Police observing crowds prior to confrontations
|11 – 12 December 2005|
|Cronulla (spreading to Maroubra and Brighton-Le-Sands)
34°03′06″S 151°09′21″E / 34.05159°S 151.15574°E / -34.05159; 151.15574Coordinates: 34°03′06″S 151°09′21″E / 34.05159°S 151.15574°E / -34.05159; 151.15574
|Race riot, Assault, Vandalism, Arson|
|26 (11 December)|
|104 (285 charges laid)|
The 2005 Cronulla riots were a series of race riots and outbreaks of mob violence in Sydney, beginning on 11 December 2005 in the beachside suburb of Cronulla which spread, over the next few nights, to additional suburbs.
The riots stemmed from tensions between youths from Sydney's Lebanese and white populations.
A crowd gathered at Cronulla on the morning of Sunday, 11 December, and, by midday, approximately 5,000 people had gathered near the beach. The gathering began peacefully, but later in the afternoon a man of Middle Eastern appearance was surrounded outside a local hotel and attacked by members of the crowd. The police eventually intervened. Several similar attacks took place later in the day, followed by retaliatory attacks that night and on subsequent nights, resulting in extensive property damage. Violence spread to other southern suburbs of Sydney, where more assaults occurred, including two stabbings and attacks on ambulances and police officers.
The riots were widely condemned by local, state and federal members of parliament, police, local community leaders, and residents of Cronulla and adjacent areas. A large number of arrests were made over the subsequent months, from both the initial riot on 11 December and the retaliations over the subsequent nights. Travel warnings for Australia were issued by some countries but were later removed.
On 4 December 2005, a fight broke out between a group of volunteer surf lifesavers and youths of Middle Eastern descent. These incidents were widely commented on in the Sydney media and are considered to be a key factor in a racially motivated confrontation the following weekend.
New South Wales Police had been recording racial and ethnic tensions and incidents in and around Cronulla since October 2005. There is also a history of conflict between Cronulla locals and those visiting from the Western suburbs ("Westies") with "bashings" common since the 1960s as part of a turf war between Westies and local surfies. The previous summer, on Australia Day 26 January 2005 a non-racial riot occurred with around two to three thousand young people in the Cronulla area engaged in "civil disobedience", at one stage hurling missiles at police attempting to control the crowd.
Just after 3 pm on Sunday, 4 December 2005, police were called to North Cronulla Beach following a report of an assault on two off-duty surf lifesavers by four members of a group of eight Middle Eastern men. A verbal exchange had taken place after three lifesavers approached a group of four young Lebanese men on Cronulla Beach with both groups accusing the other of staring at them. One of the Lebanese men reportedly responded to the accusations, "I'm allowed to; now fuck off and leave our beach", to which a lifesaver responded, "I come down here out of my own spare time to save you dumb cunts from drowning; now piss off, you scum".
The verbal exchange escalated with one Lebanese youth attempting to defuse the situation. Another then threw a punch, missing, prompting a pushing match that escalated into a fight. One of the lifesavers was badly hurt after falling and striking his head. One of the lifesavers later informed police that the four were part of a group of eight Lebanese that had been on the beach most of the day and that there had been no problems with their prior behaviour. Despite media reports to the contrary, no "Middle Eastern men converged on the area" and there were no more than the original eight present.
|“||What kind of grubs? Well I'll tell you what kind of grubs this lot were. This lot were Middle Eastern grubs.||”|
One media report stated that there was already tension between the community and Lebanese youths before this event and people, particularly women, claimed to have been harassed, almost daily, by "groups of young Lebanese men" attempting to "pick them up" and describing the women as being "Aussie sluts".
