McDonald’s has fired the owner of two of its restaurants in Victoria after he and a companion were filmed making racist comments questioning an artist’s Aboriginality.
Robert Vigors, who owned McDonald’s in Mildura and Irymple, was filmed in a confrontation at a family home in Mildura that was posted on Twitter by a family member.
In the video, a woman identified as “Karen” made a furious but failed attempt to pull down an Aboriginal flag, before saying “get this shit down”.
Robby Wirramanda, the artist and Wergaia man behind the camera, shouted: “It’s too strong for you, Karen”, which led to the hashtag #toostrongforyoukaren trending on Twitter on Sunday.
“You’re a racist pig,” said Wirramanda, to which Karen replied, “I’m not racist mate.”
In the video, an irate Vigors pointed to the camera and said: “Which 1% of you is Aboriginal, mate? You’ve got nothing in you that’s Aboriginal.”
While Vigors said in the video he “respected” the artwork Wirramanda was producing, he said he had “a lot of Aboriginal friends in far north Queensland” that would “love to come and give you a lecture”.
As Wirramanda suggested to Vigors the video will “go viral”, Vigors responded: “Let it go viral, because people like you make a mockery of true Aboriginals.”
The video ended with Wirramanda repeatedly saying “goodnight, Karen” the woman responded: “Go and live in your fucking humpy down the river.”
In a statement, the fast-food chain said: “McDonald’s confirms the company has taken over the operation of the Mildura and Irymple restaurants, effective immediately, and Robert Vigors has left the system and is no longer involved.
“McDonald’s will be engaging with its employees regarding the change in arrangements, to ensure the ongoing operation of the restaurants.”
In an earlier statement, McDonald’s had described the comments in the video as “unacceptable”, saying they “do not reflect the beliefs of the company as an inclusive workplace for our employees and customers.”
Guardian Australia understands McDonald’s contacted Vigors on Sunday morning to inform him the company was taking back ownership of the two restaurants.
Ali Cupper, Independent MP for Mildura, posted a statement on Facebook on Sunday, saying: “The anger comes from RACISM; the snide, snobbish view that certain races are lesser than others. People like Rob and Karen want Aboriginal people to ‘stay in their lane’, because a big part of their self-esteem relies on being ‘superior’ to others”.
Olympian and former senator Nova Peris was also damning of the actions of the the pair on Twitter in several posts.
Wirramanda told Guardian Australia he moved into the relatively prosperous Mildura street four months ago.
He said there had been previous arguments with Karen, who had accused him, he claimed, of being a bludger.
“I work three jobs – the only bludger in this family is my 12-year-old son,” he joked.
Wirramanda, 46, told Guardian Australia he had been in his art studio at his home on Friday evening while his wife, Jackie, was painting.
His two sons Jackson, 19, and Grayson, 12, were also in the studio, along with a 12-year-old cousin.
He said Vigors and Karen had got out of a vehicle and walked up to their home uninvited, when the confrontation began. He had reported the incident to the police, and told Guardian Australia he had also recorded other incidents at his home.
Wirramanda said he was colleagues with many “beautiful” white people who, he said, would apologise to him for comments made to him by other white people.
“I tell them don’t apologise for something they have not done.”
“Sadly we normalise this – we have become accustomed to it,” he said. “I have been raised in a dogmatic system that’s designed to break and suppress. I know I can’t attack back like they can, or I will end up locked up. All I can do is to try and catch it and show it to the world.”
He said he was used to people questioning his Aboriginal roots, partly because of his lighter skin tone.
“My whole life I have been having to justify why I am Aboriginal. I was raised by my grandmother and the only white person I know of in our family was my grandfather.
“You know about the White Australia policy – rape by white men has a lot to do with why Aboriginals in Victoria are whiter.”
Wirramanda said he worked for an arts program called Torch that works with Indigenous people released from jail where he mentors other Aboriginal men and women to “help them reconnect to country”.
He said he had been in jail himself “for drug trafficking” and had been released in 2015. “Everyone knows I have been in prison,” he said, adding it was his experience there that had helped him to become successful now.
His work at the Torch program was featured in a 2019 documentary called The Art of Incarceration.
Guardian Australia could not reach Rob Vigors and the woman identified in the video as Karen for comment.
On Sunday Karen told Daily Mail Australia that she had received death threats since the video went viral on social media and did not feel safe giving her side of the story.