05 January 2006

Speaking Of The Cricket

My friend Robert doesn't have a very high opinion of cricket. Which might explain why, when I told him about the scary gang of thugs I'd seen slouching and menacing their way up my street and subsequently up Victoria Street, his immediate interpretation - after he'd asked me what race they were - was that they must have come from the rained-off cricket match up the road.

The reason he asked me what race they were was because race is a matter that's been much on Sydney's mind since last month's riots at Cronulla Beach. The way the international media reported it was that a mob of loutish, neo-Nazi yobs had attacked people of "Middle Eastern appearance" and violently driven them off the beach. And that was largely true, even if the "neo-Nazi" epithet was overegging the pudding - most of the Cronulla crowd have probably never come closer to a genuine Nazi than watching Hogan's Heroes reruns. But what the media outside Australia - and some of the media inside Australia as well - didn't convey was that there was another side to the story, or rather another side to the conflict. The "people of Middle Eastern appearance," a euphemism used to describe what Australians of all ethnicities routinely describe as "wogs," (apparently meant to describe anyone who is darker and/or less well-behaved than you'd like to think you are), were in this case gang members who've been cutting a fairly wide swathe through Sydney for a while. They're generally described as "Lebanese" gangs, but while Sydney has a large and long-established Lebanese population (my friend Robert is half Lebanese himself), I think the term is used fairly loosely, and ends up describing gangs of not just Middle Easterners, but anyone who's a bit off-white.

Anyway, few would deny that Sydney has a gang problem, and a growing crime problem. Just today the bus drivers announced that they were going to refuse to drive in certain neighbourhoods after dark unless the police did something about the frequent attacks and assaults they were enduring. And at the same time, the state police chief said that he was worried about the safety of his officers after a couple of them had been attacked by a lunatic with a pitchfork. Doesn't exactly fill you with confidence, does it? I mean, these are not English police we are talking about. Australian police, just like American ones, have guns. Why we are supposed to be afraid for their safety, rather than the bad guys being afraid for theirs, is not explained, but if you saw a few Aussie officers (and unless you're hanging around some street fair or gay pride parade, you probably won't), you might see why: they're not exactly intimidating. In fact, they're very NICE, very young and clean and sparkly, as likely to be young women as young men, and about as menacing as a high school choir on their first trip to the big city.

Which is why, when I saw the gang making its way up Victoria Street, insulting and threatening women and gays, wandering into various shops and bars to terrorise the occupants, and generally making what is normally a very boulevardish ambience feel more like The Warriors or A Clockwork Orange, I didn't expect to see any law enforcement intervention, or presence, for that matter, and of course that was the case. As I got on a bus to leave the area, I made the mistake of staring a bit too long at the gang, and one of them, noticing, pointed at me and made a creditable imitation of a monkey eating a banana, though I don't think that was his precise intention. The monkey man was heavy set, possibly a Pacific Islander, and the gang - and let's hope this heartens advocates of integration and cultural diversity - seemed to be made up of a couple Samoans or other Pacific Islanders, two or three Middle Easterners, one Japanese or Chinese guy, and a couple white, possibly Eastern European guys. Racists, and/or the territorial Cronulla Beach yobs, would probably have lumped them all together as "Lebs" or "wogs," but here's the point: the violence at the beach didn't start just because the locals didn't want dark-skinned people on "their" beach (though that was probably a factor. There had been problems for some time already, with the Middle Eastern gangs harassing women, both sexually and by telling them that they were "indecently" dressed, and the flash point came when a gang beat up two lifeguards (lifeguards have iconic status here, slong the same lines as rugby or cricket players).

Part of the problem as I see it (and I know, there's nothing like a stranger coming into your country and telling you how to run it) is that while Australia has made huge progress economically and politically, socially and culturally it's in some ways still stuck back in the 70s. The national government is in the hands of the Liberal Party (which, this being upside-down land, equates to the Conservative Party in most northern lands), but the state government is controlled by the Labor Party (inexplicably spelled American-style while the word "labour" is spelled English-style), who are largely a bunch of pot-smoking dunderheads (if they don't smoke pot, they might as well, because they couldn't get any stupider or more incompetent) who can't seem to run a transport system, a police force, or even manage to provide Sydney, a city which gets twice as much rain annually as San Francisco or London, with an ample water supply.

But, like the police, they're very NICE people, or at least endlessly concerned with conveying that image, to the point of not wanting to upset anyone, not even gangsters who attack bus drivers, because, after all, "we're a multicultural society," and attacking bus drivers surely plays an important role in certain cultures even if it doesn't necessarily make sense to all of us. Last year when I was here there were several days of riots out in Macquarie Fields, a welfare suburb in the west of Sydney, sort of the Aussie equivalent of white trash and trailer park land. Some kids crashed into a tree and were killed while leading the police (okay, they occasionally do turn up) on a high speed chase in a stolen car. The "community" was outraged, dubbing the police "murderers" and claiming they had "no right" to hound those "innocent kids" to their death. I was quite flabbergasted to hear one local after another claim on TV that, "They weren't doing anything wrong, they were just having a bit of fun and/or trying to get somewhere in life," (if getting "somewhere in life" equates to "away from the police," I suppose they have a point).

I can't remember how it turned out, but I know at the time there was serious consideration given to ordering the police not to pursue cars that tried to escape at high speed, which of course would have meant that soon only a real mug would ever stop for the police. But after all, what are you gonna do, it's their culture, isn't it? Who are we to judge?


Holly said...

Larry, I was wondering how you got your name, Larry "Livermore". That's not your real last name is it? Did you live in Livermore or is it because of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory?

Larry Livermore said...

In 1979 I wrote a bad science fiction novel called "Mutate Or Die," thankfully never published, which featured an earthquake and radiation leak at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory. Linda, who I was living with at the time, started calling me "Lawrence de Livermore," and gradually that got shortened to Lawrence Livermore. Around 1987 or 88, Jesse Michaels and some of the other Gilman punks shortened it again to Larry, thinking either that it would annoy me or at least be funny, and though neither turned out to be true, the name has stuck with me to this day.