The events were reported widely across the Sydney media, particularly on talkback radio. When a listener, Berta, commented to Alan Jones of Sydney's 2GB Radio that she had heard "really derogatory remarks" aimed at Middle Eastern people, Jones interrupted stating "We don't have Anglo-Saxon kids out there raping women in Western Sydney". Jones also broadcast and endorsed one listener's suggestion that bikie gangs be brought down to Cronulla railway station to deal with "Lebanese thugs" and that the event be televised, arguing that despite their reputation bikie gangs do "a lot of good things". By Thursday, Jones had stirred significant discussion, and stated "I'm the person that's led this charge here. Nobody wanted to know about North Cronulla, now it's gathered to this." Jones was later found to have breached the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) Code of Conduct section 1.3(a), as his comments were "likely to encourage violence or brutality and to vilify people of Lebanese and Middle-Eastern backgrounds on the basis of ethnicity".
Police were concerned about the repercussions of these events. Later investigations revealed that over 270,000 individual text messages were transmitted inciting a racially motivated confrontation at North Cronulla Beach the following Saturday.
|“||"This Sunday every Fucking Aussie in the shire, get down to North Cronulla to help support Leb and wog bashing day.... Bring your mates down and let's show them this is our beach and they're never welcome back"
"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 for early January"
Over the course of Sunday, 11 December 2005, approximately 5,000 people gathered in and around North Cronulla Beach. Early in the morning, people began to gather and impromptu barbecues and "partying" took place. However, at 12:59, a young man of "Middle Eastern appearance" was spotted on the beach and the crowds began "chanting stuff [and] yelling out things" before rushing him. The man attempted to avoid the crowd by quickly entering "Northies", a local pub, but the crowd forcibly dragged him out and attacked him. The police, having been in Cronulla since the early morning (including police helicopters and patrol boats), quickly intervened and resolved the situation.
A Cronulla High School teacher later claimed that the crowd had attacked the man after he had shouted "I'm going to blow youse all up".
At 13:30 two women verbally argued with a small group; the police arrived and both parties left. However, an hour later, they again met and a scuffle ensued. At 13:45, another two boys from Bangladesh were surrounded by the crowd, and had bottles thrown at them, with the crowd repeatedly chanting "Fuck off Lebs!" The boys escaped by car. Chants and slogans such as "Fuck off Lebs!", "We grew here, you flew here", "Aussie Pride", "Fuck off wogs!", were repeated and displayed throughout the day by the crowd. The crowd also attacked the police by throwing beer bottles. Police vehicles were also prevented from entering the area. Around 14:00 another three males were assaulted on the beach with the crowd throwing sausages and beer bottles at them.
Rumours had persisted throughout the day that an additional 600 people would arrive by train, mostly from the west of Cronulla, to join the crowds. At approximately 15:00 "two young men of Middle Eastern appearance" arrived at Cronulla train station with the crowd outside chanting "Fuck off wogs!". The two men took refuge in the train. However, the crowd entered and began assaulting them; a police officer entered the train and cleared the crowd.
At 15:20 two separate assaults took place; one involved a crowd attacking a man of "Middle Eastern appearance" and throwing beer bottles. In this case an officer intervened and removed the victim as they were both struck by the bottle. A second assault took place outside a take away restaurant; three men were taken inside the restaurant as refuge and the diners already inside were moved towards the back. The glass doors and windows were broken and those inside were moved outside without incident.
Injuries and arrests
By the end of the day 26 people had been treated for injuries. The 15:20 assault required the victim and the police officer to receive hospital treatment. A total of 16 were arrested and charged with 42 offences including: malicious damage, assaulting a police officer, affray, offensive conduct, resisting arrest and numerous driving offences. One police officer was hit by a car and two ambulance officers were also amongst the injured as their ambulance, under mounted police escort, was surrounded and beer bottles were thrown, with one of the ambulance officers being hit on the head by a bottle and the other receiving lacerations on the arm.
At 19:45 around 100 locals of Punchbowl (a suburb 20 kilometres [12 mi] to Cronulla's northwest) gathered together at the local Punchbowl Park. Additional groups, armed with baseball bats, also gathered at The Promenade and Arncliffe Park. Between 20:30 and 21:00 the groups formed a convoy of "more than 40 cars" and drove down to the beaches "to get revenge" with many of the cars ending up in Maroubra. At 22:45 police were ordered "not to approach convoys of men of Middle Eastern appearance"; however car details and registration details were to be recorded.
