrites history in contentious book

Liz Hobday |

Rapper Ziggy Ramo’s new book takes aim at Australian attitudes toward colonisation.
Rapper Ziggy Ramo’s new book takes aim at Australian attitudes toward colonisation.

Anyone looking for a disagreement, says hip hop artist and now author Ziggy Ramo, is going to have an absolute field day with his new book.

It’s titled Human? A Lie that has been Killing us since 1788, and contends that Australia has been built on a falsehood that confers humanity on some, while others are dehumanised – a distinction that lies at the root of incarceration rates, and gaps in life expectancy.

Just like Ramo himself, Human? transcends genres: it’s part memoir, part radical history and part manifesto.

Each chapter relates to an artwork, as well as a song from his forthcoming album which is being released alongside the book – readers can listen to the songs to via QR codes printed inside.

Ramo hopes to attract different audiences and emotional responses through his use of different media – he compares it to traditional songlines, in which storytelling is combined with dance to create a multi-dimensional understanding. 

“Hopefully it piques your interest and allows you to pick your own adventure in this badass monstrosity of a project that we’ve been able to create,” he said.

Voice referendum pamphlet
The failure of the voice referendum has left an atmosphere of unease, Ramo said. (Joel Carrett/AAP PHOTOS)

Human? is being released on Tuesday, just a few days after Anzac Day.

One chapter delves into the thinking behind his song April 25th, which features the lyrics “F**k those Anzacs/I hate those Anzacs”.

Audiences have been shocked by these words, Ramo said, but the song contains exactly the same sentiments about Aboriginal Australians – and those get little response at all.

For the Wik and Solomon Islands rapper, it’s a blatant double standard, a contradiction between Australia’s commemoration of the Anzacs and its comparative ignorance of – and indifference to – the violence of colonisation.

Australians don’t feel the same way because they regard “Original Peoples” – Ramo’s term – as less human, he claims.

“This song is intentionally explicit, but it isn’t nearly as violent as the history you ignore,” he writes in the book.

The song, complete with all its swear words, was effectively censored on the ABC, according to Ramo, while live performances have also prompted complaints.

“We’ve had people in this country who are the most patriotic in consideration to the Anzacs, but then we’ll continue to deny the fact that a genocide or the Stolen Generations ever occurred,” he told AAP.

Many will find it an uncomfortable read, and whether the book itself will create controversy, just like April 25th, remains to be seen.

Ramo says it’s not something he can predict.

“As artists, we make art and I feel that I have offered something very sincere and earnest and really genuine,” he said.

“If I am not budging up against what people don’t want to hear, then I’m probably not being honest.”

Ramo is probably best known for his 2021 re-working of the Paul Kelly classic Little Things, which he performed at the top of the Sydney Opera House.

More recently he also acted in and composed for the 2023 streaming television series Black Snow.

Six months after the failed Indigenous voice referendum, an atmosphere of cultural unease into which the book is being released is to be expected because when an issue is left to fester it only compounds, he said.

He begins the book by setting his terms in radical ways – words such as Aboriginal, native and Indigenous are used by colonising forces to strip away specific cultural identity, and are eschewed in favour of his term “Original Peoples”.

Ramo then acknowledges the Gadigal land that was stolen during the colonisation of Australia, but argues the acknowledgements of country that are now common practice are actually a tokenistic, tick-a-box exercise.

In May he will test these ideas and others at the Melbourne Writers Festival, where he has curated two First Nations-led events.

The festival also features Killing for Country, the latest offering from journalist David Marr, who discovered members of his family were officers in the Queensland Native Police which is believed to have massacred 40,000 First Nations people in the 19th century.

“We’ve done a very good job sugarcoating how we remember the trajectory of the last 236 years, and I’m just trying to re-establish the way we understand our history,” said Ramo.

Human? will be released on Tuesday.