In the past week, the media has been in a frenzy over racial tensions at Cronulla. I live in Cronulla, and it is an interesting time.
Cronulla is a suburb in the Sutherland Shire, about 40km (25 miles) south of Sydney. It has three beaches in a bay that can be as flat as lake, but usually provides good surfing conditions, and when the weather is right can be closed due to rough conditions (about once a year or so).
The Sutherland Shire is about 90% anglo-saxon heritage and locals are fiercely proud of this. To be a local, you need to be second or third generation Shirefolk
depending on the local. The Shire is a naturally occurring region - surrounded by two rivers, the ocean and a national park. Some locals, in that half-joking tone, remark that one should need a passport to cross the two rivers. In a continent=country=island as big as Australia... that's an interesting viewpoint.
The other "race" comes from the Bankstown/Greenacre part of Sydney. Funnily enough, I grew up there.
Bankstown is a landlocked, arbitrarily-defined council region about 30km (20 miles) due west of Cronulla - and consequently, Cronulla would be seen by residents of the Bankstown area as "their beach" (I know we did - in a completely inclusive way). When I was growing up its racial constitution would have been approximately (as perceived by me): 40% caucasian, 20% Middle Eastern, predominantly muslim, 20% Vietnamese, 20% other.
In the last 25 years, a mosque has been built in Greenacre and the muslim population has increased dramatically. (Incidentally, so has the Korean population, but that isn't part of this story.) When you drive down the main stretch of Greenacre, most of the shops signs are in Arabic predominantly, often with an English version below. It is a good place to buy baklava, lebanese bread and turkish delight. Also, go for halal pizzas and good ice cream, but I digress.
On the main, both areas are populated by decent, law-abiding Australian citizens. Long before September 11, 2001, there was complete contempt from the surfies against all people of Middle Eastern appearance who appeared on their shores. There is an element of young muslim boys who celebrated September 11 incidents. It is these latter two groups that are reportedly clashing now. Despite how it appears on the surface, both are hoons, and anyone who takes sides is very stupid or ignorant.
4 December 2005
The real facts of this day at Cronulla Beach are probably lost forever. What is known is that there were two arrests of Middle Eastern appearing men for assaults on two life savers.
From this website:
The lifesavers (sorta like beach cops, but with no real authority) asked them to stop, but apparently did it with a bit of attitude - racial slurs, and reminders that the Lebs couldn't swim (with the implication that if they were drowning, they wouldn't get saved)... Now lifesavers are kind of an Australian icon. They're usually volunteers, and considered archetypal good-guys, embodying sun, surf, good looks, volunteerism, altruism, and every good quality you could think of. So beating them up wasn't a good public relations move for the lebs.
Justly, the assaulters faced a Court on these charges within days. The Premier also announced that sentences for attacking volunteers were to be increased.
These were all big boys, and honestly, I think they all would have gotten over it - until...
For the next three days, the top story in the commercial news was the building of racial tensions at Cronulla. Although no further events not involving the media actually took place. On Wednesday, there was a reported "brawl" with the media, but I saw no footage of it. The day before, one of the TV networks showed an SMS reporting it was time to take back the beach. The claim by the media was that these SMS's, along with similar emails were circulating within the Shire.
I have no evidence of these messages, but no doubt, after the media coverage there were plenty.
On Friday, the Premier, Morris Iemma appeared in Cronulla telling us that vigilanteism and unsocial behaviour would not be tolerated. I do not know if he added "this weekend in Cronulla", but he would have been more accurate if he did.
Yesterday, was the first day that media has not reported on the racial tensions in Cronulla this week. They have been predicting a showdown today at noon. My biggest concern in all this, is that the media will not be satisfied with the ending, "and everybody just went home and lived happily ever after".
Real events that occurred during the week
Within days of the media hype, the police presence in Cronulla increased. By Wednesday, Cronulla was no place to speed, as more and more police patrolled in their cars. It was noticeable change and tension in general increased.
On Thursday, I am pleased to report, that a Muslim family enjoyed the little park on the beach near our house. Fear has not conquered all reason.
However, on the bridge crossing one of the rivers, a flag of the green and gold boxing kangaroo had been flown from an overhead pass and the words "Aussie pride. Take back the Shire - prepare to fight! NULLA 4EVA." scrawled over it.
