[Eight years ago,] around five thousand people gathered in Cronulla on December to ‘Take Our Beaches Back’ or, as it was put less obliquely in other circulating leaflets and SMS, ‘bash wogs and lebs’. Slogans such as ‘ethnic cleansing’ and ‘Aussies fighting back’ were prominent enough, on placards, posters and scrawled on skin, given force with punch and kick. Draped in Australian flags, singing Waltzing Matilda, large parts of the crowd rampaged around the suburb beating anyone they assumed to be a ‘wog’ or a ‘Leb’, including one woman whose parents migrated from Greece and a Jewish man. Such is the populist version of racial profiling – officiated more recently by the phrase ‘of Middle Eastern appearance’ – that has become standard in Sydney and at a time of a global biowar. It might be noted here that the women who were raped in the most prominent of recent cases in Sydney would not so easily have ‘passed’ as Australian in Cronulla that day, and yet their attackers would not have been given such unprecedented sentences if they had not been identified in court and the media as a ‘Lebanese gang’ targeting ‘Australian women’. Indeed, given that migration officials have deported or interned over a hundred people whom they incorrectly assessed to be ‘illegal non-citizens’ – such as Vivian Solon, a permanent resident deported to a hospice in the Philippines from her hospital bed after being hit by a car – suggests that this moment in Cronulla was, despite all the denials, continuous with the normative inclination of public policy and the racialising demeanour of the rights-bestowing, and rights-denying, state.
As border policing became central to the conduct of elections and government policy throughout this period, the border was bound to proliferate across social relations and spaces, and in circumstances both casual and administered. This is why the worst of the attacks occurred in the train station. That train takes people from Sydney’s Central railway station to the nearest beach and, given the composition of Sydney as a whole, this includes people from the suburb of Lakemba, which has a high proportion of migrants from the Middle East. Cronulla, for its part, is notable for being the most Anglo-Celtic of suburbs in Australia. The Prime Minister once described the area as ‘a part of Sydney which has always represented to me what middle Australia is all about.’ Responding to the events at Cronulla, he would quickly deny that it was racism at work, adding: ‘I do not believe Australians are racist,’ and going on to propose that those who did believe such a thing lacked a cheerful disposition.
Over the subsequent three nights, there were retaliations. Hundreds of cars were smashed, people beaten and shops destroyed, as Cronulla and surrounding beachside suburbs were made unsafe for those whose belonging there had never before been threatened. One of the calls to retaliate declared:
"Our parents came to this country and worked hard for their families. We helped build this country and now these racists want us out. […] Time to show these people stuck in the 1950’s that times have changed. WE are the new Australia. They are just the white thieves who took land from the Aboriginals and their time is up."
In the midst of this, the NSW Police Commissioner remarked that the Cronulla rally to ‘Take Our Beaches Back’ was a ‘legitimate protest’. It was, according to him, born of a ‘frustration’ with the failure of the police and the state to do their job, which is to say, to ensure the Australian border remained secure within Sydney. The Prime Minister insisted that the problem of ‘ethnic gangs’ – which he unequivocally denied those at Cronulla might be regarded as – should be left to ‘policy’, ie, the state. On the third day of rioting, the NSW Premier announced emergency laws to give police, among other measures, the power to ‘lockdown’ those beachside suburbs under threat. This was, he declared, a ‘war’ and the state would ‘not be found wanting in the use of force’. And so the task of the Cronulla pogrom was more smoothly accomplished by the police acting as border guards, refusing entry to the beaches to those who could not prove that they belonged there. [more]
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