Reclaiming Cronulla’s lessons

I was born and bred in The Shire. My skin cancers bear witness to time spent on Cronulla’s beaches. My first teaching appointment was Cronulla High School. It was while teaching there in the second half of the 1960s that I first encountered and embraced the idea of pluralism, which in varying iterations has stayed with me ever since as an idea that has the advantage of corresponding with how the world actually is. No surprise then that in later years as my experience widened I embraced the Australian multiculturalism that evolved particularly in the Whitlam and Fraser years. If you want to “reclaim” something, then reclaim that.

Australia does not need reclaiming. It does not need a “Freedom Party”. At this point it certainly could do without inflammatory self-appointed “patriots” attempting to get attention through the tenth anniversary of Cronulla’s saddest days. I agree totally with today’s Herald editorial.

For all the Cronulla community’s efforts to welcome all Australians to the beach lifestyle, the riots and ensuing race-based generalisations made many young men and women feel they did not belong to Australia and that Australia did not belong to them. Preventing the alienation of Australians of Middle Eastern background remains the key to fighting home-grown terrorism – and the Cronulla riots are an ugly reminder of what not to do to promote inclusion.

This weekend some Australians will again seek to reclaim our nation as a monocultural throwback under the banner of “Aussie pride”. They will laud the Cronulla riots as a glorious rebellion. Such an inflammatory world view must be countered. The Cronulla riots involved criminal activity fuelled by ineffective parenting, panic merchants, teenage testosterone, alcohol abuse and, yes, racism among a small minority of Australians of both Anglo-Celtic and Middle Eastern background.

At the time I wrote daily. now gathered as:

Cronulla 05

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).

For example:

The word “bogan” does come to mind. A mob is a mob is a mob — whether it’s 5,000 self-styled “Aussies” or 30 to 50 Aussie “Lebs”. And racism, whatever the provocation, really really sucks big time. That includes the racist talk and actions of the young hoons who bring their families, culture and religion into disrepute by, for example, inexcusably attacking lifesavers, as well as the intellectually challenged senders of seditious (yes, they are) emails and text messages that encourage scenes like that on the left.

Seems, doesn’t it, that attacking ambulance officers is OK — as long as you are a tanked-up Aussie, of course.


Look at those raised arms and imagine swastika flags… Yes, the Aussies really worried me that day, and I am sure my father would have seen the imagery with considerable disquiet. He would also recall the New Guard of the 1930s, for whom he had no respect whatsoever. This is not patriotism: this is mindless jingoism and tribalism. Nor is it what the bulk of Cronulla-ites had in mind when that day began. Unfortunately, neo-Nazis and sheer bogans from as far away as Penrith and Campbelltown (not a rumour — I have read their blogs) joined in the general anarchy. I have no more time for them than I have for the hoons who have been wrecking enjoyment at the beach, some of whom attacked those lifesavers. But that’s OK, isn’t it: “our” bogans attack ambos and attempt to kill innocent bystanders, no questions asked…

The problem with the entry below** is the quote is ironic. I wouldn’t have touched most of this crowd with a barge-pole personally, and THAT is a patriotic point of view in my opinion. I am the citizen of a country that is a bit more grown-up than the one some of these people seem to want.

** #9 below.

6. :: View topic – Another brawl at Cronulla 2005-12-11 4:59:00 pm

Not everyone on this thread is a bogan, I am happy to report — but you’ll find the bad and the ugly there as well. Interesting though. Here is one thoughtful sample:

I don’t condone any of this violent crap, f*cking immature antisocial self-propagating bullsh*t. At the individual/gang level it’s a bottom-up approach that will only add fuel to the fire.

However, a comprehensive top-down approach with the police cracking heads on both sides to keep peace may be the only fight-fire-with-fire short term approach. Medium to long term needs some education begetting tolerance. Some of the more disappointing posts on race related topics on this forum demonstrates a need for this approach. Though any ideas that will work better I’m open to.

Here in Surry Hills’s “Little Lebanon” all is quiet. Except for the traffic. There are Lebs and Lebs of course. Our state Governor, Marie Bashir is a Leb — or an Aussie. Depends how you look at it.

Worth noting that in the Shire local government elections in 2008 the candidates who pushed the anti-immigration barrow did very badly: see my post NSW Local Government Election 2008 / Sutherland / Election of Councillors to the Sutherland Shire Council D Ward.

By 1958 the western part of The Shire had already experienced becoming a home for what quite recently, at that time, were seen as “undesirables” from the Mediterranean — my grandmother was quite vocal on that — not to mention many families from the “slums” of Surry Hills and Glebe — our neighbours in Vermont Street and nearby streets.

And The Shire survived.

Darrin has a right to his views, and to stand for election. What annoys me is that the Herald is palming off what I would regard as a local nutter as if he represented what The Shire is all about in 2008. He doesn’t, and I dare say the election results will reflect that.

