Almost 10 years ago, racial violence broke out in the usually tranquil beach suburb of Cronulla, with attacks directed towards those of Middle Eastern appearance on Dec. 11, 2005. It would be later dubbed as the Cronulla Riots.
The riots were spurred by a long run of racial and ethnic tensions between caucasian Australians and young men reported to be of Middle Eastern background from Sydney’s western suburbs.
Multiple sources told GQ Magazine the altercation was not as violent as initially reported, but the story of an Australian icon — the humble lifesaver — being bashed became the catalyst for the riots.
Texts call for violence
In the week after the attack on the lifesavers, more than 270,000 text messages were circulated to incite a “racially motivated confrontation” the following Sunday, according to NSW Police.
“Just a reminder that Cronulla’s 1st wog bashing day is still on this Sunday. Chinks bashing day is on the 27th and the Jews are booked in for early January.”
“Every fucking aussie. Go to Cronulla Beach Sunday for some Leb and wog bashing Aussie Pride ok.”
“All lebo / wog brothers. Sunday midday. Must be at North Cronulla Park. These skippy aussies want war. Bring ur guns and knives and lets show them how we do it.”
It was the beginning of the largest race riots in Australia’s recent history.
The day of the riots
At 8 a.m. on Dec. 11, 2005, groups of caucasian Australians began to congregate alongside the usually peaceful Cronulla Beach in the southern suburbs of Sydney; with barbecues and drinking occurring early.
“Everyone was sort of there to celebrate. It was sort of like Australia Day, like, everyone was celebrating,” a woman named Sarah, told the ABC.
More than 5,000 people were in attendance by 10 a.m., and the crowd consisted mainly of young caucasian males draped in Australian flags and beach attire. Far-right groups such as Australia First and the Patriotic Youth League were also in attendance.
As the crowd continued to surge, chants like “Fuck off wogs!” filled the air. It was a day, where the Australian flag was used as a symbol of hatred and the streets resembled a war zone.
At 12:59 p.m. the so-called celebration turned dark when police report a Middle Eastern man who had just come off the beach was chased by large crowd, finding refuge in a hotel bistro, Northies, where thousands of people chanted and yelled outside, according to a report by ABC’s 4 Corners.
By 1:45 p.m. two men, listening to what was being said over a megaphone in nearby Dunningham Park, were targeted and attacked by the crowd after being identified as being Middle Eastern.
At 2:40 p.m., two students from Bangladesh sped away in a Honda Prelude, after being surrounded by an angry group of people.
By 3 p.m., rumour had spread among the crowd at Dunningham Park that two Lebanese men had arrived at Cronulla train station.
A “large component” of the crowd moved to the station, where they attacked the two men — one who was Russian born and the other unidentified — inside the carriage. “The crowd entered the carriage and began punching and jumping on the victims,” the police report said. Sergeant Craig Campbell used his baton to force the crowd away.
The incidents continued throughout the afternoon and into the night, as violent race-driven clashes tore apart the streets of Cronulla. The groups of men would separate and reform throughout the suburb as word spread about a new target.
At 3:20 p.m., police had to protect three Middle Eastern males in front of a Nandos restaurant, when they were rushed upon by a crowd walking by.
A similar situation occurred at 5:50 p.m., when a crowd surrounded two security guards outside a McDonald’s outlet, until they retreated inside and police formed a line to protect them.
By 7:30 p.m., another Middle Eastern male was chased down a street by a crowd, and another police line was formed to protect him.
At the end of the first day, 26 people had been treated for injuries and 16 people had been arrested. Two of them were ambulance officers, who were assaulted as they took the injured to hospital.
Police were on high alert following the riots, with calls for reprisal attacks circulated via text message. Reports of convoys of men travelling from Sydney’s western suburbs forced police to deploy highway patrols on bridges linking to the Cronulla area during the evening.
Incidents continued throughout the night and tensions in the area remained high, until two days later on Dec. 13 when the last incident as part of the Cronulla Riots was recorded by police.
Now, 10 years on — how much can we say has changed? Only as recently as November, far-right group Reclaim Australia clashed with anti-racism groups in Melbourne and Sydney.
An image of dark days gone past, for many Australians.