Some thoughts on Once Upon a Time in Punchbowl

Last night was episode 2 of this series on SBS, with more to come. The path to its being shown was somewhat rough, as the Daily Telegraph somewhat joyfully but basically truly relates.


Last night dealt with the 1990s to early 2000s, a time when in the eyes of many Leb, South-Western Sydney and crime were becoming virtually synonymous. Post Gulf War 1, but especially post-9/11 and post-Bali, you could add Muslim to that terrifying soup of Others that haunted the media and our lives.

And there were indeed some nasty types and nasty deeds out there. One element last night’s episode didn’t mention was gay-bashing; an HIV+ friend of mine was set upon by the usual “persons of Middle Eastern appearance” in Surry Hills one night.

Last night’s episode did deal quite extensively with Telopea Street and the murder of 14-year-old Edward Lee. In the post Well! Not all NSW high schools are tragic dumps and wastes of space… about Punchbowl Boys High and the wonderful Jihad Dib I mention that I knew Edward Lee – not all that well as he had already parted company with Sydney High at the time of his death, but I did talk extensively with one of his Korean-Australian contemporaries at the time and formed the impression that the story usually told, as it was last night, may be airbrushed a bit. But of course I have no real way of knowing. What I do know is that the whole (I think) toxic pop culture/media glorification of American “thug life”/Tupac/guns/drugs  etc has a lot to answer for. The appeal to those who feel marginalised or alienated is obvious, but it hasn’t only been young Lebanese affected. So were a reasonable number of young Korean-Australians a few years back, and more recently I have seen it in drug-fucked and/or unemployed young people of Anglo and other extraction here in Wollongong.

I have long respected the work of  Andrew Jakubowicz:

Andrew Jakubowicz was consultant sociologist and wrote the “multicultural narrative” on Once Upon a Time in Punchbowl produced by Northern Pictures for SBS, in which he also appears. He has received funding from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship for academic and policy research on Muslim youth. His research work with Lebanese communities goes back to his honours government thesis on Redfern in 1969, when he first met Dr Marie Bashir, a community psychiatrist. He is especially grateful to academic colleagues whose work over many years has produced such a rich reservoir of empirical information about how the challenges of multiculturalism and the Lebanese have been intertwined, and to his many Lebanese informants from across the board who have shared openly their fears and hopes and insights.

See his Once Upon a Time in Punchbowl rescues Lebanese honour from shame and its comment thread. See also the program website.

Next week’s episode covers from 9/11 through the Cronulla Riots. I live blogged my response to the latter:

Here are twenty-five sometimes passionate posts written during the Cronulla affair of December 2005. I see this period as something of a watershed for Australian multiculturalism. There will be some links that are no longer viable after two years. See also Four Corners: Riot and Revenge (March 2006).

A sample:

10. The Mine and the Islamists 2005-12-12 1:26:00 pm

Since I am at work today, I dropped in at lunchtime on the Islamic Students’ Society. They have had the occasional bit of controversy around them, as you may see above. I was interested to see what they, as intelligent teenage Muslim boys, felt about Cronulla and all that.

The gangs like the one(s) that have been causing trouble for years in Cronulla they utterly reject. “Leb arseholes.” (They mean of course those indulging in antisocial behaviour in groups in public. None of these young Muslims I spoke to today could be accused of bad manners, inconsideration, insensitivity, racism or sexism. But then they are confident, intelligent, and genuinely religious.) “Some of them are really bad people.” (That from a boy who knows the Lakemba/Campsie/Punchbowl area well.) As much to do with Islam as the Hells’ Angels are to do with Christianity. Definitely not practitioners of Islam. “They worry us as much as they worry you.”

The boys have heard around the traps that more bad things are going to happen…

I told them the Uniting Church in Redfern had prayed yesterday for tolerance and understanding between Muslims and other Australians. They told me the same had happened in their mosques. Let us all get behind those prayers. And reach out in friendship and respect.

They forgave me for growing up in Cronulla 😉

But of course there is this as well:

Lebanese to die for

Posted on June 6, 2010 by Neil

Sunday lunch today was at chef’s hat awarded Al Aseel, just across Elizabeth Street from where I live. Sirdan, P and I had more than we could possibly eat, having chosen a banquet in order to sample the wares.

s320x240 s320x240 (1)

Yep, I lived in Little Lebanon in Surry Hills for around 20 years and survived!

I see a range of past posts of mine that I have been browsing since last night’s program. For example: Iran, Hilaly, The Heathlander, and trying to keep some perspective…; Akerman crosses the line…; Great player, example, Australian… and Muslim; A multicultural Surry Hills morning. From the latter, first posted eight years ago:

This is my Boxing Day Australia. I am rather proud of it. Let’s not let politics, undue concern for or against so-called “political correctness”, fear of terrorism, or any other distraction, spoil this Australia. Rejoice in it and embrace it. Looking at the faces in the choir at that Aussie Irish Christmas was instructive in itself. Back to Rumi:

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,

there is a field.

I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,

the world is too full to talk about.

Ideas, language, even the phrase each other

doesn’t make any sense.


2 thoughts on “Some thoughts on Once Upon a Time in Punchbowl

  1. There are a couple of points missing in all this Punchbowl stuff.
    1, Nobody has addressed the root cause.
    2. Nobody has said ‘Sorry’

  2. I think you could deduce from what I have already said, Henry, that I am deeply suspicious about what you might mean by “root cause” and were it to be articulated I would very likely reject that line of thinking based on my experience, Sorry if I am wrong. Second, who on earth needs to say “Sorry”? Maybe we all should just move on. Episode 4 — and especially the admirable Jihad Dib — pretty much represents the path we need to follow.

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