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Cronulla (Part 2)

The following eyewitness account of Sunday's events appeared in Monday's subscriber email edition of Crikey. As at Tuesday morning it has not appeared on their website, and I have not seen it posted anywhere else. I take the statement in its opening paragraph as implicit permission to republish here. The author is Cronulla resident Benjamin Amy:

I've just returned home after spending six hours watching the disgusting afternoon unfold at Cronulla beach. I'm sending this to anyone that'll read it.

I'd seen media reports in the lead up to today's "showdown," and never believed it was actually going to happen. In particular I noticed on page three of Saturday's Herald "A lesson in beach etiquette, Shire-style" which featured a guy named Shaun – pictured with his Aussie flag singlet, tattoos all over him and holding a long-neck of beer in a paper bag.

Shaun dislikes visitors he says are rude. "They look down on our women," he says. I'd never seen anyone like that at Cronulla beach and thought the paper had exaggerated the facts about how locals felt and what they were planning to do. I was wrong. Cronulla today was filled with loud, pis*ed, Shaun doppelgangers, all of them looking for a fight.

When I arrived at Cronulla at about midday the crowd was fairly calm, rowdy and yobbo-ish, though not violent. The drinking had already started, there were BBQs being cooked in the back of utes, John Williamson music was blaring from car stereos and the "Wall" at North Cronulla was a sea of Australian flags, Eureka Stockade flags and boxing kangaroos. Political correctness had already been thrown aside, with some of the guys there screaming "f*ck off Lebs" (there wasn't a 'Leb' to be seen) and "reclaim the shire," and with comments like "we grew here, you flew here" and "Save Nulla, F*ck Allah" painted on their chests.

What was most unbelievable, even more so than the overt racism, was the number of people there... There were thousands and thousands of people. It was like the harbour foreshore on New Year's Eve or Australia Day. Roads had been closed and the empty space created was filled thick with people. It wasn't just twenty-something males there, there were groups of girls and women, packs of teenagers, entire families (I just cannot understand anyone taking their kids to participate in something like this), bikies, neo-nazis and surfers.

I saw a group of three well-dressed 40-ish women drinking Breezers standing atop a retaining wall chanting at the police. I saw a group of four teenage girls (typical tanned 'Northies' Shire-girls – long hair, short skirts and massive sunglasses) being interviewed by ABC radio with 'Multiculturalism Doesn't Work' stickers on their backs. I saw a fifty-year-old man wearing an 'Osama Don't Surf' t-shirt. I've never seen that many people in Cronulla before.

About ten minutes after I got there I called a mate of mine to come down and see what was actually happening before me – I seemed to be the only person who was horrified about what was occurring. While I was on the phone I saw a young Middle Eastern Australian kid walk through the carpark, about ten metres away from me. I'd seen this kid on the news earlier this week defending his right to swim at his local beach.

It wasn't long before he was being screamed at ("Leb c*nt", "Get off our beach" etc) and surrounded by a group of flag draped p*ssed idiots. The kid screamed back, fairly insistent on getting to the beach, for all of about ten seconds before he was hit by one of them and had to turn and run across the park toward Northies.

The crowd of people up the slope to the Wall had noticed what was happening and all of a sudden it was on. The mob chased this kid into Northies, straight through the traffic which was brought to a sudden standstill with the now thousands of people surrounding the entry to Northies. Imagine a group of thousands of people, and I really do mean thousands of people, all chasing one kid into a pub and then standing outside screaming the most hateful and violent trash talk, throwing bottles, jumping on cars containing children that were stuck in the crowd.

The kid they were after was about 17 and would weigh in at a huge 60kg. I could not believe my eyes that a lynching like this could happen anywhere, let alone Cronulla beach.

This was a group of people that were thinking and moving as one, a true "mob." Reason disappeared and the violently racist slurs and the bizarre form of patriotism got worse. Waltzing Matilda was being screamed like a war cry into the faces of police and Northies security guards. The crowd was still on the street, stretching across the the Wall, but would move up the Kingsway or down Eleoura Rd a bit if they thought there was a Leb to get.

