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What did the Cronulla riot of December 2005 and its aftermath reveal about Australian society

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Australia is renowned for being a land of multiculturalism, a country rich in culture and diversity, and accepting of the belief systems of their citizen, however the events of the 11th of December 2005 when a crowd of roughly 5000 Anglo Australian took to the beaches of cronulla attacking anyone of “Middle Eastern” appearance, as response to an incident the previous weekend in which two lifesavers were injured after a confrontation with a group of Lebanese men.

What followed for several days were retaliation attacks by Middle Eastern groups, and constant fighting and bantering by both sides with young Australians travelling into the shire from other areas of Sydney to participate in the both sides riots. 2 Through the cronulla riots and its aftermath, we see aspects of Australian Society questioned and ridiculed through media not only nationally but also on the international stage.

Key to the organization of the riots and also the retaliation attacks were forms of media in which organizations of rioters and also communication between rioters was made. The use of text messages by the rioters was seen as the most practical form of communication between members of the mass conflict. Text messages varied with a few simply stating “Bash a leb day” and with others stating ” This Sunday every Aussie in the Shire get down to North cronulla to help support leb and wog bashing day”3.

Attention was also brought to these text messages by large newspapers such as the Daily Telegraph and also the Sunday morning herald who saw it fit to print articles featuring these text messages with headlines such as “Let’s claim back our shire” and “Cronulla fights back”4, only days before the riots had actually occurred . Radio talk back shows such as Alan Jones 2GB brought attention to events which occurred at cronulla where lifesavers were attacked by a group of Lebanese men, the incident had been covered by television new cast and also newspaper articles however no racial profiling of the attackers was made until “what kind of grubs?

Well I’ll tell you what kind of grubs this lot were. His lot were Middle Eastern grubs. And we’re not allowed to say that, but I’m saying it. 5 Jones continued to his attack on the middle eastern community of Sydney by stating “we don’t have Anglo-Saxon kids out there raping women in Western Sydney”6. Jones was not alone of his vigilante against the middle eastern community, Journalist Brian Wilshire, who described those of Lebanese heritage had low IQs and were “inbred”7.

Media coverage of the Cronulla riots clearly played a large part in not only spreading around information about attacks, but also were responsible for much of the organization and communication between rioters in not only the initial riots but also in the retaliation attacks. Media coverage of the first attacks on the lifesavers were exaggerated in the media creating, which created a false sense of the shire needing protection from groups of middle eastern decent.

The most common question and debate which was surfaced during the cronulla riots was the integrity behind Australia being a multicultural society welcoming nationalities from all over the world. In the 2006 “Where the bloody hell are you? Australian tourist campaign8, there is a scene featured in the advertisement of a girl walking on an unpopulated beach saying “we’ve saved you a spot on the beach”, this was questioned considerably after the cronulla riots as residents were not even able to share the beach with fellow Sydney residents 9.

Through the Cronulla riots we see the changing evolution of the Media and its impact in Australian Society, in the case of the cronulla riots we see the negative impact in which media can have through exaggerating the events which occurred, hence more unnecessary hatred being created. Countries such as Britain, Canada and Indonesia sent out travel advisories warning their population on the race riots which were occurring in Cronulla.

John Howard commending the Riots stating that “Attacking people on the basis of their race, their appearance, their ethnicity, is totally unacceptable and should be repudiated by all Australians irrespective of their own background and their politics,”, however Howard refused to label Australia as a racist country “I believe yesterday’s behaviour was completely unacceptable but I’m not going to put a general tag of racism on the Australian community” 10.

The Cronulla Riots was not however a problem which is only faced in Australia but rather a universal problem in which race riots have also occurred in countries such as Canada, France and Britain. Cronulla riots also revealed a deep misconception and view of the “Middle Eastern” community in Australia, an image based on violence and terrorist attacks which were highlighted in the media. 11 Cronulla riots was claimed to be a war on bad behaviour demonstrated on the beach by Lebanese groups rather than on race, however these motives are questionable with many rioters donning t-shirts with slogans such as “ethnic cleansing unit”12 .

At the time of the Cronulla riots there was a lot of negative media surrounding the middle eastern community of the world with terrorist attacks such as 9/11 and also the Bali bombing which were still fresh in the minds of people, there was also the case of a gang rape attack which occurred in Sydney by a group of Lebanese men on Australian women which occurred in throughout August and September of 2000.

Many residents blamed Middle Eastern people for crimes in area, and also accused Lebanese men of “harassing” Australian women on the beaches, ” The way they’re brought up and the way we’re brought up, just the morals our parents teach us and the morals their parents teach are completely different, it’s got a lot to do with respect for women” 14. This quote from the television show 4 corners on the Cronulla Riots, reveals what seems a common belief in which Islamic and Middle Eastern men do not treat or have any respect for women.

This belief is a clear stereotype of Islamic men due to negative media which surround’s their treatment of women however is also irrelevant as statistics show that 61% of residents living in Bankstown and 57. 9% of residents of Canterbury are Christian, with 76. 1% of the residents of the Sutherland Shire being Christian15. Also with the Lebanese Population of Australia 53 % are Maronite Christians, with only 40% of Lebanese Australians being Muslim16, hence most Lebanese Australians share the same Christian beliefs in which those in the shire uphold.

The Cronulla riots reveals a lack of education and also miscommunication between both sides, in order to be able to live in a society in which is accepting of people of all nationalities, more must be done in order to educate young Australians on cultures outside of their own . One of the main aspects of Australian Society which was revealed through the Cronulla riots was the sense of a nation within a nation in suburbs such as the Sutherland Shire.

The Sutherland Shire is a predominantly Anglo Celtic community with 78. 1% of its residents being born in Australia and 73. 1% of its residents being of Anglo Celtic ancestry17. The Shire for many generations has been a residential area made up exclusively Anglo Celtic Australians with high socio economic status. Many of the Shire residents look at Cronulla beach as “the jewel in the crown” for Shire residents and also saw cronulla as the epitome of classic Australian lifestyle18.

Many residents saw the Lebanese visitors as destroying this lifestyle with their rude and derogatory behavior, many of the young residents wore shirts with slogans such as “reclaim the shire”, “save nulla, fuck allah”, “love it or leave it” and “wog free zone”19 and also wrote all over themselves the Sutherland Shire Postcode 2232 as a mark of pride fighting for their community, with many after the riots concluded getting the Sutherland Shire Postcode tattooed on them20.

Many believed that the Lebanese and Muslim Culture and way of life was not mixing into the Australian lifestyle and tradition’s which were causing problems such as their lack of respect for women. There is also clear tribes/clans in the middle eastern society of Australia in areas in which there is a large middle eastern population such as Lakemba, Punchbowl and Bankstown with many of these Lebanese tribes entering the Sutherland Shire in car loads after already being warned to stay away due to the riots to retaliate against the attacks.

Cronulla Riots reveals the tribes and societies within the Australian society as a whole and the lack of communication between these communities, however did not reveal much on Australia as a whole, as it is inaccurate to represent Australia as a racist society by the actions of only a minority, the Cronulla Riots also reveals the negative impact of media on issues in society and how influential what is reported can be on society, even if the information has been taken out of context.

It is clear that within the Multicultural Society of Australia there are evident rifts between culturally diverse communities however this is also a universal problem which is not only faced by Australia.

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