"We shall fight them on the beaches..."

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.

Comments

NahumAyliffe said…
I agree in part Ari.

Suburban rioting can be explained in part by the ownership of public space. With respect, simplifying the argument to one explained simply by the nature of public space is a trite response. It cuts a little deeper than you suggest.

Sydney is a fragmented city. I was born there, and for the 12 years that I lived there the bulk of my travels was within a 10km radius of Crows Nest, where we lived. We didn't regularly travel to the outskirts of Liverpool, Blacktown, or even Pennant Hills and Avalon. And when we did, it took an eternity. The roads were logjammed and the public transport system was inadequate at best.

In Melbourne, you can drive from Thomastown to Greensborough to Rowville and down to Hoppers Crossing in under two hours. Transport by road is effortless, and our public transport system is reasonable, though not up to standard.

Racial tension has been brewing in Sydney because of the segregation. And Cronulla is the nexus of connection for these vast groups. Inhabited by mainly white Anglo Saxons, Cronulla is guest to many other cultures who take the train to its beaches. In a city without the connection of community, the interaction of groups who fear each other leads to misunderstanding and distrust.

It is elevated by a lack of a national narrative which speaks of inclusivity, and the failure of individuals to confront stereotypes with the relativity of the experience of relationship.

Put simply, our successive governments have failed to speak in a language which promotes inclusivity, and the benefits thereof. (Not unlike Paris) And as individuals we have failed to seek real life counterarguments to the stereotypes (leb, skip, wog, nip, etc) that exist in our society.

The consequence is a tenuous rationale for the violent rites of medieval masculinity which lie well beneath the civilized surfaces of our society.

And let's face it. Tampa didn't help either.
Anonymous said…
Sorry, Nahum, but you are probably more simplistic that Ari.

There was no Tampa in Paris, or in Watts or Brixton many years before. The riots in Geraldton (WA) were years before Tampa. "Successive governments having failed to speak in a language which promotes inclusivity" - which is patently untrue - has nothing to do with anything. If by that you mean that Multiculturalism is a complete failure, then you are probably right.

These sorts of riots occur all over the world. They are not caused solely by Governments, or by a majority oppressing a minority. They occur for very complex reasons. Perceived discimination is certainly one of them, but jealousy and resentment play a large part as well. And alcohol is always present.

But violence and antisocial behaviour should always be recognised, abhorred and not tolerated. Unfortunately, the lines between legitimate protest and ugly provocative confrontation and vandalism have been blurred by left inclined media and intellectuals. The actions of the highly mobile anti-globalisation "protestors" are a pretty good case in point, as is (some) students' attempted justification of the vandalisation of the offices of democratically elected Senators.

I would add that the demonisation of the Prime Minister, and the scurrilous attacks on the character of nearly every member of the Government, encourages disrespect for the democratic process and creates an atmosphere in which mobs can (and now obviously do) thrive.

Unfortunately, any Australian with an "ethnic" background will confirm that racism is (and always has been) alive and well in Australia - in spite of (and not because of) Government efforts to eradicate it. The hatred directed towards the US and Israel by the Left is just the other side of the same coin.

Q_

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