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September 2006

I got chatting to some young blokes this morning who had just been in a fight in the surf. It was sunny and offshore, water like blue oil. But ... it got crowded. They kept going on about how stoked that they were that they stuck together against the 'outsider'. I'd call it ganging-up. It sounded like a very particular form of care that they were talking about, one that doesn't exempt violence. The sensuous economy of pride, anger, shame and so on that emerged from the event regulated and perpetuated their version of 'true' mateship and manhood.

The older crew had sat back and watched the fight go down. The young blokes kept looking over for validation of their actions. In return they got nods and a complicity that spoke louder than words. The older blokes were letting the younger ones do the work of protecting their turf.

Many surfers express dislike of such violence, but a popular belief is it's a necessary evil that holds together an order of things that could otherwise fray.

The young blokes seem to be the most aggressive out in the surf. They're trying to impress the elder statesmen by making it very clear that they know the rules, and are willing to put their bodies on the line. I haven't seen a lot of violence in the surf, although I’ve been in a few fights myself. The violence only has to happen sometimes to set up the fear of pain, shame, humiliation and ridicule that communicates what's allowed to happen and what isn’t, and who's where on the pecking-order.

Recently I've been thinking through what happened at Cronulla on December 11, 2005. I've got to give a paper at a conference at Macquarie University. Surfing culture runs deep at Cronulla and I'd like to make some links between surfing culture and how some blokes behaved on the day. Today's event made me think about how the same processes were at work during the Cronulla riot. As one eyewitness explained

'One thing I did notice when I got caught up in the crowd at station was the number of young kids … who were eager to be involved in the action. Unlike some other older males who seemed, at times, willing to sit back and merely watch these proceedings, many of the younger males seemed intent on being close to the ‘action’ (in Barclay and West, 2006, p. 81).

Since the riot in December many families from non-English speaking backgrounds have been too scared to return to Cronulla Beach. Instead they favour Brighton-le-Sands, a neighbouring beach that might as well be on another planet. Brighton is not a surf beach and is far more racially and ethnically diverse than Cronulla.

Further to this, such mateship and practices of care aren’t the preserve of white surfing blokes. According to Randa Kattan (2006), the executive director of the Arab Council of Australia, there is an old Arabic saying: ‘Me and my brother against my cousin, me and my cousin against the world’ (The Australian, January 28, 2006).

Barclay, R. and West, P. (2006) ‘Racism or Patriotism? An Eyewitness Account of the Cronulla Demonstration of 11 December 2005’ in People and Place, 14(1), pp. 75-84.


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