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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.

Background

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...

The Media

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.

Conclusion

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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)
  3. 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).

Further reading:
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)
http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2005/12/13/181830/80


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

The story the media will never tell

There is an undercurrent of well-educated, moderate views in Australia, giving rise to a relatively functional and lawful society. As in many societies, these views form the central portion of a bell curve which at its extremities contains some less educated views, including some that are racially prejudiced.

Australia is a multicultural society and for the most part, those cultures are well integrated. In the year 2000, Australia had the fifth highest number of new citizenships per capita in the world1. Currently the population includes something like 20% first or second generation migrants, because for the last few decades our industries have employed more workers than we can breed. With this level of immigration, cultural integration (the incredibly enriching process that involves learning a great deal of interesting facts about your new neighbours and their way of life) is not something we have to strive for. It's a given.

The recent violence at Cronulla (and elsewhere) represents nothing more than the misguided actions of small minorities that for some reason have chosen not to participate in the above process - whichever direction that journey might have taken them.

The police seem to have the situation under control.

Hopefully tomorrow there will be no news.
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1 http://www.nationmaster.com/graph-T/imm_new_cit_cap
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Mardy: In defence of John Howard, he never said the lynch mob wasn't racist. he said Australians aren't racist. He was talking about the majority, and he's right - most of us aren't. He did refer to the lynch mob specifically as lawbreakers, which is also correct. I think your lesson for Howard should read: expect the media to distort everything you say to maximise the chance of it spawning more drama.

Lessons learnt as a result of the Cronulla Riots

For Morris Iemma:

  • A rule of thumb is that a gang will get progressively more violent and aggressive if it can get away with their activities.
  • If you can afford on December 16, 2005 to recruit online for fifteen non-uniform jobs in the NSW police force, including a $73,000 a year media liaison job, you can certainly afford to add more front line police officers.
  • Most members of the public are unlikely to admit to being Australian if contronted by two car-loads of Lebanese-hoons at three in the morning.
  • Bondi residents probably won't thank you if you extend the Eastern Suburbs railway line to Bondi Beach

    For John Howard:

  • If you say the moon is made from cheese, or that a lynch mob isn't racist, expect the pesky media to then hang on to every word you say.

    For the neo-Nazis:

  • Learn to spell. It is embarrassing that your warcry via SMS had more spelling mistakes than your enemy's poetic call to arms to the Lions of Lebanon
  • Lebanese-Australians have generally been hard-working and law abiding citizens, including governor Dr Marie Bashir, Premier Steve Bracks, Bulldogs star Hazem El-Masri and the poet John Malouf. But if you still want to beat up a Leb, why not start with your leader, Jim Saleam?

    For the French:

  • When you see Wellington bringing up his cavalry, or German panzers rolling through the Ardennes forrest, or the Viet Minh assembling artillery on mountains surrounding your encampment, it is a good idea to react to events as they occur. Doing nothing doesn't help. Repeatedly doing nothing on successive nights of rioting by a bunch of kids will also not produce a desired outcome. It is amazing how much trouble a few strategically placed roadblocks can save you.

    For the Malaysians:

  • When Malaysia has a refugee migration programme, then its Prime Minister will be qualified to make comments on the Cronulla riots.

    For the pontificating armchair leftie sociologists who actually have never lived in Sydney but believe that any social theory can be applied universally:

  • I can dig the notion that explaining bad behaviour is not the same as endorsing bad behaviour. You are free to speculate of the social dynamics that led to the Sydney Gang Rapes and I won't think you are sacrificing your anti-sexism principles for the sake of your anti-racism principles. However, you risk looking wilfully ignorant and hypocritical when you don't support sensible measures to confront the root causes.
  • If the Cronulla mob didn't target Japanese, Greeks or Russians who use the beach, then perhaps the issue lies with the behaviour of the people who were the targets.
  • No matter if the words are Fuck off Lebs! or Hey good looking, I really like you, don't take too seriously anything said under the influence of alcohol.

    For the Cronulla residents:

  • The maxim of an eye for an eye appears in both the Bible and Koran. So regardless which son of Abraham you are decended from you should therefore be totally aware that retribution will come when you attack a member of somebody else's tribe.
  • If you are territorial about your beach, don't expect widespread sympathy from the wider community. How many Cronulla surf nazis are ratepayers anyway?

    For the Bra Boys:

  • The quickest path to a Nobel Peace Prize is to be a reformed thug like Yassir Arafat playing the role of peacemaker, even if you are negotiating with a questionable mandate and haven't really achieved peace.

    For the Lebanese gangs:

  • If a country like Tonga with a population that barely runs in the six figures can still field a world class rugby team, it is probably not a good idea to antagonise their young men by burning down their community church.
  • Australia now has laws against sedition and the physical infrastructure required to deport or detain thousands of people if required. The public at large didn't give two bob to the hundred plus who died in the Siev X debacle, and there will be even fewer sympathetic if a crackdown takes place. DIMIA ain't the kind of bureaucracy that you will want to put an appeal through if they knock on your door at six in the morning to start deportation procedures against you on character grounds. With that in mind, Australian citizenship prolly ain't such a bad thing.
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