A local of Maroubra reported that each of the cars that arrived was "full, you know, had four passengers". The convoy was reportedly armed with bars and bats, knives, machetes and guns. The group assaulted several people, knocking one unconscious and threatening another with rape, and damaged between 60 and 100 cars, setting at least one on fire. Police in riot gear moved to contain the violence and the crowds responded by throwing bricks and glass. Residents reported that in some streets "every car" had had their windows smashed, with glass covering the streets. Police also confiscated 40 iron bars and arrested 14 people.
A 26-year-old mechanic referred to as "Dan" was stabbed in the back three times and twice in the thigh with a 9.8-centimetre (3.9 in) blade at approximately 22:25. The incident occurred outside Woolooware golf club when two cars carrying a group of males "described as being of Mediterranean or Middle Eastern appearance" approached the man and his friends. Dan and his friends attempted to flee from the group, who were shouting "Get the Aussie dogs... get the Aussie sluts", Dan was knocked to the ground and was repeatedly kicked in the head. The attack ended when the knife snapped off in the victim's back. He was taken to hospital in a serious condition as the blade had narrowly missed his spine and lungs.
Jake Schofield was attacked by a group of four men of "Middle Eastern appearance", who beat him repeatedly, stabbing him twice and hitting him with a piece of concrete before stealing his wallet and keys. The attack left him with a fractured eye socket and nose.
A woman wearing a headscarf had her car stopped by a group of white males and was then abused and threatened by this group.
Additional smaller riots occurred on the following nights in the suburbs of Maroubra and Brighton-le-Sands and in Cronulla. Similar text messages had also turned up in other states including Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia.
On 12 December, rioters had written various messages including; "Aussi [sic] to Die", "Intifada", "It's war", "Sunday cowards die, Soldiers rize [sic]", "Never rest assie [sic] dog", "Yous came by chains u convict dogs", and "We fear no ozy [sic] pigs" before continuing to destroy cars and local shops. Approximately 2000 people gathered inside Lakemba Mosque with another 800 gathered outside the evening after the riot. Sheikh Shady Suleiman spoke to the crowd and called for calm. However some were armed with Glock pistols which they displayed to the media. At least some of the people gathered were reported to have planned to go on to Maroubra; however the police blocked roads leading into Maroubra and 20 police cars surrounded the mosque. The Uniting Church in Auburn, a predominantly Tongan congregation, was burned and those attending Christmas carols were abused and threatened. More than 30 Molotov cocktails were also confiscated by police.
Eight hundred police officers formed Operation Seta and were on patrol on the following nights, with up to 450 police officers blockading Cronulla on the night of 13 December and an additional 11 people were arrested; five were arrested in relation to a replica pistol and six were arrested for property damage. An additional seven people were injured including another police officer. A husband and wife were taken to hospital after the wife was struck in the head and the husband tried to defend her, and another man was struck by a baseball bat and suffered a fractured forearm.
By 19 July 2006, police had laid 285 charges against 104 people, 51 having been arrested as a result of the original Cronulla riot and 53 arrested from the retaliation riots. These persons were charged with, amongst other things: malicious damage, possession or use of a prohibited weapon, assaulting police, rioting, resisting arrest, threatening violence and affray.
