In the last couple of years, the slightly foggy concept of "race relations" has ridden high in surveys of issues of concern to New Zealanders. That might be put in context by what happened in Sydney yesterday.
The spectacle of ordinary-looking white Australians marching the streets of Cronulla, chanting racist slogans, singing 'Waltzing Matilda', waving Australian flags, beating random non-whites (and kicking and punching a young woman on the ground), attacking an ambulance crew, pursuing a man into a hotel chanting "string him up" and waving guns is not exactly an encouraging one.
It is apparent that the racist riot was sparked by the previous weekend's beating of several lifeguards by a gang of "Middle Eastern youths", after an exchange involving "strong coarse language" from both sides, which provoked understandable anger from local residents. But what happened yesterday bodes ill for Australian society. Mob violence turned out to be pretty close to the surface. Now there are the revenge attacks.
On the other hand, the subsequent outbreak of poisonous racism ("Good to see the Australians have some balls") amongst the delightful correspondents to David Farrar's Kiwiblog this morning suggests that we have our own fucktards to worry about.
Tim Blair has a roundup (with plenty more unpleasant racist spewing in the accompanying comments), the ABC has video and Fight Dem Back notes the participation in the riot of neo-Nazi groups, but observes that: "Based on reports fed back to us from the gathering in Cronulla, the vast overwhelming majority of people who rocked up were apolitical locals just on for a blue and maybe a BBQ. Despite the outbreaks of racist chanting, the majority of those involved more would most certainly not come under the rubric of being active racists."
There's an immediate backdrop to this - local residents understandably upset by the actions of gangs of Middle Eastern thugs - and a longer-term one, as evidenced by both this ominous essay on a right-wing website about "the rise of extremely violent and ruthless Lebanese criminal gangs" and this thoughtful piece, which covers everyday racial abuse and the so-called "Bra Boys", the white gang behind yesterday's mob violence:
Maroubra’s “Bra Boys” gang is led by a young man described by one of his peers as a rapist, murderer, drug dealer and “maggot”. This gang and other Maroubra gangs are notorious for their senseless violence - including attacks on police officers and rapes.
In December 2002, the Bra Boys injured at least 30 off-duty police officers, including female officers. At the time of this incident, Commissioner Dick Adams denied the Bra Boys were a sinister gang, merely a collection of board riders with a drunken hooligan element. Lexington Place in Maroubra South has experienced ongoing assaults of Asian shopkeepers, the bashing and robbery of a family of three, racial abuse and other offences, including a murder and a malicious wounding.
Kai Abberton, a Bra Boys founder, was charged in August 2003 with the shooting murder of another local, Anthony Hines. Significantly, the ethnicity of gang members is never mentioned in media reports of their infamous exploits.
Fortunately, and unsurprisingly, it appears that decent Australians are as horrified about this as anyone else. There would seem to be a serious problem there.
On a happier note, and in the relatively harmless domain of international sporting contests, the Black Caps made an all-time-record 332 runs to beat Australia in the cricket on Saturday. It's been a hell of a series. Sure, the Aussies were without McGrath for the whole time, but we lost Bond to injury, and Fleming for all but nine balls - and but for the want of three runs in another staggering match on Wednesday, we'd have won the damn thing. Amazing.