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Walk past a "Heavy Plant" warning and wonder vaguely if the trees thought it was for them; if whoever put it up had enough imag...

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Sydney's 'race riots' (bloody hell, actual news!).

You may have heard that Sydney is currently experiencing a few public order difficulties. This is not a new phenomenon. It's summer, beaches and sunshine attract young people and have always been regarded as territory. Add beer into the mix, a liberal dosage of racial intolerance, beat well and hey presto your very own riot-ette.

The actual facts of how the race riots came to be are both unclear and unimportant. The events of the previous weekend are part of an ongoing attitude of intolerance by everyone concerned. The state premier has said that the riots are a sign of an undercurrent of racism in Australian society, I'm rather afraid he might be right. The Prime Minister said that he did not think that this was the case, even Aussies have greeted this with a degree of disbelief.

This is difficult to explain and has a lot to do with the Australian national character being more than a trifle confrontational. In absolutely no regard is anyone blameless in this situation, everyone involved has some level of culpability. That is not to suggest that there are no victims. As normal everyone ends up suffering for the actions of the idiotic few.

Talking to people this week everyone has some dubious 'a friend of mine' story of being hassled by 'Lebs' on the beach (people of middle-eastern appearance, normally young men). Most of these seem to centre around dress code with people being surrounded and told to cover-up if the girls are wearing bikinis. This pretty much typifies how everyone approaches this situation. The caucasian majority are not too keen on people that look different and the immigrant population are not too keen on assimilating. These stories were all too prevalent and the Aussies were a bit too quick to give them to everyone else.

The original intent of the protests at Cronulla was as a demonstration against gangs on the beach. This demonstration was meant to be a peaceful family event . A text message was sent round by someone who had clearly got the wrong idea calling on people to 'reclaim their beach'. From that point on the whole process seems to have been hijacked by people who had an axe to grind.

The media too must take their share of the blame, which is a sizeable chunk in their case. You may have seen footage and photographs of the riots and they are as unpleasant as one might expect. I doubt very much if anything about them struck you as odd. Compare these pictures to other footage you have seen of riots. All the shots are very close up and are taken from the point of view of the rioter. The photographers and cameramen were in the thick of the action, right in the middle of it. How the hell did they get there?

The media had been talking this story up all week into a race issue in the hope of actually having something to report. Their presence is enough to bring about the display mentality and alchohol and group presence the diminished responsibility that triggered people into idiocy. The reporters were going into the heart of the crowd and asking difficult questions of people that had not the intellect, the vocabulary or inclination to answer. Something the replies showed up:
"No I'm not a racist. I love everyone. We've just had e-fucking-nough. We've had e-fucking-nough."
What he'd had e-fucking-nough of he didn't say, possibly this was the subject of the leading question given to him by the journalist looking for a good vox-pop or possibly he didn't have the wit to qualify his statement.

And then there are the racists, quite a lot of them. Many of them were wearing the cross of the 1854 Eureka rebellion. This flag is very similar in intent to the American confederate cross. This is a shame because it should have none of the racist overtones given its origins. The Eureka rebellion ought to occupy a place in Australian cultural history similar, to that Magna Carta has in England - smaller scale obviously.

Despite all the sound and fury this was pretty small beer as far as riots go. Nothing got burned, no-one was killed, there was no looting and no planned violence. LA, Paris, London and just about anywhere that has had real civil unrest would have laughed this off. To give you some kind of idea of the scale of it, there has been worse violence at football matches in the UK, probably with more pronounced racist overtones. So how did it get in to headlines worldwide? Well for a start because the Australian media are keen to make a name for themselves and really want to export news as much as they import it - which is a little difficult as they are a bit short on product - also because the way they report here has to be seriously overblown to make an impact on an unusually pragmatic and sanguine populace, something that doesn't translate very well elswhere. Secondly because the received image of Australia elswhere in the world is red desert with some kangaroos in it interspersed with beach paradise inhabited by sports obsessed beer drinkers - which is more or less correct - the idea that Australia has overwhelming social issues is a bit new to people who don't think very hard about its' origins and history i.e. everyone. And lastly because nothing happens here and anything of significance happening in Australia is news almost for that reason alone.

The police in any country do not normally cover themselves in glory in situations like this but I have to say the Sydney police seem to have handled themselves pretty well. They protected people from the mob, didn't get involved, and didn't allow themselves to become a target. Actual violence was for the larger part confined to property, there were a few unlucky individuals but it could have much, much uglier. The reaction afterwards has been enourmous. There have been peace and anti-racism rallies, emergency legislation and additional police brought in. All the beaches were locked down this weekend with police putting roadblocks up, searching cars and in real trouble spots not allowing anyone but residents access to the beach. This could be seen as a major over reaction but the police did manage to confiscate a few petrol bombs and some home-made weaponry but total arrests this weekend were in single figures. It is also only 2 weeks to Christmas, and Aussies spend Christmas on the beach. Everyone wants this finished before it ruins the biggest holiday of the year. The cynical amongst us might also be tempted to suggest that this is a result of the Prime Minister being asked difficult questions at an international conference. Whatever the reasons the beach was beautifully quiet. If that is the way things are going to be then the police can have road blocks every weekend.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Shark season

With summer comes shark scares, yay! Most beaches here have shark sirens which are custom designed to scare the shite out of everybody, which is fair enough as nearly 5 meters of shark is going to give you a bit of a breathless moment anyway. However the ensuing panic of hundreds of people making a break for the shore may well excite the pointy-toothed leviathan - turning it from casual observer interested by all the funny soft pink things in the water to frenzied attacker confused by all the food suddenly trying to run away.