Ali Osman, 18, was charged with affray and assault occasioning actual bodily harm for the original attacks he committed on 4 December 2005 against the volunteer lifesavers and was given 300 hours of community service for the assault and 200 hours for affray though they would be served concurrently. Osman was the only person charged over the initial confrontation. The Magistrate, Jacqueline Trad (herself of Lebanese descent) told Sutherland Local Court that Osman had turned his back on his real country: "By this sort of conduct you turned your back on your family, your culture and your real country, all for the sake of some juvenile, impulsive and misplaced allegiance.... Over the last 100 years or so, the ancestors of many citizens – mine included – came to this country seeking refuge from hatred, intolerance, violence or just simply the opportunity to improve their families' prospects." Yahya Jamal Serhan was arrested over the stabbing of "Dan" on 12 December and charged with affray and maliciously inflicting grievous bodily harm and was sentenced to 13 months jail but was immediately released after having already spent nine months in custody awaiting trial. Dan was angered and disappointed by the sentence, saying "I've got no feeling on the left hand side of my back where the knife broke off." A second person, a 17-year–old, was also questioned by police.
Marcus Kapitza, 28, was jailed for 12 months after pleading guilty to one charge of riot. On the day of the riot Kapitza wore a singlet with the words "Mohammed was a camel-raping faggot." He was also involved in the attack at the train station shouting "Fuck off! Fuck off the Lebs."
Brent Lohman, 19, was also charged over the train station assault, and was sentenced to 11 months in jail.
Two of the youths who attacked Jake Schofield turned themselves in to police and were charged with armed robbery, wounding, malicious wounding with intent, affray and assault occasioning actual bodily harm. Two others, Wael Tahan and Mahmoud Eid, had been arrested on the night of the attack but were released without charge before being rearrested and charged with robbery in company, malicious wounding causing grievous bodily harm and affray.
Brett Andrew King appeared in court in January 2006 charged with sending two text messages 42 times for a retaliatory riot on 18 December 2005.
A 16-year-old Lebanese immigrant, Ali Ammar, was arrested and jailed for seven months for stealing an Australian flag from the Brighton-le-Sands Returned and Services League of Australia (RSL) club and burning it. Following his release, Ammar appeared on television to present an official apology and in 2007 he was sponsored by the RSL to walk the Kokoda track after the State President of the New South Wales RSL met him at a Reconciliation Conference.
Strike Force Enoggera
Strike Force Enoggera was established on 13 December 2005, tasked with investigating the riots. The strike force initially consisted of 28 members under the command of Superintendent Dennis Bray, but was increased to 100 officers on 20 January 2006. During a radio interview New South Wales Police Commissioner Moroney claimed to have no video footage of the retaliatory attacks on 11 December; however it was later revealed that the police had had a video for five weeks, leading Moroney to sack Bray. Bray was later reinstated to a lesser role, having been replaced by Detective Superintendent Ken Mckay.
Media and community responses
|“||We knew always there was racism, but we never knew it was to this extent. I mean, all your life you've been – you've been raised to be Australian. I mean, you carry the Australian flag. When you go to sports events and all that, you're happy to be Australian and all that. And all of sudden people reject you. "Go home!" They shout your names. Like, "Go home, you Middle Eastern Lebs," or whatever. "Go home." I mean, that's a shock to us. "Go home." I mean, like, you get cut inside your heart, you know. Like you feel like you're not part of society no more.||”|
Brian Wilshire, a 2GB radio host, stated the following weekend on air: "Many of them have parents who are first cousins whose parents are first cousins, the result of this inbreeding—the result of which is uneducationable [sic] people... and very low IQ", comments for which he later apologised.
An anti-racism rally, attended by 2000 people, was held in Bourke Street, Melbourne. Apologies for the riots at Cronulla were later issued on behalf of some local surf clubs, arguing their members rejected racism and violence. The gathering was justified as a protest against "ethnic gangs" with blame for the rioting and violence largely placed on alcohol and the agitation of far-right groups. An apology from the Maroubra "Bra Boys" was also issued to leaders of the Islamic community as well as apologies from several others to Sydney's Lebanese community, though the earlier "protest" part of the day was still defended.
Writing a year after the riots, novelist Hsu-Ming Teo was worried that Australian multiculturalism was being eroded. Stating that multiculturalism was one of Australia's defining features that allowed it to broker differences with its geographical neighbours, and that it was almost unique in its ethnic and cultural origins: she suggested that in recent years multiculturalism had begun to be derided with politicians calling for one homogeneous non-divisible Australian culture citing, amongst others, the "popularity and success" of Pauline Hanson.