An Australian flag appeared at the "border" of Cronulla, and a slogan in the same scrawl had been written on the wall next to it, but it was illegible.
For the last few days, a helicopter has been flying overhead. I am told that it is more for surveillance than any other form of action.
11 December 2005
I hope nothing will happen today. Certainly the sky is grey and cold - which draws less people from the West. And maybe, both parties can ignore the egging on the media has given them.
It is still early, and there are no helicopters in the sky. Today could be a quiet day.
Later that day:
Well, at least for Dirquar and I, the day was quiet. Except today there were at least three helicopters - one police chopper, with the others belonging to the media. The mob came and ruled. As with all mobs, it was not pretty.
Surprisingly, the troublemaking Bankie boys did not show. Was it a conscious decision to not be manipulated by the media? Was it because the weather made it unworthwhile? Was it a calendar malfunction? We may never know, and their behaviour leaves me to give them the benefit of the doubt.
So what does a mob do, after drinking excessively and inciting itself to hatred, but the object of their hatred is nowhere to be seen? They make up an enemy.
The locals, and there were hundreds, were looking for trouble. They turned their anger towards any innocent bystander that was not caucasian. And when the police protected the innocent, the mob turned on the police. And when the police resorted to removing people in danger of the mob into an ambulance, they attacked the ambulance.
I hold a vague hope that the media will be somewhat disappointed at who was the bad guy today, and that they will let the matter drop. And I pray that, at the very least, these tensions will be able to return to a saner level, before the media blew it all out of proportion.
In the evening, we walked past the little park which is in South Cronulla (North Cronulla being the mob's assembly point) and, as is common on normal Sundays, a Muslim family were enjoying themselves. It bode well for me.
But then, I'm overly optimistic. There was no calendar malfunction, just a different plan of attack. Sydney erupted last night as a result of these events. And that is history.
18 December 2005
I'm not used to putting a heading after "Conclusion", but then these are not ordinary times. I have received three forwarded emails this week:
- An email warning that the original author (who was unidentified) had intercepted an SMS circulating amongst Lebanese people in Bankstown. Apparently, the SMS was urging a retaliation including being strapped - which was defined as meaning carrying guns. The writer assured us that it was not the intention of the email to create fear.
- An email from The Greens encouraging us to attend a United Against Racism rally. It starts at 1pm at Town Hall Square. (Melbourne is also having a Nonviolent protest against against racist attack, on Friday, 16 December at 5pm starting at Bourke St Mall. And they're having a festival and picnic for peace on Sunday - that is way cool. Gathering at the State Library, Swanston St from 12 noon. Website)
- An email encouraging Shire people to go to the Christmas Carols in the Park. Starting at 7:30pm at Gunamatta Park. I have to say, it is strange that Christmas Carols are being used to meld the two cultures, but I'll support any peaceful means.
You will find me at the rally in the city and the Carols. You won't find me cowering away from Cronulla. Please message me if you can make it.
*sigh* This Mum just didn't make it to the rally, and although there wasn't a week of media speculation about whether there would be further rallies, it did get reasonable coverage. I did make it to the carols. The only Lebanese members were the VIP invited guests, but I guess it's a start.
1 January 2006
Some guy was on the news congratulating Sydney-siders on not acting like a bunch of racist thugs on New Years' Eve. I've heavily paraphrased him, but since I haven't identified him in any way, I'm hoping to get away with that.
And to me it was to see Australians having to fight the elements once again, and not each other.
One more lesson that can be learned from all this
Read Mardy's lessons below first - they're great, but he missed one for the Shirefolk:
When the checkpoints go up to keep non-residents out, Cronulla becomes a depressed, sleepy country town. Whether you realise it or not, that is a significant loss when compared to the thriving, energetic cosmopolitan society it usually is (on the weekends).
Bad blood boils in Cronulla stomp, (Found at: http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2005/12/07/1133829664172.html)
Musling up on beach gangs, (Found at: http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2005/12/08/1133829688767.html)
Swap says: This is ridiculous. If fighting really breaks out only because the media says it should, I'm going to be most annoyed. >:(
The Debutante says: So hard to imagine this going on where you live :-(
Mardy says anyhow...what is unaustralian about fighting Turks for control of a beach on a narrow peninsula?
mr100percent says: I was worried you weren't going to be fair, but I think you did a nice job of it