A bunch of pissed idiots in Cronulla is probably not what Winnie had in mind.
Take a step back from the Cronulla race riots of the past 48 hours, and you'll realise they're not an isolated incident. There are plenty of similarities with the Macquarie Fields riots earlier this year. And with Redfern last year. And even with the French riots in November. All of them occur in urban areas. All of them are dominated by angry young men, often under the influence of alcohol. Most importantly, all of them involve the defence of one's own turf.
The genesis of the Cronulla riots was the mistaken idea that the beach somehow belongs to one social group or another. Even though it is notionally public space, the way it had been used was as the exclusive plaything of the locals. This was our beach, and one whose territory we need to defend, or so went the logic of the traditional beachdwellers. To the locals, the presence of visitors from other suburbs - and ethnic visitors at that - is an invasion of their space.
But of course, the invasion is a myth, in that it implies that the space was not open to all in the first place, but was the domain only of a certain group. True public space has no 'insiders' and 'outsiders': it is a place for all who wish to gather there. A born-and-bred Cronulla surfie has as much claim on a beach in the Shire as a Lebonese kid from the west does. Just as both enjoy equal entitlement to the streets of Lakemba. The idea of public space is blind to ethnicity, background, age and gender. It is a fundamental misunderstanding that has fuelled the riots, in Cronulla and elsewhere.
When people gain the mistaken impression that they have a special claim on a public space, they are bound to defend it when they see it under attack. Move away from Cronulla, and look at Redfern. Again, public space, in this case the roads and railway station, had been reinterpreted by the locals as their exclusive space. Outsiders, in the form of cops, government and non-locals were seen as having a lesser claim and hence could be treated with open hostility.
We need a long term strategy to combat these suburban riots. What needs to be fundamentally challenged is the control that various groups have over particular public areas. There are suburbs in our major cities which are so dominated by gangs, sometimes but not always with an ethnic flavour, that outsiders feel uncomfortable about 'intruding' on space that as much theirs as it is the gangs who intimidate them.
The most prominent examples here are not race-based, but are gender-based. There are large swathes of our city in which women cannot comfortably walk unaccompanied. Again, these women have just as strong a claim on public space as men do, but male control of public space has become so pervasive that it allows women no choice but to stay away: forced to be outsiders in a public space.
We need to reinforce the public nature of public space, whether it's the beach at Cronulla, the streets of Cabramatta or the lane-ways of Kings Cross.