We saw a group of three "wogs," two girls and a guy, all early twenties, walking along the lower walkway of the Wall. The fact they'd managed to get that far surprised me, but they didn't catch the attention of the mob until they got very near the end of the Wall, about 20 metres from where the path met the crowd. The abuse started, and then the crowd started to move toward them. Thankfully there were a group of police close by who were able to get them out safely, but it didn't stop the crowd following them out, screaming in an absolute frenzy.

This was a crowd where almost every member was involved – there were hardly any onlookers like my mates and myself, everyone was into it. I watched the ABC news tonight and the reporter was asked whether locals were approving of what had happened – he said the ones that were there were, though local talkback callers through the day were appalled, he said.

It wasn't too long before a rumour started spreading that a train full of Lebs was on its way to Cronulla (it was like an insane game of Chinese Whispers, there were stories going through the crowd that Tom Ugly's and Captain Cook Bridge had been closed, that the Bra Boys had arrived and that the kiosk at North Cronulla was under siege because it was owned by Wogs), so everyone was off to the station, via Cronulla Mall.

I can only imagine what it would have been like as a bystander in the Mall with these idiots running through. By the time we got there, teenagers were on the ground with pepper spray in their eyes, there were Nazis up trees unfurling flags, more bottles being smashed and not a train full of Lebs to be seen. Riot cops ended up pushing them all back until they were forced to return to North Cronulla.

The irony of the situation didn't seem to be sinking into anyone's head either. This all started last weekend when two lifeguards were bashed by a Lebanese group of guys who apparently are aggressive, rude and disrespect our women. Talkback radio has been filled all week with locals calling in and saying so. I agreed with a lot of it, I'd seen these guys before and I'd been intimidated by them. But what I saw today was far scarier than the Leb guys could ever be. Behaviour far more more aggressive than any ethnic I've ever seen. Rudeness?

Apparently Nando's had to be closed by police because two ethnic guys were eating their lunch at a table inside when part of the mob arrived to scream at them for doing so. Over the road at Macca's there were drunk guys on the corner screaming the foulest of language down the mall. These are guys and girls preventing ambulances from leaving.

This is a group of people happy to smash glass bottles in their own beach sand! I saw a group of guys trying to get their footy out of one of the Norfolk Pines by throwing beer bottles at it. As for "respecting our women"... where's the respect in surrounding a teenage girl (Anglo and alone) and harassing her from one end of the Wall to the other?

And I just got this off the Herald's coverage: "He could not comment on a report that a girl of Middle Eastern appearance had been pushed over and was kicked repeatedly as she lay on the ground." What the hell?!? The behaviour today by the locals involved and all those with them was far worse than any previous incident at Cronulla caused by a so-called ethnic outsider visiting the area.

There were clearly a lot of non-locals involved. I think that once the text message story got into the media it became a city-wide talking point and made the numbers present today worse, attracting people who were either just racist or just wanted a brawl. The sight of surfers and Romper-Stomper-like neo-Nazis running together towards the next hopeful brawl is not one I'll quickly forget.

But many locals were involved, and for the most part loving every minute of it. There were plenty of units and apartments decked out in Aussie flags with parties overflowing into the streets, proud to be a part of what was just a disgusting day. How so many people could be getting pleasure from this was just impossible to comprehend. It was part machismo bullsh*t and part mob-mentality but it was mainly just ugly racism. It no longer had anything at all to do with two lifeguards getting beaten up last weekend, it was all just hatred towards a group of people who weren't even there.

The sight of the Australian flag being over-used like it was today was embarrassing. Watching that crowd of thousands chase a single 17-year-old was sickening. And to watch watch so many people think that what they were doing was a good idea was just staggering.

It was the most shameful thing I've ever seen, no matter what happens next.

A couple of footnotes to Amy's article: the "Bra Boys" are a gang from the beach area of Maroubra - Bra being a contraction of the name of the suburb. "Romper Stomper" is the 1992 film starring Russell Crowe as the leader of a gang of neo-Nazi skinheads in Australian suburbia.

As I watch footage of Sunday's riot on the Russian news on SBS, Part 3 of my series of posts will contain some links (permanent I hope) to news footage and audio reportage of the events of the past week.