Advance Australia Fair?

Race riots in Sydney reveal limitations to Australia’s egalitarianism

Conjure an image of Australia in your mind, and you’re likely envision bouncing kangaroos and jovial tank-topped men throwing “another shrimp on the barbie.” You might like to think again. This past weekend saw racially charged riots break out in southern Sydney at a popular surfing spot in North Cronulla, resulting in attacks on police and ambulance workers as well as the destruction of over 100 vehicles. Adding insult to injury, the riots also unveiled Australia’s embarrassing secret: a deep-seated racial intolerance, normally hidden behind a deceptive respect for egalitarian ideals. With one-quarter of all Australians born overseas, the overwhelming prevalent racial prejudice poses a serious threat to national cohesion and unity.

The fighting originated late last week when two volunteer surf lifeguards were beaten by a group of youths, allegedly of Middle-Eastern appearance. The story reached the front pages of Australian newspapers, sparking an angry response from racist locals who stormed the beach this past Saturday. The full extent of the problem was not realized until New South Wales Police received information from telephone companies who reportedly intercepted phone texts rallying “Australians” to the beach on Sunday. Despite publicly urging peace and sending a substantial police force, New South Wales Premier Morris Iemma could not stem the tide, with over 5,000 youths arriving at North Cronulla last Sunday morning.

In a display of breathtaking racism, “Australian” youths paraded through the streets and across the beach attacking gangs of Middle-Eastern men who had also come to partake in the violence. In the most saddening display of the riot, a significant portion of “Australian” youths arrived uniformed in t-shirts with racist slogans while others brandished Australian flags. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Middle Eastern gangs were attacked whilst the assailants sung the National Anthem, entitled “Advance Australia Fair,” and “Waltzing Matilda.”

In the face of these atrocities Australians will attempt to forget their history of intolerance. Few citizens mourning the weekend’s events will know that the very first piece of legislation passed after Australia’s federation in 1901 was the Immigration Restriction Act designed to “place certain restrictions on immigration and…for the removal…of prohibited immigrants.” Blatantly retitled the “White Australia Policy,” immigration restrictions continued until 1973, when the Whitlam government finally overhauled the racist doctrine. Yet its supporters were out in number at Cronulla on Sunday, where leader of the Australia First Party, John Moffitt, handed out pamphlets declaring, “This is a great day. Australia is now seeing what the policies of the last 30 years are reaping.” Such attitudes are troublingly prevalent in Australia and added fuel to the weekend’s events.

As Australians begin to reflect on the racial bigotry exposed at Cronulla, it can only be hoped that nation will finally awake from its slumber of small-mindedness. Over the last 30 years Australia has begun to develop a vibrant multicultural society, diversifying politics and culture while paving the way for integration into Asia. As Australia increasingly globalizes it must shed the ignorant roots of intolerance and embrace the multiplicity of nationalities already within its borders. If the North Cronulla riots are not incentive enough for change, then Australia risks a future plagued by disunity and disgruntled reaction to the faux ideals of egalitarianism.



Bede A. Moore ’06, a Crimson editorial editor, is a history concentrator in Winthrop House.