Significant anniversaries tend to be observed in multiples of five, which made 2015’s ten years since the Cronulla Riot the occasion for hand-wring and self-laceration — not to mention requiring every talking head capable of uttering the phrase “wonderful multiculturalism” to go before the cameras and lament the dinky-di Australian racism which manifested itself in an eruption of flag-draped yobbism. One doesn’t like to spoil another’s fun, so Quadrant Online let last year’s guilt-ridden sook-a-thon pass without comment.
This year, though, another side to the riot from someone who saw firsthand why tempers flared. It’s not the authorised version you might hear from Race Commissioner Tim Mouthfulofvowels, but today – exactly eleven years since that clash by the seawall – a Quadrant reader who lived in Cronulla at the time recalls how it became increasingly difficult to be tolerant of the intolerant. She writes:
What was it like living in Cronulla leading up to and after the Cronulla riots?
A trip to the local park was certainly very interesting. Our local reserve was Shelly Park, where Cronulla’s accommodating and welcoming nature was always on display. Large Middle Eastern families picnicking — the delicious smell of Middle Eastern meats on the barbecue remains with me even now, long after I moved house. Groups of men sitting around their hookahs and shooting the breeze, their children and grandchildren romping on the swings, slides and jungle gym.
A girlfriend and I decided to take our sons to play in Shelly Park one weekend. Our boys, both 10-year-olds at the time, headed over to the play equipment, only to immediately return upset that they had been told by the Middle Eastern kids on the play equipment to “f**k off, this is our park”.
What did we do? We did what the locals had done for years. We accepted the bullying, packed up our kids and left.
Another day we wanted to swim in the ocean pool at Shelly Park, only to be greeted by a row of Middle Eastern men linked arm-in-arm across the full width of the pool and blocking all comers from entering the water. When we asked if we could get through so we could swim we were told, “No, our women are swimming”.
What did we do? We did what the locals had done for years. We accepted the bullying of these arrogant men, just as we had accepted the bullying of their children. Like father, like son. Should we have summoned the police? Would they have done anything if we had called them?
Why, out of all the many families of so many different ethnicities that flocked to Cronulla on weekends, was there only one group that showed no respect, no flexibility, which staked sole claim to what had been, up until then, available to all?
On the day of the riots I was having breakfast with friends in Cronulla mall. There were a lot of people congregating, utes cruising the streets with large Australian flags flapping out the back. Drivers of the said utes appeared to be the type that wouldn’t be able to complete a sentence without using “youse”. They weren’t locals. All the locals I know decided to head back to the safety of their homes. Not long after, the sounds of helicopters hovering above our suburb filled the air.
And, of course, after that afternoon of pushing and shoving, there came the reprisals, as convoys of Middle Eastern men and youths poured out of the Western suburbs to teach the rest of Sydney a lesson. We still hear a lot about the riot itself, much less about the far more appalling attcks on innocent citizens that followed.
I even experienced a backlash at work. My crime? Being a resident of Cronulla. The social justice warrior set — those apologists for arrogance — took it upon themselves to judge me because I was a resident of Cronulla and, therefore, must be one of the “youse” mob.
On last year’s 10th anniversary of the riots, Race Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane said 57% of Muslims had experienced racism. I’d like to survey those living in Cronulla before and after the riots to see what percentage were subject to, as was I, blatant and exclusionary racism at the hands of those we welcomed without judgment to our beautiful suburb.
In retrospect, at this distance of years, perhaps we should have been just a bit more judgmental.