The 10th anniversary of the Cronulla riots is on December 11th and still to this day I'm often asked why I think the riots occurred. Truth be told, I've often recited the passage below. This was actually the original prelude of the novel, Sons of The Shire, but I cut it. Why? I did so because I felt it took away from the reader discovering their own sense of 'why'. It gave my answer to the question and it did it in the first ten-pages...so why read the rest?
While many of you have read the book, I thought I’d put this up on the blog. I'm glad I didn't use it - but I also think it warrants a read, because The Shire and the riots are enigmatic – they are not as ‘simple’ as the media and popular opinion have represented.
A Brief History of The Sutherland Shire
In 1992, Cronulla was the last beach you’d think of. And even though it was the only beach with a train line in Sydney, only desperadoes would use it. The beach was for locals only. And when I say locals, I’m talking about those in The Shire. Outsiders weren’t welcome. Not then and not now.
The insular peninsular.
White Australia policy livin’ and breathin’.
All the titles are true. My mate, Richie, once said Captain Cook got off the boat in The Shire and basically stayed on. While history proves otherwise, figuratively, Richie was right.
And why was Cronulla different? When people in the city wanted to swim they’d go to Bondi or Coogee. The rich folk on the north side of the Harbour Bridge had Manly, Fresh Water and a whole host of other beaches. They were perfect for the average summer swimmer — they were tourist spots. The water was clean and the area had coffee shops, markets and ice-cream parlours for the kiddies. Cronulla, on the other hand, had the oil refinery, depleted sand dunes, ‘locals only’ graffiti and the ocean sewerage outlet. ’Big Brown’ was the real drawcard. It pumped in sludge from the arses of every suburb in Sydney and conveniently dumped it off the Kurnell coast.
The shit and picturesque landscape of Cronulla drew in a ‘particular’ type of person and they developed a ‘particular’ type of attitude and it sound like: “Hey, you know this place is fairly shitty, but it’s ours. It belongs to us and only us, so fuck off.”
This is what I call — Shire mentality.
And with this mentality came a healthy mix of Australia’s best white folk. You had your blue-collar workers who took the Kurnell Road out to the Caltex Refinery. You had Botany waterfront unionists and Qantas employees who dared to cross a bridge and stretch the umbilical cord to its limit. You had your tradies of all types: builders, plumbers, sparkies, and chippies.
Then you had your middle class, family people. Two to four kids, one to two cars, dad in the city, mum behind a desk two-days a week. Cops, nurses, teachers. Underpaid professionals. The type who had just enough to score them a three-bedder somewhere close to the water, and some lucky enough to payoff a holiday house down the South Coast.
You also had your rich types, too. Those that populated Woolooware Road or Gunnamatta Bay or Lilli Pilli. Doctors on their second marriage, who were also ploughing their hot sexatary on days they were meant to be golfing. Dentists, accountants, bankers, and lawyers. Their mansions littered the waterfronts. They also had their other perks – the boat, the expensive car, the Lacoste polo shirt and stupid fucking boat shoes. While they were rich, they were not to be confused with those who populated the northern suburbs of Sydney. North Shore rich was a different league. Back in the day, the wealth of The Shire was incomparable to city wealth. But not now. In Sydney — rich is rich.
The final group is a class long gone from The Shire of today: The scum. The scum of Cronulla varied from vagrants, to drunks, to druggies, to my personal favourite — The bum surfer. The guy that literally surfed all day long. The guy who lived on the dole with seven of his mates along The Wall at North Cronulla. The guy who surfed, partied, drank, smoked dope and had lots of sex. They were rock stars, but without the money to support their lifestyle. And the best part was — they did it everyday. After all, there’s no such thing as a Monday morning for a dole-bludger.
And slowly the scum disappeared, along with the workers, and even the middle class. It was like a magician wished them away in a carnival trick gone wrong. And with them left the colour and the honest vibrancy. They were replaced by young power couples that could choose between a Lexus or a BMW. They were replaced by wealthy singles who never seem to work; you can find them all day long at gyms, juice bars and coffee shops.
Dreadlocked stoners were replaced by wealthy families, whose six-year olds have Facebook and send tweets on their iPhones. Replaced by tanned ‘yummy mummies’ that wear toddlers as accessories while they train at gyms and drink skinny lattes while discussing Sex and the City.
Replaced by money.
Money changed it. Some would whisper it ruined it.
Back when The Shire was first populated in the 1950s, and ’60s, mostly everyone was white. Of course you did have Italians and Greeks. Wogs, as they were called and often called themselves. They ran The Shire’s fruit markets or poured concrete. They settled into the white world nicely. And because they earned money and were jovial, we accepted them.
There were a smaller contingent of Asians, usually wealthy, that kept to themselves. The only Asians I ever saw when I was a kid was either the random one in school or those working in The Shire’s numerous Chinese restaurants.
Indeed, The Shire was a very white place and in 1992 I didn’t really know what a Muslim was. I’d heard of ‘Lebs’, the shortened version of Lebanese, but I didn’t know any. I’d only seen them get off the train and head to the beach or to Gunnamatta Park for a swim. It was perfectly acceptable to be openly racist or so it seemed. I watched guys I surfed with tell groups of people getting off the train to, “fuck off back to where they came from,” and they didn’t mean Hurstville.
The Shire was different to many of the places in Sydney. It was surrounded by ocean or National Park, and when I was growing up, you got the sense that you were isolated or cut-off from the rest of the world. Those in The Shire didn’t like outsiders because they didn’t understand them, nor did they care to. But I wasn’t an outsider, I was on the inside. James Patrick Flanagan, or Paddy as I was called by most. I was a good little Aussie surfer boy. There were thousands of me in The Shire and we all looked alike. Long blonde hair, tanned, often wearing no shirt, double pluggers, quick dries and sunnies in the summer. Flannelette shirt, Converse shoes, jeans and a cap or beanie in the winter. If you didn’t have a skateboard under your arm or a surfboard under your feet, you were an oxygen thief.
I had never questioned where I was from, or where it would take me. I loved my home, knew it well and she loved me.
I would sit on the rocks at The Alley before a surf and look out at the fire that spewed from the highest turret of the Kurnell Oil Refinery. Would I be there one day? Working the night shift. Knocking off at dawn, surfing, going home to my flat at Elouera. Beer at Northies in the arvo, then do it all again. Would that be me? Destiny is a fool’s hope. The world had other plans for me, but I didn’t know it then. I only knew surfing. It was all that really mattered. That was until 1992. Everything changed the day my path crossed with Dylan King ‘Neptune’. The surf would turn blood red and set in motion the wheels of the Cronulla Riots.