This is not to say that The Shire does not have environmental, development and population concerns. I am sure it does, and some of those I would no doubt share if I still lived there. It’s one of the few places in Australia with a nuclear issue in their back yards, for example — the Lucas Heights reactor.

Also worth noting that those hoping to cash in on the current Islam=terror meme at Cronulla tomorrow are not from the Shire. They are blow-ins that The Shire doesn’t want.


Wollongong people going about their daily lives

It is well worth reading Waleed Aly today. I know enough Eastern and Western history to know that what he says is true.

Sorry, but I just can’t quite get over the irony. Unless I have this completely mistaken, Tony Abbott just called for both a Reformation and a revolution “within Islam”. This is, of course, perhaps the most well-worn and ill-informed cliche of Western discourse on Islam – the kind of thing people like to say when they want to sound serious but know almost exactly nothing about Islam, Muslim societies, or indeed the Reformation.

But it takes on a special instructive quality coming from Abbott: a self-described conservative Catholic. If that description has an antonym, it’s something like a revolutionary Protestant: pro-Reformation, pro-revolution. And yet here is our former prime minister, arguing against his very self.

Unless, of course, he isn’t because when it comes to Islam, all the normal rules are suspended. Including, it seems, whatever rules require that the words we use are meant to have meaning. So much could be said here. Of how Islam’s own version of the Reformation already occurred in the 18th century. Of how this episode gave birth to Wahhabism, with its disdain for traditional religion and its austere scripturalism. Of how that finally became expressed in the nation state of Saudi Arabia. Of how it combined with the anti-colonial movement of Islamism – self-consciously a reform movement, by the way – to create (eventually) al-Qaeda and through it Islamic State…

See also Karen Armstrong in The New Statesman.

There are so many issues to explore, and we must do so. But not in one post! Back in 2005 I was much encouraged by Amin Maalouf’s little book On Identity, aka In the Name of Identity. Surely it remains essential reading today.

“For it is often the way we look at other people that imprisons them within their own narrowest allegiances. And it is also the way we look at them that may set them free.”
Amin Maalouf, In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong

See this 2015 post by Maria Popova:

Maalouf considers the crucible of our identity:

What determines a person’s affiliation to a given group is essentially the influence of others: the influence of those about him — relatives, fellow-countrymen, co-religionists — who try to make him one of them; together with the influence of those on the other side, who do their best to exclude him. Each one of us has to make his way while choosing between the paths that are urged upon him and those that are forbidden or strewn with obstacles. He is not himself from the outset; nor does he just “grow aware” of what he is; he becomes what he is. He doesn’t merely “grow aware” of his identity; he acquires it step by step.


But it is just as necessary to emphasize that identity is also singular, something that we experience as a complete whole. A person’s identity is not an assemblage of separate affiliations, nor a kind of loose patchwork; it is like a pattern drawn on a tightly stretched parchment. Touch just one part of it, just one allegiance, and the whole person will react, the whole drum will sound.

Only by understanding the complexities of identity can we begin to understand what transforms this drum from a celebratory beat of belonging into a menacing rhythm that powers militant marches of violence. Echoing Margaret Mead’s assertion that “we’ve started to worry about identity since people began losing it,”  Maalouf writes:

People often see themselves in terms of whichever one of their allegiances is most under attack. And sometimes, when a person doesn’t have the strength to defend that allegiance, he hides it. Then it remains buried deep down in the dark, awaiting its revenge. But whether he accepts or conceals it, proclaims it discreetly or flaunts it, it is with that allegiance that the person concerned identifies. And then, whether it relates to color, religion, language or class, it invades the person’s whole identity. Other people who share the same allegiance sympathize; they all gather together, join forces, encourage one another, challenge “the other side.” For them, “asserting their identity” inevitably becomes an act of courage, of liberation.

In the midst of any community that has been wounded agitators naturally arise… The scene is now set and the war can begin. Whatever happens “the others” will have deserved it.


What we conveniently call “murderous folly” is the propensity of our fellow-creatures to turn into butchers when they suspect that their “tribe” is being threatened. The emotions of fear or insecurity don’t always obey rational considerations. They may be exaggerated or even paranoid; but once a whole population is afraid, we are dealing with the reality of the fear rather than the reality of the threat.

Such complex problems, Maalouf is careful to point out, merit only befittingly nuanced solutions:

I no more believe in simplistic solutions than I do in simplistic identities. The world is a complex machine that can’t be dismantled with a screwdriver. But that shouldn’t prevent us from observing, from trying to understand, from discussing, and sometimes suggesting a subject for reflection.

That’s precisely what Maalouf goes on to do in the remainder of the wholly excellent, urgently relevant In the Name of Identity.

On the Australia that does need reasserting see my 2011 series Australia Day: Being Australian.


The New South Wales Supreme Court has banned a far-right group from holding a rally in Sydney to mark the 10th anniversary of the Cronulla riots.


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