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Life's no beach in Sydney

By Salam Zreika - posted Tuesday, 13 December 2005

A week ago we heard of two volunteer lifeguards beaten up by a group of Middle Eastern “looking” men. Then this weekend I watched, along with the rest of Australia, in horror as the stomach turning events unfolded and racism reared its ugly head. The consequences of last week’s events have disgusted me to such a point that I have lost any conception of what it means to be Australian.

“The Australian way”: that’s all I seem to be hearing these days. What is it? Cronulla locals beating up on men and women of Middle Eastern appearance? Is it young men and locals smashing up police vehicles and throwing bottles at ambulances when they are trying to help and protect us? Is it young Middle Eastern men lashing out, trying to fit in to a country they call home, but where they are not given the time of day? Is it talk-back radio broadcasters inciting more hatred with their manipulating comments?

What ever it is, I have never felt so un-Australian before. I have no doubt that if I had headed down to Cronulla beach or the Sutherland shire these past few days, the way I normally do to enjoy a beautiful relaxing day with some salty fish and chips, I would have probably been attacked too.


The NSW Premier, Morris Iemma, described the events as “an ugly face of racism” and pure “thuggish hooliganism”, while community Muslim and Christian leaders hoped the racial backlash would stop, all violence would cease, and peace and order in the community would be restored.

The only person who seems in denial about all this is our very own Prime Minister John Howard who according to news sources “does not accept that there is underlying racism in this country”. Has our Prime Minister not been watching the news? Has he not heard the slants and slurs spoken by the thousands of people who want to retain a white Australia policy? Perhaps he needs to be told. “Wog free zone”, “free snags - no tabouli”, “Multiculturalism doesn’t work” and “Osama don’t surf” were only some of the racial slurs printed on people’s shirts and cars, and voiced out loud.

Whether it is young, angry, violent Lebanese men, or alcohol-fuelled, angry Cronulla locals, it makes no difference to me - they are all heading down the path of racial destruction.

This is not the first time a problem like this has arisen: Middle Eastern gangs versus the “this is our shire”, young, “true blue”, Aussie blokes. But why hasn’t the problem been addressed from the beginning? It is a clear that during these past few days the police have done a fantastic job at protecting people and bringing others to justice - but why weren’t the police regularly patrolling these beaches and preventing this violence from occurring in the first place?

I am Lebanese and I know what these young Lebanese boys are capable of and how they behave in public. For years I have travelled on public transport and gone to venues where these types of groups have been loud, rude and obnoxious and it disgusts me to think they are part of my cultural heritage. However I am not the only one who feels this way. I am truly crushed that Cronulla beach, specifically Shelly beach which is a regular family barbeque area for many cultures, will no longer be a safe environment to visit - or rather not for a while anyway.

I don’t blame locals in the Sutherland shire for being upset or angry at the behaviour of young Middle Eastern groups who behaved in a fashion which disgusts us all, like when they attacked the lifeguards - and more. But is it the “Australian way” to retaliate in their thousands and use violence, not only on innocent bystanders - including females - who simply looked Arab, but also on the police and the ambulance workers who are trying to do their jobs? Latest headlines state that a total of 30 people were injured in the French-like brawls, including 6 police officers and 2 ambulance officers.


No doubt there are some people in the Sutherland shire who simply cannot cope with sharing their beaches with people who appear to be un-Australian, based on the colour of their skin or how they dress. But let’s not forget that we too are Australian. Just because we appear different does not mean we are here to take over. In fact often when I go down to the Sutherland shire I do get odd looks at my head scarf, long skirt and Mediterranean complexion. But if you spoke to me for two minutes you will discover through my very Aussie accent that I love my county, I love the Aussie way of life at the beach. I love the footie, I love the laid back lifestyle, I’m a life Holden supporter and proud to be Australian. But, why should I need to try and explain or to justify my presence to people?

How can I get this message across when no one gives me the time of day? How can I get this message across when talk-back radio hosts speak on racial issues and incite more hatred then anyone else? It’s truly absurd. It feels like I have lost the fight before it has even begun.

We are certainly disadvantaged because some irresponsible, Middle Eastern males behave as if they own the world and further sour the already stereotypical Middle Eastern reputation that has been assigned to us.

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About the Author

Salam Zreika is a freelance journalist. She has written for a community paper called FAIR (Forum on Australian Islamic Relations). Salam graduated from the University of Western Sydney in May 2003, with a Bachelor of Communication - majoring in Journalism. She completed her cadetship with the Northern District Times.

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