In 2008 Australian portrait photographer Michel Lawrence published All of Us, a book containing photographs of people born in 200 other countries, but who were now living in Australia. Lawrence said the All of Us project was wholly inspired by the Cronulla riots. “You watch this stuff on TV and you wonder why people are doing this - this is no way for a multicultural society to behave,” said Lawrence.
The New South Wales parliament convened on 15 December to pass laws giving police new powers including: the ability to seize cars and mobile phones for up to seven days, close licensed premises and prohibit bringing alcohol into lock–down zones. A new offence of "assault during a public disorder" was also introduced and both rioting and affray had their minimum sentences increased. New South Wales Premier Morris Iemma called the attacks "disgusting, cowardly behaviour" and condemned the rioters. He also called on the community leaders to use "their influence to get the hot heads to cool it".
New South Wales Police Commissioner Ken Moroney called the riots "absolutely totally un-Australian", saying that "I saw, in my 40 years of police service, some of the most disgraceful behaviour and conduct by adults that I'd ever seen." New South Wales Opposition leader Peter Debnam called it "a real disgrace" and called for a tougher police response. Australian Prime Minister John Howard condemned the violence describing it as "sickening and deplorable" but denied any racial undertones, saying the events were primarily an issue of law and order — a view echoed by the Treasurer Peter Costello, who described the Sydney riots as "an example of hoodlums who got out of control". However this was viewed by many people who live in Sydney as the government burying its head in the sand over racial tension so foreign ownership in Australia would not be affected. Federal opposition leader Kim Beazley described the attacks as "simply criminal behaviour, that's all there is to it".
|“||Look at what a beautiful day it is. The weekend before Christmas. Over there should be absolutely packed, but there's just a sea of empty tables.||”|
Many of the small businesses in and around Terrigal on the New South Wales Central Coast (two hours north of Cronulla) reported that a police lockdown of the beach caused business to drop to 10% of normal levels on a Saturday, with only 25% of Christmas shopping crowds turning up on the Sunday. Tourism and hospitality workers in the area were laid off or had their hours cut. The New South Wales state government announced a A$250,000 tourism campaign after authorities in Great Britain, Canada, and Indonesia issued travel warnings to their citizens.
The Party for Freedom (PFF) planned to mark the tenth anniversary of the events with a rally on Saturday, 12 December 2015. PFF chairman Nicholas Folkes was refused permission in the Supreme Court of New South Wales "on the grounds it would stir up racial hatred". In a separate case the Federal Court of Australia ruled that no other person or groups could commemorate the anniversary. The Federal ruling was in response to a joint application by Jamal Rifi, a prominent member of the Lebanese Muslim community in Australia, and the Sutherland Shire Council who applied for the Federal Court ruling.
In place of the rally a "halal-free" barbecue, attended by about 50, was held on Don Lucas Reserve near Wanda Beach. A larger number of counter protesters in "the hundreds", including Antifaschistische Aktion members, were also present. A heavy police presence included the riot squad, mounted police and helicopter, and the two groups were mostly kept apart. Two anti-racism protesters were arrested. The majority of the anti-racism protesters were escorted by police to Cronulla Railway station and onto trains headed towards Sydney city. They were accompanied by riot police.
The 2016 film Down Under is set in the aftermath of the riots.
|Wikinews has related news: Portal:Australia/2005 Sydney race riots|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Cronulla riots (December 2005).|
- Mobs rampage in Cronulla – The Sydney Morning Herald's photo gallery of the 11 December 2005 riots.
- The 'Young Muslim Man' in Australian Public Discourse. PDF by Kiran Grewal, Transforming Cultures eJournal, Vol.2, No.1, November 2007
- Cronulla Riots: The Day that Shocked the Nation – SBS interactive documentary exploring the riots.