Everyone's reaction to a shark in the water must give the lifeguards a bit of a giggle. This quote is from the most recent news story where a good-sized shark was spotted off Bondi Beach:
"There were 100 people up the top screaming like monkeys," said Anthony Carroll, one of the lifeguards who went out on jet-skis to alert swimmers.
It looks like the Bondi shark is either hanging around or has brought a friend as another sizeable one was spotted at Tamarrama yesterday.

Critical habitat for sharks, and people surf here...It's not like people don't know there are sharks here. Divers specifically come to places like Gordons Bay and Clovelly to see the sharks. It is also extremely rare that people get bitten. It has been a year since anyone has been attacked and people were surprised when that happened. The guy who was attacked last Christmas was English. The shark bit his board so he punched it on the nose, got out of the water, got another board and went back in. Dozy pom. This was at Bronte Beach, which is about 1.5km from Bondi as the shark swims.

The beach that I live at, Maroubra, is listed as critical habitat for sharks and large fish, there are diving and fishing restrictions as you can see from the sign in the picture. It is also one of the most reliable surf breaks in Sydney and on any given day there will be at least ten people in the water on surfboards (most people who get attacked are surfing - wetsuits and surfboards make you look like food even more than if you are just swimming). I have not yet heard of anyone beeing attacked or even seeing a shark at Maroubra, probably because they treat the open water with a bit less complacence.

The normal air patrols that give the lifeguards early warning of big sharks close to shore do not have the funding to run this year and the police don't have the resources to do it instead so there are going to be a lot more of these scares this summer. I've decided I'm not going to let it bother me. If you get bitten you are profoundly unlucky and the chances of it happening are so small as to be comparable with being hit by lightning. I say this because I was in the ocean at seven this morning and it was a great way to wake up. Emily chose this as the moment to tell me about the shark scares and quickly freaked herself out and started jumping at shadows in the water, they turned out to be seaweed.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Summer has arrived...

Summer has quite clearly arrived in Sydney. It hit 40°C here yesterday, even the Aussies called that bloody hot. Thankfully the humidity stayed below 20% so you could still move around in it but it was a bit like being shoved in a tumble dryer. It's on days like that I really appreciate the breeze off the ocean at Maroubra and - joy of joys - the air conditioning in the new flat.

Go fly a kite. You're missing out here, it's a great photo.Unfortunately what I really wanted to be doing was not sitting at work in icily air conditioned building. This was however the most sensible thing to be doing. I went downstairs at lunchtime to read my book and made the mistake of putting my bare forearms on the table. The tabletop is was solid granite and had been in the sun all morning. I made a sound like a wounded baboon and found something to rest on.

My mum arrives here for Christmas on Friday morning from the UK, where it is winter - I hope she's ready for it. Christmas is going to be a bit odd I think. We have a couple of friends coming over for dinner and there's mum and Rik and Em and I. That's six people, we have only 5 chairs of various heights, 5 sets of cutlery and 4 plates. Oh well we'll just have to get pissed and not worry about it.

We have discovered that there is a wireless internet connection here, though we can't establish whose it is or why it's here at the moment. I can't say it's troubled me overly. It means I have the internet at home so I shall be spending far more time tossing myself senseless whilst Em isn't around updating things on here and getting some more fiction and other writing done. Of course what I'm supposed to be doing is looking for a job but I've already spent 2 hours doing that tonight and I'm rather bored of it.

I've got to do something productive with my time or I'll go bloody nuts. I recently re-read the entire Lord of The Rings trilogy and it took far too little time. My brain is about to start making trouble for me if I don't find something to do and there's only so much tennis I can play. I have started playing chess again but I'm not too good at it. I guess a proper job is the only solution. I don't want a job I want to spend all day at the beach. It's only accross the road, I wouldn't even have to walk far. Oh well, back to the slog, I'll see if I can find some funny jobs to write about...

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Bowls update...

Bowls proved typically sedate, sadly, but with a few interesting additions.

There was the ever predictable cold fizzy alchohol, which combined with the high temperature made for a slightly hazy experience. But what really made it for me was the four-piece jazz band who played loungecore/cool-jazz versions of contemporary hits. My favourite was probably Guns 'n' Roses' Sweet Child O' Mine which was very good indeed. Radiohead's Creep wasn't bad either and the couple of Red Hot Chili Peppers songs I heard from them were pretty good too.

Lawn bowls is quite unnecessarily difficult. Why people take it up at retirement when at best they have only 2 decades to practice is quite beyond me (and no they don't bowl overarm here).

Friday, December 02, 2005

Bowls & football

Going bowling this aftertnoon with work...

...Crown Green bowls. Yes the 'Pensioners in White' sport. It is unbelievably popular here, every suburb seems to have it's own club which is well used.

This may have something to do with the Aussies winning the Bowls World Cup some years ago, apparently. The Aussies, by their own admission, take no interest in a sport until they can win it and just don't talk about it if they lose.

Imagine the fervour a few weeks ago when the 'Socceroos' qualified for the World Cup, you know the real World Cup, football with a round ball. You have to call it 'Soccer' here because 'Football' means AFL and 'Footy' means rugby, usually rugby league.

I watched a documentary about the origins of Aussie rules football a few weeks ago. The game was developed by Tom Wills a Rugby School alumnus from the rules of Rugby football and an Aboriginal game played with a stuffed possum - I kid you not.

Tom Wills coached a team of Aboriginals to play rugby despite the fact that the Aboriginals were responsible for his father's death and was a bit of a visionary as far as Australian sport is concerned. Unfortunately he was a raging alchoholic and stabbed himself to death in a fit of Delerium Tremens.

Frankly I'd rather go bowling than play either Rugby or Aussie Rules, though given the natural competetiveness of the average Aussie I'm wondering if they haven't made up some new rather more physical rules of their own. Am I going to come back from bowls black and blue? Updates as they happen.